Today (9 October) I attended an historical walking tour of Athens, excellently guided by Menelaos Haralabidis, of sites and buildings in central Athens connected to the wartime occupation of the Greek capital from 1941 to 1944 and the resistance of the Greeks against the German, Italian and Bulgarian occupiers and their Greek collaborators.
Athens was liberated on 12 October 1944, an event that is only now being marked, largely due to the efforts of Haralabidis and other historians. 2015 saw the first official commemoration of the city’s liberation.
I was aware that a few days earlier in October 1944, the Germans evacuated my adopted city of Corinth. The wonders of Google led me to a fascinating report in the Sydney Morning Herald of 16 October 1944, filed by Terry Southwell-Keely, the paper’s war correspondent in Greece. I’m posting it here in full below as, whatever the average Athenian remembers about the liberation of their city in 1944, the average Corinthian knows even less about the liberation of theirs.
Accounts differ as to when Corinth was liberated: some say 7 October 1944 but Southwell-Keely suggests it was three days later.
His report describes the destruction and privation the Germans left in their wake and the euphoria of the population that they were finally rid of the Nazis. Here’s his report:
All Corinth Celebrates Liberation
MARCH OF TRIUMPH
From T. SOUTHWELL KEELY, with the Greek Guerrillas at Corinth.
LONDON, Oct. 15,—Church bells are pealing continuously along the entire length of the Gulf of Corinth, celebrating the liberation of the Peloponnesus.
In every village and hamlet the population is lining the loads, waiting for the British and Greek troops to pass.
Greek partisans, who had fought for so long in the mountains, have poured down to the picturesque gulf, and all are surging into Corinth in readiness to pursue the retreating enemy.
During the first few days of the British landing few flags appeared, but to-day every house has some form of improvised banner flying. Some are strips of painted cardboard, nailed to planks. Every house now has some political slogan painted on its walls.
The load between Patras and Corinth is a nightmare journey. The Germans had blown up every bridge, and deviations involve dangerous crossings of river beds, following cattle tracks and along treacherous sandy beaches.
Transport is the most difficult problem here, the Germans having taken with them everything on wheels.
Three British correspondents were provided with a dilapidated car, which formerly had been used by the Gestapo and abandoned by the Germans as unfit for further service, for the journey from Patras to Corinth,
The crazy Greek driver, supplied with the car, accentuated the natural hazards of the trip. The vehicle broke down on every possible occasion and several times had to be lifted bodily by scores of peasants from the ditches into which the driver frequently drove.
The guerrilla’s communication system warned every village of our approach and crowds awaited us, blocking the route and insisting on emptying fruit and food, which they could ill afford to give, into our car.
Garlands of flowers covered the vehicle and petals and confetti were flung over the occupants until they were almost buried.
Bottles of scent were sprayed through windows, drenching us all with powerful perfumes.
At each village we ran the gauntlet of speeches. At some places, apparently carried away by this powerful oratory, scores of men lifted the car and its occupants bodily and attempted to carry us along the street.
A despatch rider, following, was lifted on his motor cycle and carried on his swaying seat through one town, while the crowd bellowed continuously “Zito” (“hurray”).
In each of these villages privation and malnutrition were most evident, yet fruit and raisins were pressed upon us, and the donors would not brook refusal.
When the Greek Security Battalion, which had been holding Corinth since the Germans pulled out, five days ago, marched into collective custody, British troops and the correspondents’ car—which constantly broke down and had to be pushed to restart, repeatedly delaying the procession—were given pride of place and led the concourse of several thousands into the city.
Two battalions of Andartes, with mules, horses, carts and trucks, and armed with every form of rifle and antiquated shotgun, followed.
These wild, shaggy-bearded men, dressed in rags of uniform and clothing, all had German grenades stuck in their belts, in addition to minor armouries of captured German weapons hung across their bodies.
Carts and a captured tractor dragged German and Italian field pieces.
Following the Andartes came thousands of villagers, each organised into groups of a couple of hundred, com prising the most ragged men, women and children I have ever seen.
Village priests marched at their head.
Not one of these people had a sound pair of boots and half of the procession was either barefooted or in clogs.
Sang As They Marched
All carried placards, mostly pictures they had torn from their walls and on the backs of which they had drawn either Allied flags or inscribed with E.A.M. slogans.
The most remarkable feature of this ragged horde was that everyone matched like a soldier and not even one child was out of step.
As they marched they sang, with resonant, full-throated voices, the anthem of the Andartes, a fierce and at times plaintive melody. Everyone joined in, and the whole city seemed to be singing simultaneously.
Throughout the morning and afternoon the procession surged into the city until every street was crowded.
Political meetings were held at every corner.
It was the first time since April 1941 that such a meeting had been permitted and the speakers took full advantage of their opportunity.
Parades continued till nightfall.
Many men and women collapsed from sheer fatigue and under-nourishment and had to be carried away.
Thanks to the wonderful British Pathé archives, footage exists from the day the leftist Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS) and British troops entered Corinth. Although the video description states that the location and date of the recording is unknown, it is clear that it was filmed in Corinthia, as I noted in a piece I wrote for EnetEnglish in 2014 when the Pathé material came online.
Anyone who knows Corinth will recognise the city and the approach to it from the Patras road (especially from 2:24 onwards). A placard stating “EPON [United Panhellenic Youth Organisation] Lecheo” reveals the location. Indeed, when a Greek colleague whose father was born in Lecheo showed the footage to his uncle, the uncle confirmed that he was the boy holding the placard.
Among the ELAS partisans who liberated Corinth was Mois Yussuroum, now aged 96, who is a member of an an historical Greek Jewish family whose surname became indelibly linked to Athens’s flea market.
During the Greek–Italian War, Yussuroum, a dentistry student, served in the Red Cross as an anaesthetist and took part in the Battle of Crete along with his brother Iakovos. By 1943, he had joined ELAS and in January 1944 was placed in the 6th (Corinth) Regiment. As the Jewish Museum of Greece exhibition on the Greek Jews in the Greek resistance notes, in was in Corinth that the “the most important phase of his life in the resistance began”:
Thanks to his organisational skills and education, he was assigned the responsibility for the entire coastal area. He set up an advanced resistance outpost, maintaining bases in Zarouchla and Akrata. He formed a mobile unit that collected intelligence, destroyed telegraph poles and railway lines and set up telephone lines with the mountain villages. That summer, he established a permanent ELAS headquarters in Lykoporia (F8). After the Germans carried out their last search-and-destroy operation in August, the regiment liberated Corinth.
Corinth is indebted to Yussuroum, but his role in liberating the city is virtually unknown locally. What better way for the city to acknowledge his wartime role than to invite him to Corinth and to thank him directly for it.