Democracy Museum, Ai Stratis - Μουσείο Δημοκρατίας στον 'Aη Στράτη  
 
 
 
 
 
 
A citizen's rights should include
the right to know one's history.

Philippos Iliou

 
 
 
 
The Dictatorship of 4th August 1936 and the German Occupation
 
 
 
 
The political crisis and the severe social unrest of the 1930s came to a bloody climax in May 1936 with the workers' riots in Thessaloniki. To forestall a general strike called for 5th August 1936, Ioannis Metaxas seized dictatorial power by dissolving Parliament and suspending the Constitution on 4th August.

The coup d'etat was followed by a wave of arrests and heavy-handed repression. The number of exiles and prison inmates soared to unprecedented heights. The population of the "islands of exile" spiralled: Anafi, Ikaria, Gavdos, Antikythira, Milos, Kimolos, Folegandros, Ios, Sikinos, Santorini, Amorgos, Naxos, Paros, Sifnos, Skyros, Alonnisos and Ayios Efstratios each had hundreds of deportees.

Μουσείο Δημοκρατίας στον 'Aη Στράτη - Democracy Museum, Ai Stratis

Workers celebrating Mayday, Thessaloniki 1930's.
Photographic Archive of the Workers Center of Thessaloniki.

Recantation

The Metaxas regime enacted a mass of legislation directed against "enemies of the regime". These laws provided the legal foundations for measures that would have a far-reaching impact on Greece's social and political life right down to the fall of the military junta and the abolition of the monarchy in 1974: measures such as formal recantations of Communism ("declarations of repentance") and official certificates of "healthy social views", not to mention the legislative provisions for the opening of the first concentration camps for political prisoners. And so there came into being an interlocking package of laws and other measures designed primarily to punish intentions and ideas, and only secondarily to punish deeds.

Whereas a prisoner convicted of a criminal offence was released at the end of his term, the only way for a political prisoner to win release was by signing a recantation. The security forces applied extreme psychological pressure and brutal physical torture to extract recantations.

Political Exiles Coexistence Groups

In the places of exile, as in the prisons, the deportees took steps to organize their life collectively. To deal with the problems of undernourishment, illness, despondency and depression, as well as the most unlikely restrictions imposed on them at the whim of the local police chief, they formed "Political Exiles' Coexistence Groups" (known in Greek by the acronym OSPE).

Solidarity was the bond that kept these groups together, and their raison d'etre was to meet the bare minimum of the exiles' basic needs. The OSPE also organized cultural events and classes.

Μουσείο Δημοκρατίας στον 'Aη Στράτη - Democracy Museum, Ai Stratis

Members of the Anafi OSPE collecting kindling for their kitchens, an extremely laborious task. Note the cloths draped round their necks and heads to protect them from the thorns on the dry shrubs.
Source: Margaret E. Kenna, The Social Organisation of Exile: Greek Political Detainees in the 1930s, London 2001

Μουσείο Δημοκρατίας στον 'Aη Στράτη - Democracy Museum, Ai Stratis

Members of the Anafi OSPE washing clothes or vegetables in a trough.
Source: Margaret E. Kenna, The Social Organisation of Exile: Greek Political Detainees in the 1930s, London 2001

Μουσείο Δημοκρατίας στον 'Aη Στράτη - Democracy Museum, Ai Stratis

Members of the Anafi OSPE waiting to unload supplies or receive a new draft of deportees from the ship that called once a week, weather permitting.
Source: Margaret E. Kenna, The Social Organisation of Exile: Greek Political Detainees in the 1930s, London 2001

Μουσείο Δημοκρατίας στον 'Aη Στράτη - Democracy Museum, Ai Stratis

The offices of the Anafi OSPE: Exiles in the 'Pergamilis House' in Anafi village, which was made over for their use as a reading room and for meetings, cultural events and so on.
Source: Margaret E. Kenna, The Social Organisation of Exile: Greek Political Detainees in the 1930s, London 2001

Μουσείο Δημοκρατίας στον 'Aη Στράτη - Democracy Museum, Ai Stratis

The so-called Exiles' Club, used by the exiles for reading, playing chess or backgammon and for communal meals and functions organized by the OSPE.
Source: Margaret E. Kenna, The Social Organisation of Exile: Greek Political Detainees in the 1930s, London 2001

Μουσείο Δημοκρατίας στον 'Aη Στράτη - Democracy Museum, Ai Stratis

The Arts Section of the Anafi OSPE. The internees organized regular musical, theatrical and other performances which the locals were in most cases forbidden to attend by order of the Gendarmerie.
Source: Margaret E. Kenna, The Social Organisation of Exile: Greek Political Detainees in the 1930s, London 2001

Μουσείο Δημοκρατίας στον 'Aη Στράτη - Democracy Museum, Ai Stratis

Work on wood, made by Eusevios Milas, exiled on Ai-Stratis during the interwar period. The initials on the top ends of the hammer and sickle emblem stand for Communist Internationale.
Donated by Vyron Manikakis.

April 1941: The "last crime of the Metaxas Regime"

"Of the 1,870 detainees (Communists, socialists, democrats and anti-fascists) being held in the various internment camps on 27th April 1941, when the German army entered Athens, 670 managed to escape. Of the1,200 who surrendered to the Nazi invaders, 677 were executed by the Nazis during the occupation. At least 64 more died of starvation and various diseases. In the end, only 459 survived. Sixty-two of those were liberated in an operation carried out by ELAN (the Greek Popular Liberation Navy) on 17th July 1943."

Manolis Glezos, Ethniki Antistasi 1940-1945 (National Resistance 1940-1945), II, Athens, 147.

Although political prisoners and political exiles pleaded to be allowed to go and fight on the Albanian front and, later, to resist the Nazi invasion, the security forces not only prevented them from defending themselves and their country but handed them over as hostages to the army of occupation.

Μουσείο Δημοκρατίας στον 'Aη Στράτη - Democracy Museum, Ai Stratis

Anafi, 25th March 1941. Greek Independence Day (the anniversary of the 1821 Revolution) is celebrated for the first time since the heroic battles in Albania at a function organized by the local OSPE, with one of the exiles as the principal speaker.
Source: Margaret E. Kenna, The Social Organisation of Exile: Greek Political Detainees in the 1930s, London 2001.

Μουσείο Δημοκρατίας στον 'Aη Στράτη - Democracy Museum, Ai Stratis

Anafi, spring of 1942. At the end of the terrible 'hunger winter' the Italian Governor of the Cyclades paid a visit to Anafi. The exiles placed three of their number, who were sick and debilitated by hunger, on camp beds in the village's main street, in a protest against their privations that was joined by the islanders themselves. Electra Apostolou, who had been in exile on Anafi since 1938 with her baby daughter Agni, translated the exiles' petitions into Italian and the Governor agreed to have the most serious cases transferred to hospital. However, many of them were too weak to survive the additional stress of the sea voyage and died on board ship. On Anafi alone, it is estimated that twenty exiles died of starvation or ill-treatment in the winter of 1941-1942.
Source: Margaret E. Kenna, The Social Organisation of Exile: Greek Political Detainees in the 1930s, London 2001.

The victims of starvation on Ai-Stratis in the winter of 1941-1942

The "last crime of the Metaxas regime" was particularly atrocious in the case of the exiles on Ai-Stratis. Before the arrival of the German garrison in May 1941 the exiles requested to be released so that they could fight against the Occupation forces; but the Gendarmerie attacked them and killed three of them. Following the surrender of the island to a detachment of the German garrison on Limnos, the gendarmes kept all the exiles confined in the Infirmary (the building that is now the Museum of Democracy). Here 33 exiles died of starvation during the terrible winter of 1941-1942. Those who survived were rescued in July 1943 by a caique in the service of the Greek Popular Liberation Navy (ELAN), the naval arm of the well-known resistance group ELAS (National Popular Liberation Army).

Agathopoulos, Alekos, a tuberculosis sufferer from Piraeus
Alexiadis, Haralambos, shoemaker, from Kokkinia
Yiasimakis, Kostas, labourer, from Kavala
Yiouvekas, Vassilis, labourer, from Mytilini
Grivas, Anastasis, waiter, from the Peloponnese
Grintakis, Manolis, shoemaker, from Crete
Dimitriou, Vassilis, student, from Doris
Doxakis, Christos, labourer, from Kavala
Zonos, Iraklis, businessman, from Rethymno
Theodoridis, Thodoros, builder, from Athens
Kali, Sido, a Jewish bronzesmith from Thessaloniki
Kambeli, Minas, a Jewish labourer from Trikala
Kandilas, Yannis, a young labourer from Kavala
Keramaris, Dimitris, a young labourer from Alexandroupoli
Kiourtsis, Yannis, labourer, from E. Macedonia
Koutalakidis, Stathis, student, from Langadas
Lefkaditis, Kostas, tailor, from Lamia
Mitsis, Kostas, labourer, from Ipiros
Molidis, Kostas, labourer, from Thessaloniki
Barakis, Haralambos, labourer, from Alexandroupoli
Nikolaidis, Vangelis, a tobacco worker suffering from tuberculosis
Ikonomou, Antonis, driver, from Thessaloniki
Pantazis, Yorgos, labourer, from Lamia
Raftopoulos, Yannis, student, from Parga
Sarakatsianos or Fezos, Dimitris, farm worker, from Thessaly
Spandonis, Thanassis, tobacco worker, from Nigrita
Stamatiadis, Georgios, tailor, from Athens
Stavrianopoulos, Panayiotis, labourer
Traianos, Tassos, barber, from Edessa
Tsonos, Serafim, labourer, from Karditsa
Havanis, Christos, farm worker, from Preveza
Hadzidis, A., farm worker, from Macedonia

Μουσείο Δημοκρατίας στον 'Aη Στράτη - Democracy Museum, Ai Stratis

1946, the service for the removal of the mortal remains of the 33 internees who died of starvation when confined in the Ai-Stratis Infirmary. Due honour is paid to their memory in front of their ossuary in the Ayios Minas churchyard.
Vasilis and Manikakis Manikakis Papers.

Μουσείο Δημοκρατίας στον 'Aη Στράτη - Democracy Museum, Ai Stratis