On this Anniversary of the Battle of Crete; Our Responsibility to Those Who Came Before Us: A Letter to my Grandmother


Seventy-five years ago this week, by parents’ families on the island of Crete– including my teen-aged father and his parents woke to the sound of bombs dropping and hundreds of airplanes in the sky.

“Human umbrellas” were falling, my dad recalled, as thousands of Nazi German paratroopers jumped from airplanes to invade Crete. My badass grandmother Anna Papadakis defended her family and her home tirelessly. I didn’t k ow here because she died when I was a baby but family stories passed down, as well as those from my father and grandfather who both outlived her, told of a ferociously independent woman who wasn’t afraid to face death time and time again.


Anna Papadomanolakis (nee Petrakis)

She worked tirelessly to help British, New Zealand and Australian troops to escape after the Germans took control of the island and my father recalled stories of her risking her own life to offer food and refuge to fleeing Allied troops in her home.


The letter to my grandmother by the Field Marshall of the Allied Command for her resistance efforts

For her efforts, she was given a letter by the Allied Field Marshall thanking her for her dedication to the Allied cause. Such letters were given to dozens of brave Cretans who– unlike most Europeans— fought and resisted.

The resistance on the island of Crete, as well as elsewhere throughout Greece, rattled the Germans. Nowhere else in the war up to that point had they faced a civilian population that took up arms to defend their towns, villages and homes.

I grew up with these stories and my fascination with Greece’s role during WWII and specifically the Battle of Crete started when I found this letter in my dad’s things right before he died.

Many of us have these stories that we grew up with— of a tireless defense of freedom and protection of our values. Tens of thousands of Greeks died and there are countless memorials throughout the country— including on my parents’ native Crete, where men, women, children, priests, nuns— people from all walks of life— were brutally murdered by the Nazi Germans.

Our responsibility is to recall these stories, memorialize the dead and share their history with future generations.

That letter that was given to my grandmother has inspired me for years now. I’ve spent countless hours researching Greek, British, German and Australian military archives seeking to get a better understanding of the events of the Battle of Crete. I’ve also established a collection of maps, newspaper articles, memorabilia and other priceless artifacts that share the story of Greece and Crete’s role during the War. These artifacts were turned into an exhibition and traveled the nation several years ago by the Greek America Foundation.

Now, I’m writing a book— a collection of stories, photographs and other content called “America Calling” about the response of the United States to Greece’s role during World War II. I have been fascinated by what I have uncovered.

May the memory of all the heroes of the Battle of Crete be eternal– including my grandmother, whose own experiences inadvertently lit a fire in me, two generations later, to document these epic times in our history as Greeks.



  1. Your giagia sounds like a typical Cretan. I too come from a Cretan grandmother from Sfakyia. I have also been inspired by her independence and fierceness for standing up for righteousness, justice, family and patrida. I also have written about her on my site http://www.greekamericangirl.com. I am sure we can start a book of stories recollecting our Giagiades from the Hellenic Diaspora.

  2. I look forward to learning that your book is published. The deeds of these brave people who feared nothing except the idea of slavery must not be forgotten.

  3. My uncle was a New Zealand soldier during WW2 and fought against the Germans in Crete. Many years after the war he told me that when on the island he became very friendly with a Cretan family and fell in love with their daughter. Just before the Allied forces left Crete, the family asked him to marry their daughter and stay there. They would hide him. But had he done so, the NZ army would have considered him a deserter and he could have faced a firing squad. So reluctantly, with a heavy heart, he had to say goodbye. But he never forgot Crete or its people. He often talked about them and felt that leaving the island had been a terrible mistake, that, despite the risk of the firing squad, he should have stayed. I visited Crete for a month in 1980 and I quickly understood how he had felt. I came to love the island and its people too. There is something very special about Crete. It works its way into your heart and never leaves.

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