On this day in 1941, the Nazi German army entered the Greek capital of Athens, signaling the end of Greek military resistance which began with a valiant struggle against Mussolini’s Italians in October 1940.
All of mainland Greece and the Aegean islands except Crete would eventually come under German occupation by May 11, 1941. Following the conquest of Crete, Axis forces occupied all of Greece by June 1941.
The occupation prompted the Greek government to enter into exile, ceding control of the country to an Axis-controlled puppet government. This government divided Greece’s territory into occupation zones — the most important of which were run by the Germans. Such zones included Athens, Thessaloniki and the Aegean islands. German allies Italy and Bulgaria took control of other regions.
In fending off Axis invaders, the Greeks lost more than 15,000 soldiers. But with the arrival of the Nazis, a ferocious resistance of the civilian population ensued, the likes of which was seen nowhere else in Europe.
This stunned the Nazis who hadn’t experienced such civilian uprisings elsewhere during their occupation campaigns and led them to brutal reprisals throughout the country, burning entire villages and massacring tens of thousands of innocent citizens.
In Athens alone, more than 40,000 civilians died from starvation and tens of thousands more died because of reprisals by Nazis and their collaborators.
The occupation of mainland Greece lasted until Allied forces pushed out Germany and its ally Bulgaria in early October 1944. But German garrisons maintained control of Crete and other Aegean islands until after WWII ended in Europe. They would surrender these islands in May and June 1945.
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