22 July 1943: The Day Greeks Rebelled Against the Nazis for Macedonia

Greeks have a passionate love affair with Macedonia, and even during the darkest hour of modern Greek history during the brutal occupation of the Nazis they were prepared to give their lives for keeping the province Greek.

On 22 July 1943 a massive protest took place in Axis-occupied Athens against the German plans to expand the Bulgarian occupation zone in Macedonia.

Early in July 1943, Adolf Hitler asked the Bulgarian government to extend its occupation zone to encompass additional territory in Greece.

Bulgarian soldiers pose at the waterfront in Thessaloniki

Bulgaria had already officially annexed parts of Macedonia and Thrace on 14 May 1941.

A massive campaign of Bulgarisation was launched, which saw all Greek officials (mayors, school-teachers, judges, lawyers, priests, gendarmes) deported.

A ban was placed on the use of the Greek language, and the names of towns and places changed to Bulgarian.

In the town of Serres, the branch of the National Bank of Greece was renamed National Bank of Bulgaria

In addition, the Bulgarian government tried to alter the ethnic composition of the region, by expropriating land and houses from Greeks in favor of Bulgarian settlers, and by the introduction of forced labor and of economic restrictions for the Greeks in an effort to force them to migrate.

Upon receiving the news that Bulgaria would further expand its occupation in Macedonia, Greeks became infuriated.

A protest strike was called on July 13 in Athens and proved highly successful, paralyzing the city almost completely for 24 hours. Similar protests were organized in Thessaloniki and smaller cities in northern Greece.

A second general strike was organized by EAM on July 22, which rallied between 100,000 and 300,000 (or even 400,000 according to some sources) people in central Athens.

A massive crowd attempted to march from Omonoia Square towards Syntagma Square along Panepistimiou Street, but came across a barricade put up by mechanized German army forces, Italian cavalry and Greek collaborationist police.

Protesters are set upon by the occupying forces

The protesters were fired upon during their attempt to breach the barricade and were forced to withdraw, leaving behind 22 dead and several hundred wounded.

Workers and university students participated in large numbers in the protest. Several of them were killed, being either run over by armoured vehicles or fired upon.

Among them, Panagiota Stathopoulou and Koula Lili are two of the most remembered today.

Panagiota Stathopoulou and Koula Lili

Soon after the protest, the plans to extend the Bulgarian occupation zone were postponed indefinitely and never materialized.