By Catherine Tsounis
“The secret of Happiness is Freedom, and the secret of Freedom, Courage.” – Thucydides (460 BC – 395 BC), Greek Historian. Nikos Douroudakis and Stavros Katsoulakis, Queens, New York immigrants from Sfakia, Crete, related incredible stories of heroism and perseverance in peace and war. Crete has untold stories of heroism rarely discussed.
Niko Douroudakis has a Certificate and the National Resistance Hero Medal given to his late father, Sifi Douroudakis, prominently displayed in his living room. The National Resistance medal “was in support of the government against powers who wanted to destroy Greece,” said Niko Douroudakis. “There was no Civil War in Sfakia, Crete. Only in Athens and the big cities was there action. We had Vendetta.” In the blockbuster mini-series “Tis Agapis Maherias” (The Kniving of the Heart), a police officer said to a Cretan “we must follow Greece’s laws.” The protagonist replied, “This is not Greece. This is Sfakia”. See this miniseries at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KINuTAxqZS0.
Certificate and the National Resistance Hero Medal were given by Minister Stilianos Koundouros, Department of Defense of the Hellenic Democracy on June 2, 1962. The Certificate reads: “This Commemorative Medal as a National Resistance Fighter is awarded to Iosif (Joseph) Douroundou (Douroudakis) of the Father Nikolas for his exceptional services in this struggle and in the organization of EAO (Ethnikes Antistasiakes Omades or National Resistance Groups) in Sfakia under the leadership of Mayor John Katsias.
Nikos brother, George Douroudakis described the unique history of their father in an internet interview from Athens, Greece. “Sifis Douroudakis or Douroundous (or Ndoutoundous, Katsoulos, curly haired, or Katsoulosifis) was born in 1897 in Sfakia, Crete. These were the Black Years of Greece’s participation in the Greek-Turkish War.” According to Wikipedia, “TheGreco-Turkish War of 1897, also called the Thirty Days’ War and known in Greece as the Black ’97 or the Unfortunate War… Its immediate cause was the question over the status of the Ottoman province of Crete whose Greek majority long desired union with Greece. Despite a decisive Ottoman military victory, as a result of the intervention of the Great Powers, after the war, an autonomous Cretan State under Ottoman suzerainty was established the following year, with Prince George as its first High Commissioner. This was the first war effort in which the military and political personnel of Greece were put to test after the Greek War of Independence in 1821,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Turkish_War_(1897).
George continues this narration by saying “Many children of agricultural families had difficult childhoods. From young children they were instilled in the Sfakia heroic ethics and loyalty to family. His generation had a deep respect for education that was acquired in the military where they became proficient in writing and reading.” At https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sfakians, “TheSfakians are the inhabitants of the region of Sfakia located in Western Crete. The Sfakians hold themselves to be the direct descendants of the Dorians who invaded the island around 1100 B.C. The inhabitants of Sfakia have faced numerous foreign invaders, to which fact they owe their reputation as courageous warriors that they have had for centuries as cousins of the Maniots and Souliots.”
At https://www.explorecrete.com/crete-west/EN-Sfakia-people.html states “The Sfakians (Sfakianoi)…look different from other Cretans. Here you will find many taller, fair-haired men and women with light eyes and skin…Many major Cretan risings against the Venetians and later the Turks began in Sfakia. The conquerors never lived here, not only because it was a tough life in the mountains, but mainly because they were afraid of the inhabitants, who were used to living free. Today the Sfakians remain genuine, fine specimens of Cretan manhood, always warlike. There are guns, military or “civilian”, in almost every house. They come out at weddings, christenings and every other celebration. Shots are fired to express joy or just for target practice using road signs. As the Sfakians like to say, “If we had had this level of armament in 1940, the Germans would never have taken Crete”…This excessive sense of honor is the reason that the vendetta, the custom of revenge and taking the law into one’s own hands, has marked Sfakia more than any other part of Crete, plunging families into mourning and emptying whole villages… Mass tourism has not come to Sfakia and probably never will, thanks to its mountainous terrain and inaccessibility.”
To understand the spirit of the Cretan, listen to the music in the bibliography at the end.
George Douroudakis explains his father fought in two wars: “the Asia Minor Campaign from 1919 to 1922 and the Battle of Crete, a period of six years. We found his rifle in the Benaki Museum with his name inscribed on it,” said George. “On August 31st, 1922, the Cretan Division left Asia Minor from Cesme, or Krini as the Greeks called their city before the Asia Minor Catastrophe, for Chios.” Niko added that “my Father and the Cretan division helped to evacuate civilians to Chios from Cesme. This was the first time my Father experienced war. When Kemal was at the Battle of Afyonkarahisar-Eskişehir on August 13, 1922, Sifis Douroudakis was at the line, five kilometers from his brother Manousi, who was wounded in action. From September 1921 to August 1922, he fought at various points along the 600 kilometer line. Manoussos was in Asia Minor from September 13, 1921 to August 1922. ”
The Douroudakis brothers participated in the battle that sealed the destiny of Hellenism in Asia Minor. “Between 27 June and 20 July 1921, a reinforced Greek army of nine divisions launched a major offensive, the greatest thus far, against the Turkish troops commanded by Ismet Inonu on the line of Afyonkarahisar-Kutahya-Eskishehir. The plan of the Greeks was to cut Anatolia in two, as the above towns were on the main rail-lines connecting the hinterland with the coast. Eventually, after breaking the stiff Turkish defenses, they occupied these strategically important centers. Instead of pursuing and decisively crippling the nationalists’ military capacity, the Greek Army halted. In consequence, and despite their defeat, the Turks managed to avoid encirclement and made a strategic retreat on the east of the Sakarya River, where they organized their last line of defense. This was the major decision that sealed the fate of the Greek campaign in Anatolia,” according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Turkish_War_(1919%E2%80%9322)
“Our father’s generation was born to fight,” explained Niko, my Queens, New York neighbor. “Our father, Sifis, was six feet tall. In those years everyone had to fight for their country. His first wife died in his youth. He married again November 3rd, 1940.
He was drafted in the army on his wedding night, because of the German attack on Greece.”
Sifis Douroudakis was an active member of the National Resistance Movement against the Axis Powers, honored by this unique medal and certificate. His name is listed as a hero in the military record of Rouf in Athens with his fellow National Defense fighters from Sfakia, Crete. As a farmer in the Lefka Ori (“White Mountains in a mountain range located in Western Crete in the Chania prefecture), he protected British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers hiding from the Germans in the spring of 1944. The Germans gathered 32 farmers from Sfakia to massacre. Sifis and his brother George were included. By chance, Sifis escaped the massacre. But his brother George was killed. Sifis continued the rescue of British, Australians and New Zealanders to Egypt. Niko said “on May 9th New Zealanders celebrate their escape to Egypt at the Church of Panagia Thymiani, near the village of Komitades. There is a monument in Sfakia commemorating the evacuation of British and ANZAC forces (Allied Naval Squadron).” 10,000 British and ANZAC forces were evacuated from Sfakia by British and Australian Warships.
“The Battle of Crete was unprecedented in three respects: it was not only the first battle where German paratroops(Fallschirmjäger) were used on a massive scale, but also the first mainly airborne invasion in military history, the first time the Allies made significant use of intelligence from the deciphered German Enigma code, and the first time invading German troops encountered mass resistance from a civilian population. Because of the heavy casualties suffered by the paratroopers, Adolf Hitlerforbade further large-scale airborne operations. However, the Allies were impressed by the potential of paratroopers and started to build their own airborne formations.
From the very first day of the battle, everywhere on the island, Cretan civilians – men, women, children, priests, monks, and even nuns, armed and otherwise – joined the battle with whatever weapons were at hand. In some cases, ancient matchlock rifles which had last been used against the Turks were dug up from their hiding places and pressed into action. In other cases, civilians went into action armed only with what they could gather from their kitchens or barns, and several German parachutists were knifed or clubbed to death in the olive groves that dotted the island.
This was the first occasion in the war that the Germans encountered widespread and unrestrained resistance from a civilian population, and for a period of time, it unbalanced them. However, once they had recovered from their shock, the German paratroopers reacted with equal ferocity, killing many Cretan civilians… the Holocaust of Viannos and the Massacre of Kondomari…. most Cretan partisans wore no uniforms or identifying insignia such as armbands or headbands, the Germans felt free of all of the constraints implied by the Hague conventions and killed both armed and unarmed civilians indiscriminately,”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Crete.
Now world wars do not exist. Sfakians such as George Douroudakis channel their energies in academic achievement and business. George is brilliant and proficient in seven languages. He was first in his class from the Kapodistrian University of Athens in 1976. He was told at Graduation that he was Valedictorian. George recited the Graduation Oath representing the Student Body. His son, Iosif Douroudakis is an Orthopedic Surgeon.
“The rest of his life, our father gave what he could for his country,” said Niko. “Our Father did not talk about WWII. Our brother George asked questions and discovered his war record. He died in 1984 at the age of 87, leaving behind a unique legacy in Sfakia.”
Stavros Katsoulakis of Queens New York, related an amazing legacy of his grandfather and father from Sfagia. “In Sfagia, the main road is called Othos Stavrou Katsouli Oplahirgos (Fighter for his Country) is named after my grandfather,” he said. “Stavros, who was born in the 1880’s, organized a group of Sfagian Cretan fighters to free Epirus in the Balkan Wars of 1912. His Cretan 12 man volunteer group encircled a Hani (like a hotel). He went in through a back window, shooting all Turkish defenders, except for one wounded man. The wounded Turk shot him in the back and shot my grandfather Stavros. As he was dying, he gave his two pistols and silver sword to his companions to give to his three month old son as his inheritance and a code4 of honor, courage and loyalty to one’s country. He died fighting the Turks at Driskos.” Driskos is outside of Ioannina, Epirus.
My neighbor, Stavros, father, also called Stavros, grew up in an orphanage. He learned a trade, an education and to play the musical instruments of the trumpet and mandolin. “He followed in the footsteps of his late father. He fought the Germans in WWII. He organized a group of Sfagian fighters on the side of the Allies. The Germans burnt an apple orchard to catch my Father who was in the Greek Resistance. A newspaper article in August 1950, Kyrikos, Chania, and Crete states “the Group Leader Stavros Katsoulis, 38 years of age, organized a group of two hundred volunteers to enter the Korean War, upon permission from the Greek government. Fought in the Albanian War (1939-1940) and the Battle of Crete. The Germans were persecuting him for three years. He is viewed by his contemporaries as one of the bravest Group Leaders of Crete. He is one of the organizers of the Resistance Movement against the Germans. He Fought with Group Leader Pavlo Gyparis. He is ready to fight on the American side against their enemy in Korea.”
The newspaper says that Group Leader Katsoulis believes “it is our obligation. The Americans under the Truman Doctrine helped us rebuild our lives and provide food. It is our obligation to help our Allies in Korea under the United Nations flag, fighting for Universal Justice and freedom.” The reporter, Yolanda Androulidakos, wrote Captain Stavros has four children, but believes it is his obligation to fight in Korea. Captain Katsoulis describes his motives.
“Listen,” he said. “My father was a Group leader fighting in Epirus in 1912. In one of the major battles, he fell, fighting heroically. Before he died, he asked his fellow fighters to give me one last request: ‘Tell my son I died for my country. I leave him a blessing and curse to fight whenever it is necessary for our Greece, sacrificing for our great country, life family and wealth.” The Greek government did not give the Sfagians permission to fight in the Korean War. Would anyone today volunteer to join the United Nations for freedom and justice?
“Captain Stavros Katsoulidakis was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation from the Department of Defense, Department of Greek Resistance,” explained his daughter-in law, Zoe Katsoulakis, former Director of the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal. “The Certificate recognized his service in the fight of National Resistance from 1-9-43 to 5-28-45 from the village of Filakis, province of Apokoronou of the city of Chania. He organized and led a group of over twenty men who were engaged in various armed battles.”
These Cretan leaders have given their descendants a legacy more valuable than wealth. A higher calling to do what is best for one’s country and family. Our youth are looking for mentors to emulate with an honor code such as the Sfagians and the “300 Spartans”.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwDomxyoFgU – Nikos Xylouris Erotokritos.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzSjGLAVQpY – “Pote tha Kani Xasteria” or “When will We Have Clear Skies”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3s0q4YfScc0 – Manolis Lydakis “Astra Mi Me malonete” or “Stars do not Fight with Me because I Sing at Night”.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GarTvUSrZTA – “Tis Agapis Maxerias”.
https://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/the-battle-for-crete- New Zealand History