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This Week in History: June 8th to 14th

JUNE 8TH:

On this day in 1812, Spyridon Xyndas, the pioneering Greek composer and virtuoso guitarist – notable for his contributions to Greek opera, was born on the island of Corfu. He studied music in Italy before returning to Greece, where he became a central figure in the Ionian School of Music. Xyndas composed ‘O ypopsifios vouleftis’ (The Parliamentary Candidate) in 1867, the first opera set to a Greek libretto. His work blends Italian operatic traditions with Greek folk elements, significantly shaping modern Greek music. Besides operas, Xyndas wrote instrumental pieces and songs, leaving a lasting legacy in Greek cultural history. He passed away in Athens, remembered for his artistic innovations.

JUNE 10TH:

On this day in 1944, 218 men, women and children were massacred in Distomo, a small village near Delphi, by German troops during World War II. For over two hours, the Germans went door to door and killed Greek civilians using the pretext that they had come under attack by Greek guerillas. According to survivors, the German forces “bayoneted babies in their cribs, stabbed and disemboweled pregnant women, and beheaded the village priest.” As a result of this attack, a quarter of Distomo’s population died. Fritz Lautenbach, the commander of the German soldiers, was never arrested and Hans Zampel, another German commander, was acquitted after being extradited by Greece to Germany. Like other Nazi atrocities in Greece, the massacre of Distomo is considered a ‘legal dead end’. Today, a massive memorial located on a hilltop overlooking the village commemorates those who lost their lives on June 10, 1944. The memorial contains all of the names and the skulls of some of the victims.

Also on this day in 2004, Xenophon Zolotas, the Greek politician and economist, passed away at the age of 100. Born in Athens in 1904, Zolotas studied economics at the University of Athens and later studied in Leipzig and Paris. He came from a wealthy family of goldsmiths with roots in prerevolutionary Russia. In 1928, he became a professor of economics at Athens University and at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, a post he held until 1968, when he resigned in protest of the military regime which had come to power in 1967. Zolotas also served as the director of the Bank of Greece and published many works on Greek and international economic topics. When the elections of November 1989 failed to give a majority to either the PASOK party or the New Democracy party, Zolotas, then aged 85, agreed to become the Prime Minister of a non-party administration until fresh elections could be held. He stepped down after the election of April 1990, which gave Constantinos Mitsotakis a narrow majority. Zolotas was a workaholic and an avid winter swimmer, making a point to swim every morning throughout the year even into his nineties.

JUNE 13TH:

On this day in 1904, Nikiphoros Lytras, the Greek painter, died at the age of 72 after a short illness that is believed to have been caused by inhalation of chemical substances in the paints he used. Born on the island of Tinos, Lytras was the son of a popular marble sculptor. He was trained in Athens at the School of Arts and then at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Munich. After completing his studies, he became a professor at the Academy of Arts – a position he held for almost 40 years. In 1879, Lytras married Irene Kyriakidi, a daughter of a tradesman from Smyrna and they had six children – one of which followed in his father’s artistic footsteps. Lytras’ subjects ranged from figures of Greek mythology and Greek history, to more Asiatic themes after his travels to Asia Minor and Egypt, and finally to scenes about aging, loneliness, and the fear of death in his later years. His most well-known landscape was a depiction of the region of Lavrio.

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