It was a sunny autumn day when the bells in the churches of Athens started ringing joyously and the citizens rushed out on the streets, many of them waving the Greek flag in celebration. Everyone knew why. The bells were ringing the sound of liberation as the Germans who had occupied Athens for three and a half horrendous years were leaving. It was October 12, 1944, a day for Athens to rejoice.
Soon the rest of the suffering country would be free too. By November 3, the last German, Italian and Bulgarian soldier had left the mainland. Only Crete had to suffer under the German boot for a few more months.
The countdown to the withdrawal of the Germans and their allies from Greece had taken place a few months earlier, on June 6, when the American army landed in Normandy and began to move towards Germany, with the Soviet army advancing from the east side. It was obvious then that the days of Nazi Germany were numbered.
In the weeks before liberation, political consultations on the post-occupation situation in Greece were intensified. For their part, the Germans were looking for ways to leave the country safely. From April 26, 1944, Georgios Papandreou was leading the Greek government in exile. But it was the English the ones who were pulling the strings. With the Lebanon Conference (May 17-20, 1944) and Caserta Agreement (September 26, 1944), the ELAS and EDES resistance groups were placed under the orders of the Papandreou government, which was enriched with EAM executives.
The Germans began gradually to leave Athens on the evening of October 11, moving North. At 8 in the morning on October 12, the few remaining Germans in Athens gathered at the Monument of the Unknown Soldier. There, in a makeshift and hasty ceremony, the chief of the occupying forces, General Hellmuth Felmy, accompanied by the mayor of Athens, Angelos Georgatos, laid a wreath.
All that remained was tο take down the Nazi flag from Acropolis. A German soldier took down the swastika without any formalities at 9:15 in the morning, took it under his arm and left with his head down, thus signaling the end of the German occupation that lasted 1,265 days and the beginning of a wild celebration on the streets of Athens.
Thousands of people with the blue-and-white in hand were shouting in joy, some exclaiming “Christ has Risen,” children were climbing on the roofs of the tram, while the National Anthem echoed across the city. After 42 long months of literal slavery, the Athenians were breathing the intoxicating air of freedom.
During the six days that passed until the arrival of the government in Athens, the power was exercised by a three-member committee, consisting of Themistocles Tsatsos, Philippos Manouilidis and Yiannis Zevgos, assisted by the Commander of the Athens Police, Angelos Evert. Two days later, the forces of the 3rd Corps of the British Army under Army commander General Ronald Skobie arrived in the capital, enthusiastically received by the Athenians.
Georgios Papandreou raises the Greek flag on the Acropolis Hill
On October 18, Georgios Papandreou and his government arrived in Athens. On the same day, the Prime Minister in a moving ceremony raised the Greek flag on the Acropolis, and then spoke to the crowd that had filled Syntagma Square from the balcony of the Ministry of Finance.
In a masterfully structured speech, Papandreou announced his government’s intentions, highlighting, inter alia, the need to meet national demands, restore the people’s sovereignty, resolve state issues after a free referendum, and punish those who collaborated with the occupying forces.
The crowd, that often interrupted him with slogans in favor of EAM and the Greek Communist Party (KKE), welcomed his announcements with cries in favor of a people’s republic. Papandreou, who had been forced to steer constantly between the Left and the Right, replied with the characteristic phrase that remained in history: “We also believe in a people’s republic.”
However, the joy and festivities for the liberation lasted only 53 days. On December 3, the sound of gunfire echoed again in the streets of the capital, starting at Syntagma Square. The December events (Dekemvriana) were the precursor of the bloody Civil War (1946-1949).