3 December 1944
Winston Churchill’s legendary qualities of courage and defiance are often celebrated. It is taken for granted that he was motivated primarily by a moral repugnance to Nazism. If so, it’s difficult to understand his decision in 1944 to release around 12,000 Nazi collaborators from the prisons in Athens and have them uniformed and armed so that they could eliminate the threat of left leaning partisans who had driven the German army from the city’s streets. One foreseeable consequence was that, on 3 December 1944, 28 demonstrators in Athens, including women and children, were shot dead. Even reading the account of the massacre in the pro-Empire Daily Express, it is clear who was responsible.
‘They (the crowd of several thousand) were entirely unarmed. Outside the US embassy they paused and shouted “Long Live Roosevelt”… ( but later) the police armed with Bren rifles and tommy guns opened fire at some instances at 50 yards range and without warning… There was no provocation. The crowd was peaceful which was demonstrated by the presence of many women and children, even babies… (but as) a second body of E.A.M. (National Liberation Front) demonstrators came down the street policemen increased the intensity and range of their fire, using heavier weapons, probably mortars and light anti-tank guns.’1
The only possible mitigation suggested by the Express reporter was that ‘the police had served both (the dictator) Metaxas and the German invaders and are probably somewhat frightened.’ Yet, Churchill was so keen to protect the former quisling agents of the Nazi regime that he insisted on ‘reserving judgement’ on the incident.2
- ‘Royalists Battle with Reds,’ The Daily Express, 4 December 1944 p. 1 and p. 4. For Churchill’s role in masterminding the crackdown and sending Sir Charles Wickham to Athens oversee the recruitment of collaborators see Ed Vulliamy and Helena Smith ‘Athens 1944. Britain’s Dirty Secret,’ The Guardian, 30 November 2014.
- “Royalists Battle with Reds”, The Daily Express, 4 December 1944 p. 4.
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