|Blood and Tears by Dr. George Papavizas
REVIEWED BY NINA GATZOULIS
One summer for our vacation instead of flying from the States to Greece, my husband and our then two teenage daughters flew to Switzerland rented a car, and drove from Zurich to Italy. When we reached Brindizi we took the ferryboat to the island of Corfu, continued to Igoumenitsa, Epirus and then drove to Western Macedonia to reach our native village of Pentalofos, Kozani.
I was overcome with emotion and tears began rolling down my face. I glanced at my husband and he was in the same emotional state. Both of us in silence and filled with emotion left the "Unknown Soldier of Pindos" behind and continued our route to reach our village. Through the drive I let myself go back in time during my childhood years. Thousands of images were going through my head, images of my parents, of friends, relatives and of endless war stories that my father was sharing with us, my sister and myself, while we were growing up. My father, the hero of my childhood years, during wintry nights in the warmth of our house would share with us stories of the Greco-Italian War that took most of the young men of our and other villages on the mountain range of Pindos.
George Papavizas' book Blood and Tears is a compelling autobiography that takes place during these turbulent years of 1940-49 in Greece. Young Papavizas left his tranquil western Macedonian village to pursue his studies at the Aristoteleio University in Salonika. The author, a sensitive, intelligent and competent young man, very serious about pursuing his education in Thessaloniki, watches his homeland and his people as they fight victoriously against Mussolini's invading army. He experiences the patriotic passion and the jubilation that swept the Hellenic nation and in fact this Hellenic victory marked the beginning of the end of Hitler's speculations to control the world and culminated in their fated collapse some three and a half years later. By defeating Mussolini's hordes of soldiers, the Hellenes proved that "heroes fight like the Greeks" and also that the Axis Powers of Hitler and Mussolini were not invincible. Mussolini's defeat by the Greeks on the Albanian mountains was so humiliating that Hitler had to come to his aid and capture Greece, thus delaying his Barbarosa plan to invade and capture Russia before the winter of 1941 settled in the frigid Russian landscape. During the Nuremberg trials after W.W.II, Hitler's Chief of Staff, Field Marshall Keitel stated very bitterly: "The unbelievable strong resistance of the Greeks delayed by two or more vital months the German attack against Russia; if we did not have this long delay, the outcome of the war would have been different in the eastern front and in the war in general, and others would have been accused and would be occupying this seat as defendants today."
Due to the delay of this critical timetable the tide of the war had been changed permanently. The Greeks fought with determination, but their victories with the Italians and resistance to the Germans required countless sacrifices on their part. When Germany came to Italy's aid the Greek nation became a subjugated nation. George Papavizas then had to put his aspirations for education on hold as he witnessed not only the brutality of the German and Italian occupant but also the voracious violence of the Bulgarians who sided with the Germans, hoping to grab Macedonia from Greece: "The Bulgarian brutalities did not end with expulsions, expropriations, suppressions, or even the executions of hundreds of prominent citizens. On 28 September 1941, a revolt by the Greek population broke out in Drama and spread through the occupied territory. Bulgarian troops quickly and bloodily suppressed the rebellion, killing 15,000 Greeks in the "Doxato Massacre," 3,000 of whom were executed in Drama alone…To change the demographic composition of the occupied area, they encouraged Bulgarian colonists to settle on land forcibly taken from Greek inhabitants, hoping to insure permanent control by demonstrating that the region was inhabited by a Bulgarian majority."
As Papavizas returnes to his native Krimini and takes the role of the "man" of the house, due to his father's absence in the States, he is there to see the destruction and ruin of many villages in Western Macedonia, including his own village by the Germans. The Germans appropriated all resources from the Greek inhabitants, leaving behind weak and sickly children and older individuals to die by the hundreds of malnutrition and hunger, especially in urban centers. The countryside and more agrarian areas fared a bit better during the years of the German "occupation", because they relied on the produce of the land.
The Macedonian land however, does not produce everything that a man and his family need to survive. Many Macedonians traded treasured household goods and gold with the precious oil of Paramythia, a town in Epirus west of Ioannina. George Papavizas, his mother and younger brother relied on George's father from the States for financial assistance. Due to the war any communication with USA was cut off and the family suffered economically. Young George with a few others from his village had to make the trip to Paramythia on foot as many other Macedonians did at that time: "After the Germans were replaced by Italians in western Macedonia and Epirus, we learned that if one could by-pass the Italians in three key mountain passes, it was possible to make a long trek over the mountains to Papamythia, a town in Epirus west of Ioannina, to trade gold or household items for olive oil. Paramythia is located on a high mountain plateau, but is close to the Adriatic Sea, which allows olive trees to grow in abundance. Just as it still is today olive oil was one of the most precious items in the Greek diet…So although we continued to work hard in our fields, I decided to make the long and dangerous trip from western Macedonia to Papamythia, and if necessary, all the way to the town of Parga on the western coast of Epirus."
Amidst this dreadful and horrible atmosphere during the "occupation" something else more terrible began to take roots, grow and develop, something that began as a noble goal in its conception, but it resulted in dragging the Hellenic nation into the worst bloodshed that Greece ever saw. EAM/ELAS originally were the guerrilla forces whose aim and ambition was to oust the German occupant from Hellas. Organized on the countryside of Epirus and Macedonia the antartes (guerilla fighters), heroically resisted the German occupation. As George Papavizas observes however, new ideologies began taking hold on these valiant men whose aspirations were to fight off the Germans. These new theories and philosophies were emanating from the Communist countries north of Greece, namely Bulgaria, Russia, Yugoslavia and Albania and began spreading in the Hellenic peninsula through the efforts of certain individuals brainwashed by Marxist-Leninist ideologies: "Why do you raise the banner of revolt against the forces of evil for Greece's sake, while praising Dimitrov?…Why did we not hear any songs praising our Greek heroes?…Not a single person in our territory, including the young partisans before their indoctrination, had ever heard of Dimitrov or Popov…They ignored the heroes of our schooling: Alexander, Kolokotronis, Miaoulis, Athanasios Diakos, Rigas Fereos, Pavlos Melas, and so many others who fought for Greek independence and to keep Macedonia Greek."
An individual who knew the situation during that time could understand how easily and how fast communism germinated and grew in such an environment as Greece during the "German occupation" years. The Greeks were suffering, they were stripped off their belongings, they were starving, and people were dying on the streets from starvation and malnutrition. Many Hellenes were vulnerable enough to let themselves be persuaded that communism was the solution to all of their problems and since it offered a better life the working class would enjoy all sorts of previleges: "The gullible young men of the territory, craving freedom and a better life, fell for the revolutionary slogans that emanated from Russian Bolsheviks and were then dispersed to the Balkans by the Dimitrovs and Popovs."
What the "gullible young men" of Hellas failed to fully understand was the "PRICE" they had to pay in exchange of what communism was offering; and the "PRICE" was beautiful MACECONIA, the northern province of the Greek peninsula: "The explanation they gave was that after the war all people in the Balkans will be friends; and Greek Macedonia, together with the smaller Serbian and Bulgarian sections of ancient Macedonia, will be an independent and united country with no barriers and no imperialist leaders." The annexation of Greece's northern Province, Macedonia into the Communist countries' regime with the warm port of Thessaloniki as a trophy, was Stalin's and Tito's scheme of getting access to the Aegean Sea. Most of the young men who were "seduced" by the communist indoctrination had mixed motives for participating: "It was obvious from the outset that they did not know or did not care about the age-old Bulgarian aspirations for a "Greater Macedonia". They were young, gullible, well-indoctrinated enthusiasts with no idea of the machinations engaged in by other Balkan countries at Greek Macedonia's expense."
The country therefore was divided, as we see other individuals that were not impressed by the exuberance and admiration for the Communist leaders that were introduced by the misled young Greek people. British commandos operating right in the author's house in Krimini, aided the partisans in their efforts to rid the German occupant, intensify this sense of unavoidable conflict. And as the unavoidable happened, Papavizas now a Second Lieutenant of the Greek National Army during the Greek Civil War from 1946-1949 experienced all the terrors of a civil uprising as his orders took him on foot all over Greece. The most formidable and bloodiest battles between the communists and the Greek National Army took place on the mountains Grammos and Vitsi, the mountains on which Greece's army defeated the Italians just a few years earlier.
It took the courageous Greek soldiers several years to erase the danger of communism from spreading over Greece and these unrecognized heroes of the Greek National Army fought with all their might to drive the communists out of their strongholds. However, the leadership of the "Democratic Army of Greece (the army of the Communist Party of Greece), Nicholas Zahariadis and Markos Vafiadis, had conflicting theories as to how their men would fight the Greek National Army, which aided the men of the Greek Army to have better results in fighting a weak, divided enemy. Markos Vafiadis was insisting on guerrilla type of battles, using the element of surprise on the enemy, while Zachariadis was recklessly adamant on fighting face to face with his opponents. In addition the distrust and suspicion that was cultivated amongst the communists, emanating and encouraged from Stalin's and Tito's theories, further corroded the relationship between the leading individuals to the point of becoming deadly enemies.
Amidst all this doom, bloodshed and pain, a ray of happiness is juxtaposed as the reader follows Papavizas, the dashing Lieutenant and Mary, the girl he met while he was attending the University of Thessaloniki, fall in love. Papavizas returns to Thessaloniki after a stay at a hospital in Athens for treatment of his amputated foot that he lost from a severe wound during the final battles with the antartes, and after a lengthy separation, Mary is waiting for him at the airport.
Papavizas' Blood and Tears is a personal account of the author's participation and contribution to resisting dangerous ideologies, irrelevant to the Greek way of thinking, and supporting foreign interests. This is also the story of the multitude of young Greek men and women thrown reluctantly into the dismay and horror of civil war. The author brings to life again pages of history that are too painful to remember and thus this part of history is tacked away, has not been taught in schools and the only way we know about it are from personal accounts. Papavizas' Blood and Tears is just such a personal account which is a MUST READ for all. If it wasn't for those brave men however, those men who fought communism on the precipitous mountains of Grammos, Vitsi and Mourgana, those men who spilled their blood and left their limps on the rugged mountains of Greece, and kept the nation out of Stalin's clutches, the boundaries of Greece would be much different today.
The book can also be obtained from Greece-in Print