On Sunday April 27 1941, three weeks after launching its attack on the country's northern border, the vanguard of the German army entered Athens. A procession of motor cyclists, made its way down Kifissias Avenue and into Queen Sophia Avenue. The streets were deserted and windows firmly shuttered against the unwelcome sight. The grim procession passed the Parliament Building and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, crossed the deserted Syntagma Square, and headed straight for the Acropolis, intent upon hoisting there the Hakenkreutz, the banner of the Third Reich.
The Evzone on duty guarding the Greek flag, which always flies over the Sacred Rock, was ordered to haul it down and raise the Nazi banner in its place. Instead, Konstantinos Koukidis calmly took down the Greek flag, wrapped it around his body, and then plunged to his death from the ramparts.
At about eleven o'clock on the night of 30th/31st May, two eighteen-year old boys Manolis Glezos and Apostolos Santas slipped quietly into a cave on the northern slope of the Acropolis and climbed through an ancient tunnel which led to the summit. They came out near the Erechtheion where, in ancient times, the sacred serpent of Athena was said to emerge in times of trouble.
Moving quietly across the plateau so as not to alert the guards, they hauled down the hated flag, carefully smearing their fingerprints on the pole so that no one else could be blamed for their actions. Then they returned the way they had come. In the Cave of Aglauros they ripped out pieces of the banner with a penknife to take as souvenirs, and abandoned the remnants of the torn flag, which was very large, before they emerged to make good their escape.
The enraged German authorities threatened the unknown culprits with death, but a Greek writer later wrote: "Do they truly imagine that there is a single Greek, however deeply and incurably Germanophile, who does not feel satisfied and proud at this heroic madness?" It later emerged that the two culprits had actually been stopped and questioned on their way home by a Greek police officer, who had chosen neither to pursue his enquiries any further, nor to report the matter to higher authority. The Germans later dismissed all the police in the first and third districts of Athens "for allowing the theft of the swastika."
When, on June 22, the Italians formally took over the Occupation, a large Italian flag was raised beside the Greek and Nazi banners. People commented that seeing the Greek flag between the other two reminded them of "the Crucified One, hanging between the two thieves."
After three and a half years of suffering endured by the people of Athens, on October 12th 1944, the Germans themselves pulled down their banner, before laying a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown warrior, and pulling out of the city. Two days later, on Saturday October 14th the first British troops arrived, followed three days after that by Prime Minister George Papandreou and the Greek government in exile. A few days after that, in a rare show of national unity, the Prime Minister, the Government, and the citizens of Athens went to the Acropolis to re-hoist the Greek flag ceremonially.
This facade of national unity did not last, and a bitter civil war was to follow liberation. Ironically, Glezos' subsequent fortunes reflect those of many patriots who had risked their lives by resisting the Occupation. Having been condemned to death in absentia by the Germans for his patriotic act, he was once more condemned to death by the Greek Government for treason in 1948: his "crime" being sympathy with the Greek Communist Party, which had played the leading role in the resistance. His sentence was later commuted to six years imprisonment. Then in 1959 he was again arrested for treason and sentenced to five years imprisonment, being released in 1962. He was later vindicated by being elected to the Greek Parliament.