Protesters of EAM on 3rd of December of 1944 lying dead or wounded in front of the Greek Parliament's building, while others running for their lives, moments after the first shootings that left at least 28 dead and signaled the beginning of the "Dekemvriana" events.
When World War II broke out Metaxas worked hard to keep Greece out of the conflict without jeopardizing good relations with Great Britain. Benito Mussolini, however, wanted to demonstrate to Hitler that Italy was an equal and victorious Axis partner and picked Greece as an easy target. Italy attacked Greece in October 1940 but the Italian offensive was checked by the Greek army and the Italian troops retreated to Albania. In April 1941 Germany intervened and invaded Greece. The government and the king fled to the Middle East, and the country was ultimately divided by the three occupying forces (Germany, Italy, and Bulgaria), and a collaborationist government was installed in Athens. The economic dislocation of the country due to the war and the severity of the German occupation created serious food shortages in the urban centers. In the winter of 1941–1942 the population of Athens faced a terrible famine that caused the death of more than thirty thousand people. The dire living conditions drove many people to form committees to address the food shortage problems, which often became the nuclei of the Resistance in the urban centers. In 1942 the Resistance spread to the countryside and grew to become one of the largest resistance movements in occupied Europe. The Communist Party together with other small socialist parties founded the National Liberation Front (EAM) and its military wing, the National People’s Liberation Army (ELAS), which were by far the strongest resistance organizations in occupied Greece. The Resistance was, however, intertwined with a civil war between rival resistance organizations (leftist and rightist), but mostly between ELAS and the Security Battalions, Greek armed units that collaborated with the Germans in campaigns against the guerrillas. The brutality of the German occupation reached its climax in 1943–1944: sixty thousand Greek Jews (mostly from Salonika) were deported to be exterminated in concentration camps; hundreds of civilians were executed on the spot in mass executions in places such as Kalavryta, Kommeno, and Distomo; villages were razed to the ground in retaliation for guerrilla attacks; and hostages were taken and later executed after roundups in Athens neighborhoods.
LIBERATION AND CIVIL WAR
Greece was liberated in October 1944. When the government-in-exile and prime minister George Papandreou arrived in Athens the country was controlled by EAM. The civil war during the occupation had heightened political tensions. The government and the British feared that the communists might attempt a coup and sought to disarm ELAS. A new bloody conflict broke out in Athens in December 1944. The government with the support of British troops forced ELAS to evacuate the capital and after the Varkiza Agreement (February 1945) the guerrillas surrendered their arms. After the disarmament of the ELAS a period of ‘‘white terror’’ followed during which the ultra-royalist armed bands unleashed a campaign of violence against the leftists in the countryside. The Communist Party abstained from the elections of 1946 and in a climate of disorder and terror the royalists won the absolute majority. The polarization was further aggravated when the royalist government held a rigged plebiscite in September 1946, in which 68 percent voted for the return of the king to Greece.
The armed groups formed by leftists who took to the mountains to escape from right-wing violence began to swell in 1946 and a full-scale civil war between the army and the communist guerrillas of the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE) broke out (1946–1949). The failure of the army to defeat the guerrillas alarmed the United States, which viewed the Greek civil war as another instance of a Soviet-inspired communist expansionism. The declaration of the Truman Doctrine (March 1947) outlined the U.S. foreign policy of ‘‘containment’’ vis-a`-vis the Soviet Union, and it was accompanied by generous economic aid to Greece and Turkey, which proved to be crucial for the military victory. On the other hand, the DSE, despite its initial success, faced insurmountable problems, such as few reserves, inferior weapons, and the limited support of the neighboring socialist countries, while the shift from partisan to regular army tactics increased its casualties. The Greek Civil War took a heavy toll: thirty-eight thousand soldiers and guerrillas were killed, seven hundred thousand peasants became war-stricken refugees, and twenty-five thousand boys and girls were evacuated by guerrillas from the war zones to the socialist countries, while in the final stages of the war about fifty-eight thousand people fled the country and became political refugees.
The civil war had a major impact on political developments in Greece. In the following decades political discrimination against the Left became an integral part of the state policy, a combination of anticommunism and nationalism characterized the official ideology, and the army gained considerable political power. Marshal Alexander Papagos, commander-in-chief of the army during the civil war, and Constantine Karamanlis were leaders from the Right who became prime ministers successively (1952–1955 and 1956–1963) and laid the foundations for the economic reconstruction and development.