* World War II Resistance -- Greece resistance group organizations s World War II Resistance -- Greece resistance group organizations

The World War II Resistance: Greece Resistance Groups

Figure 1.--This was a group of Aetopoula--The Little Eagles. These children with wooden rifles were drilling in the village of Zitsa during 1944.

The German Wehrmacht in Aperil 1941 invaded Greece, leading to four years of hideous barbarism and to a civil war that tore the country apart. Greek resistance groups began to form soon after the onset of the occupation. From the earliest period of the occupation, ressistance groups began to organize. Effective resiatance, however, did not begin until 1942. The Greeks were, however, divided into feuding political factions, including monarchists, Communists, democrats, and others. Greece's contentious political parties were unable to work together against the Germans. The Communists played an especially importanf role in the Greek resistance. One group of political leaders, trade unionists, communists and others approved the National Liberation Front (EAM) and a military branch (ELAS). Other parties set up theie own resistance organizations. The two most important were the EKKA and EDES (National and Social Liberation and National Greek Democratic League). [Manzower] Leaders of ELAS, EKKA and EDES were former officers in the Greek army. They thus organized armed resistance to the Germans.

Greek Political Parties

The major Greek political parties were demoralized by the rapidity of the German victory. The Communists had years of experience of working with underground cells. The Comminists throughout Europe had been the major opposition the Fascism and this had included the Mextaxas Government and the Greeks who supported the quisling government formed by the Geramsn in Greece. As a result, to a large extent, the Resistance was organised by the Greek Communist Party (KKE). This was complicated at first because of Stalin's cooperation with Hitler under the terms of the 1939 Non-Agreesion Pact. This of course changed immediately after Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa--the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941).


The war and the experience of the occupation threw traditional family roles into question as women became breadwinners and children took up arms.


We have on limited informatin about Greek schools during the occupation. We do know that schooling was scaled back. We arenot entirely sure why. This seems to have had the impact of generating recruits for the different Resistance organizations. With no schools to attend (the school year of 1941-42 lasted only three months and that of 1942-43 only 20 days) many young students commited themselves to political activism.


The important pre-War political parties counceled acquiesence to the invaders. As a result a major political transfornation ocuured during the occupation. The absence of a legitimate government and the lack of opposition from the established political class resulted in a power vacuum. And it mean that there was no rallying point for the Greek people. Most Army officers and citizens who wanted to continue the fight fled to British-controlled Egypt where the fightvwasragingb for the Western Desert. The bulk of the population were unsure of their fate under Axis occuoatiin and their ability to effectively resist. Axis reprisals were savage. Armed resistance began in the north without any real organization. The first major resistance actions ocuurred in northeast Greece in the area occupied by Bulgaria. The ppopulation spontabeously reacted to Bulgarization policies (September 1941). The Bulgarian Army reacted savegly. Demonstrations were also organized in Greek Macedonian cities by the Defenders of Northern Greece (YVE) protest against the Bulgarian annexation of Greek territory. The first Andartes (guerillas / αντάρτες ) forned in the rugged mountains Macedonia (October 1941). The Greeks formed enirely new new groupings outside the established political structure, except the small Communist Party. With the pre-War establishment absent, these new groups took on the role of resisting the Axis occupation. The Greeks formed the umbrella ressistance organization group -- EPON. The most important component was the Communist dominated EAM/ELAS. There were also smaller less well organized non-Communist groups. All the improtant resistance groups advocated armed resistance to the AXIS occupation. They were also republican in sentiment.


Of all youth organizations of resistance, the most active one, on village level, was perhaps the Eniaia Panelladiki Organosi Neon - Unified Panhellenic Youth Organisation (EPON). EPON was founded in February 1943 by several underground resistance and party organizations that had been organizing action against the Axis forces since the beginning of the Occupation. It was the bigger youth organization of the resistance and it was closely linked to EAM.


The Ethniko Apeleftherotiko Metopo - National Liberation Front (EAM) was created in September 27, 1941 by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and other parties and organizations. Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union has made it possible for the KKE to cooperate with other political parties to fight the Germans and Italians. EAM thus welcomeed a broad spectrum of political support and to attract non-Communists called for democratic elections to determine Greece's future after the German defeat. The aims of EAM were the liberation of Greece from the Axis occupation forces through armed resistance and the establishment of a provisional government in the liberated zones. Even though it was organized by KKE, EAM was open to everyone. The military branch of EAM was the Ethnikos Laikos Apeleftherotikos Stratos - National Popular Liberation Army (ELAS). The acronym chosen was largely symbollic: ELLAS (Greece) was very close to ELAS.

Non-Communist resistance

There were also non-Communist resistance groups. They were organized later than ELAS and not nearly as effective in carrying out attacks on the German and Italian occupation forces. The National Republican Greek League (EDES) , led by Napoleon Zervas. The National and Social Liberation (EKKA), led by Demetrios Psarras.


The activating of young people in a separated organization set simultaneously a new direction and an important and definite break with tradition on the level of relationship between the generations. The enthusiasm with which the youth took part in the activities of EPON was not only out of their will to fight, but also because of their de facto independence from their father's authority.


EPON mobilized university students, teenagers and high-school pupils in the cities and villages. Along with their younger siblings called "Aetopoula" (Little Eagles) carried out many useful tasks: they painted slogans on the walls, shouted defiant messages, took part in demonstrations, helped transport supplies, organized relief work and laid cultural events. Others (especially the younger ones who could easily pass under the enemy's noses) were recruited as spys or carried secret messages. Some even volunteered for the ELAS and fought with military units away from their homes.


Ares Veloukhiotis (nom de guerre of Athanasios Klaras) was the leading commander of ELAS. Nikos Papanikolaou, the young man who in 1941 gathered guns and watched over the village to protect it from a possible attack of the Italians, had the duty of Secretary in the EPON. As many of his peers, he remembers the time of EPON as a big celebration.

German Response

The occuption was an excitiing period for the members of the EPON movement, it also was a terrifying period and very dangerous. The response of the Axis Occupation forces was unbelievably brutal. Field Marshal Keitel on December 16, 1942, following direct instructions from Hitler ordered: "... The troops are therefore authorised and ordered in this struggle to take any measures without restriction even against women and children if these are necessary for success. [Humanitarian] considerations of any kind are a crime against the German nation..." Many of the women and children of resistance, of EPON and "Aetopoula" were therefore arrested, interrogated and executed. After the German surrender in May 1945, Keitel was arrested as a war criminal. He was found guilty at the Nuremberg trials and hanged.


At the onset of World War II began, many European countries were still ruked by monrachies. Even some of the Axus countries had monarchies. Some countries such as Albania with King Zog were only recently established. Some such as in the Denmark had long histories. The response of those monarchs and the attitude of the people varied widely. King Christain X in Denmark stayed with his people and was widely admired. Queen Wilhemena in the Netherlands fled to England to form a Goverbment-in-exile and was also widely admired. In Belgium King Leopold III decided to stay with his people and surendered the Belgian Army. He became widely unpopular as a result of the controversies surrounding the surrender. King George II in Greece decided to go into exile with the British after the fall of Crete. The Comminists and even non-Communist groups in the Resistance were republican and were opposed to the King's return after the War. I am not entirely sure at tis time why there was such opposition to the monarchy among the non-Communist resistance groups. King George II in London was of course no fully aware of what was happening in Greece. He seems to have been more concerned about territorial claims after the War than foghting the Germans. In fact rather than armed resistance to the occupation, King George generally discouraged armed resistance knowing the reprisals that would be carried out on the people.

Liberation (October 1944)

The Italian withdrawl from the Axis and the War greatly complicated the German occupation of Greece. Most of the occupation force in the Balkans was Italian. Not only dis this weaken the occupation force, bit the Resistance forces received large quantities of arms and supplies from the Italians. The Germans rushed additional forces into the Balkans, but they were not capable of supressing the guerilla forces. The situation worsened when Bulgaria switched sides as the Red Army approached. The Germans in September 1944 finally evacuated the Greek mainland so that they would not be cut off in the Balkans by the Red Army which was pushing into Bulgaria and Hungary. The Germans succeeded in airlifting some combat units off Crete, but British aircraft carriers moving into the eastern Meditteranean mean that German garisons were isolated. The Germans in May 1945 surendered the last of the Greek islands under their control. Liberation in Greece, however, did not bring peace. Conflict developed between the Communist Resistance forces EAM/ELAS and the British-backed conservative Papandreou government. Athens was liberated on October 12, 1944. The struggle for control of liberated Greece resulted in conflict between EAM/ELAS and the British-backed conservative government. There was considerable concern about a possible Communist seizure of power. The British, as a result, toughened their position against ELAS and their soldiers--the Andartes. In some cases the British even made common cause with rightest elements that had collaborated with the NAZIs. [Manzower] These differences made it difficult for the Greek resistance and the Btitish who landed to persue the Germans as they left Athens and moved north.

Civil War (December 1944)

After liberation, fighting broke out between the Government of National Liberation (givernment in exile) that the British helped install in Athens and Communist forces EAM/ELAS that had dominated the Resistance. When the Civil War broke out (December 1944), a Government decree dissolved EPON. The organization, however, continued to act underground until 1958.


Chiclet, Christophe. Les communistes grecs dans la guerre (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1987)

Mazower, Mark. Inside Hitler's Greece: The Experience of Occupation, 1941-1944 (Yale University Press, 1993), 437p.

Chiclet, Christophe. Les communistes grecs dans la guerre (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1987)

Van Boeschoten, Ricki. Perasame polles bores koritsi mou... (Athens: Plethron, 1998).


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Created: March 20, 2003
Last updated: 2:23 AM 12/13/2013