The Occupation

Η Κατοχή  The Occupation

The Occupation, or Η Κατοχή  (pronounced ‘ka-to-hi’) in Greece began in April 1941 when the Nazis invaded. During the first months of the Occupation, all fuel and means of transportation was confiscated.  Thus no food or supplies could be transported.

Strategic industries were seized. Commodities like olive oil, cotton, leather and tobacco were transferred out of Greece.  Markets were sealed under the sign of the swastika.  All fuel tanks were emptied.  Poultry herds and pigeons were killed by the Nazis.  Farmers were forbidden to harvest their fields on pain of death.  Meat, cattle, sheep, dairy herds were confiscated by the Germans.  Cars, buses and trucks were seized. Shops cleaned out and goods shipped back to Germany.  Rare materials, metal, leather were also taken back to Germany.  Hospital and drugstores were emptied of supplies.

Extraordinary levies were placed upon the country of Greece to sustain the occupying troops.  The Greek levy was determined to 113.7% of the national income of Greece. A full naval blockade was put into place by the Germans which prevented all imports into Greece even food.

Farmers had to pay taxes and sell at enforced low prices, food price controls and rationing were tightened. Fishing was also prohibited.  In Greece, the Nazis policy under the Occupation was that of plundering the country to the detriment of its native population.

In the Winter of 1941 −1942 acute food shortages existed precipitating a famine.  Estimates are that 300,000 died in Athens and the surrounding area. German records show a rate of 300 deaths per day in December 1941, the Red Cross estimates 400 a day, with some days at a rate of 1,000 per day.

Raisins, olives, wild greens and rationed bread were the only available staples to eat.  The hills in Greece were stripped bare. Dead bodies were left on the streets of Athens.  Emaciated bodies were a common sight.

Newspapers ran advice columns to aid readers on how to survive. The columns offered such advice as chewing food slowly for longer periods of time in order to fool the stomach and advising people to collect the crumbs from the table in a jar.

In modern Greek memory the word, occupation, means famine, deprivation, and starvation.

My mother lived in Greece during The Occupation.  She cooked and ate dandelion greens (what in America we consider to be weeds) as long as I remember. She never threw out food and grew vegetables in our back yard.

My Greeks who survived The Occupation relate stories of children who reached adulthood without ever tasting meat and who never become accustomed to real food.

My mother still remembers the taste of the bread made from flour sent from America at the end of The Occupation.  She says bread never tasted so wonderful.  When she came to American her greatest disappointment was that she could never find the flour that made bread taste so good.

I visited the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Missouri.  President Truman signed the European Recovery Program, commonly known as the Marshall Plan which over four years distributed food and money to assist European countries devastated in WWII.  The people of Greece dedicated a statue of President Truman in Athens and sent him a helmet from the time of Pericles in gratitude.  In an exhibit at the presidential library, I saw a photograph of flour sacks from American being unloaded in Greece and on display was one of the flour sacks sent to Greece.  I called my mother that night to tell her I had found the flour she’d been looking for.

The Acropolis and the Greek Flag


Greek Flag Acropolis Athens

Greek Flag Acropolis Athens

I love this picture.  I remember the first time I went to the Acropolis.  My uncle Kostas took me and my cousin Giorgos. We walked around the Acropolis warmed in the bright sunshine of a Greek summer day.  At the northern end of the Acropolis was the area with the Greek flag.  We walked up the steps and viewed the city of Athens below us.  Then my uncle told us this story.

During the Nazi Occupation of Greece, two 19 year olds, Apostolos Santas and Manolis Glezos climbed the Acropolis on the 31 May 1941. They took down the swastika flag, that had flown since the day the Nazis had entered Athens.  In its place they left the Greek flag flying. The word spread throughout Athens that the swastika had been removed.  Furious, the Nazis tried the two men in absentia and placed a death sentence on them. The Nazis’ public outrage at this defiance rather than quashing resistance, further spread the news of the two men’s valiant act throughout Greece inspiring others to rise up against the Occupation.

In an interview years later, Manolis Glezos answered the question why they had done it.  He responded by saying that Hitler commented that the fighting was all over now that the Germans were in Greece.  Mr. Glezos said that spurred the two young men to show Hitler that it was in fact, not over.

One of the first acts after the liberation of Greece was to raise the Greek flag on the Acropolis.  A simple plaque at the Acropolis commemorates the actions of the two young men.

Plaque Acropolis Athens

Plaque Acropolis Athens

Every time I visit Greece, I visit the Acropolis and make sure to stay a few moments underneath that flag and remember the heroic efforts of the Greeks against an evil speeding across Europe until it met with Greece resistance.  I remember two 19 year old boys who climbed the Acropolis in an act of defiance to take down the flag of an oppressor and raise the flag of their country, the Greek flag.



H. S. Stavropoulos