The incident is widely remembered by Greeks as the start of “Ta Dekemvriana,” meaning “December events,” and in one day 28 people were killed and hundreds injured in Athens at the hands of police and the British Army.
World War II was still raging on — albeit somewhat close to its May 1945 end in Europe — yet the Nazi soldiers who had already committed numerous atrocities in Greece’s countryside were not directly involved in this violence; Athens had already been liberated from German occupation approximately six weeks earlier.
And even though Britain remained at war with Germany on December 3, 1944, Winston Churchill’s forces opened fire on civilians and permitted Greeks who had collaborated with the Nazis to do the same.
Perched in strategic positions atop the parliament building and Grande Bretagne Hotel, British soldiers and Greek police fired down on targets gathered below.
The victims? Tens of thousands of Greek republicans, anti-monarchists, socialists and communists who had amassed in Syntagma Square. They carried Greek, American, British and Soviet flags while chanting slogan such as “Long live Churchill, long live Roosevelt, long live Stalin” referring to leaders of the Allied faction.
These same protestors had spent the previous three years fighting alongside the British against Nazi occupiers. But as the end of the war approached, Britain and fellow Western powers such as the United States had become increasingly concerned about the Soviet communist influence coming from the East.
The military wing of Greece’s National Liberation Front, known as the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS), had led the resistance against Germany. But the front remained heavily influenced by the communist party, KKE (Kommounistiko Komma Elladas), which scared Western leaders such as Churchill who hoped to halt the post-war spread of communism in Europe.
A bloody, month-long battle ensued in the Greek capital as the British Army look sides with pro-monarchist and anti-communist factions — putting aside their collaboration with Hitler’s forces — in hopes of restoring the rule of King George II, an uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
On January 5, 1945, all left-wing resistance forces of the Greek National Liberation Front (EAM) and Liberation Army (ELAS) were ordered to retreat from Athens. Thousands followed them to escape punishment from British and right-wing Greek factions who had all but achieved military victory.
A ceasefire followed on January 14, agreed to by British Lt General Ronald Scobie, which gave way to all warring parties signing the Varkiza Treaty on February 12, marking the end of the ELAS.
But the clash between left and right — communists and monarchists — was far from over; “Ta Dekemvriana” served only as a prelude to what would follow — all-out civil war.
Beginning in 1946, a three-year conflict would erupt between the Western-backed Greek government army and communist-backed Democratic Army of Greece, the military branch of the KKE communist party.
The Greek Civil War, or “O Emfilios Polemos,” remains to this day one of the most divisive topics in modern Greek history and politics. The conflict also further destroyed an already war-ravaged country reeling from Nazi occupation and accompanying war crimes.
Thousands of Greek immigrants would flee to various corners of the world, especially the United States, Australia and Canada, in the aftermath of their country’s civil war.
Featured image at the top of this article is by Dmitri Kessel, Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.
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