On 28 October, Ochi Day is celebrated throughout Greece, and Greek communities around the world, to commemorate the events of that day in 1940.
In the early hours of October 28, 1940, after a party in the German embassy in Athens, Mussolini (through Emanuele Grazzi, the Italian ambassador in Greece) issued an ultimatum to Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas to surrender, or face open war.
Metaxas’ reply is remembered simply as “Οχι” (No)! After rejecting Mussolini’s demands, Metaxas addressed the Greek people, ending with this line from Aeschylus’ play The Persians:
“The struggle now is for everything!”
Before the ultimatum had expired, the Italians invaded. Massively outnumbered the Greeks shocked Mussolini by pushing the Italians back into Albania. For 6 months the tiny Greek army continued to inflict an embarrassing defeat on Mussolini. Hitler was furious and the Germans were forced to reinforce the Italian troops. It delayed the summer invasion of Russia by many weeks. Hitler’s army suffered terrible losses in the following bitter Russian winter and massive resources were still locked into the Russian front on D-Day.
The cost to Greece was massive. 1,000,000 Greek lives were lost.
The young men of Crete went to fight in Albania and when German paratroopers invaded elderly farmers and women fought in their place. The German losses were so extreme that Hitler never used this form of invasion again.
Winston Churchill realised the sacrifice being made and said,
“Hence, we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt:
“When the entire world had lost all hope, the Greek people dared to question the invincibility of the German monster raising against it the proud spirit of freedom.”
Adolph Hitler’s Chief of Staff, Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel:
“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.”