In the morning of May 30, 1941, two young Greeks, Manolis Glezos and Lakis Santas climbed on Acropolis and took down the Nazi flag. It was the first brave act of resistance against the occupying army in World War Two.
One of the most humiliating moments not only for Greece but for all humanity was when in April 28, 1941 the Nazi flag, the swastika was hoisted on Acropolis Hill, on the very cradle of democracy and Western Civilization.
It was the day when the German troops entered Athens to take control of the surrendered city. The moment the Nazi flag flew in the sky of Attica marked the beginning of three and a half years of pain, hunger and death under the Wermarcht boot.
Yet, two young men, barely 18, made a heroic move which later proved to be the beginning of the great Greek resistance to the Nazis. The two youths, Manolis Glezos and Lakis Santas climbed Acropolis Hill at night and took down the swastika flag, dealing a symbolic blow to the powerful occupying forces.
Taking down Nazi flag an act of defiance
It was a gallant act, an act of proud defiance which ultimately raised the spirit of Greece and made them believe that, indeed, they could resist the Nazis. It was a demonstration of the power of the human spirit against the power of guns.
The young men’s’ plan to pull down the Nazi flag from the Acropolis was organized days earlier. They read everything they found about the Acropolis in encyclopedias. Most importantly, they read about natural tunnels and crevices in the Sacred Rock and other points where they could hide.
On the morning of May 30, 1941, Glezos and Santas heard on the radio that Crete had fallen. The two young men decided it was time to act.
At 9:30 PM, the Acropolis’ small guard was gathered in Propylaia, drinking beer and getting drunk. The two youths jumped over the wire fences and crawled through the cave at the Pandroseion sanctuary.
They climbed up the archeologists’ scaffolding and came to within a few meters of the flagpole, without any guard noticing them. Moving quickly, they took down the hated Nazi flag.
The two students, armed with only a small knife, a lantern and a ton of courage, did what seemed impossible: They climbed 34 meters (111.5 feet) up Acropolis Hill, in the middle of the night under a strict curfew, approached the flag and cut it down. They then went 34 meters downhill, crossed the empty streets of central Athens and quietly returned to their homes.
Later in their lives, Glezos and Santas spoke about the carefully orchestrated act, their practice the day before, and also the fear they felt when returning to their homes. They were lucky by any measure, but luck is always on the side of the brave.
Death in absentia for taking down flag
On June 1st, the Greek newspaper Eleftheron Vima published a proclamation from the German commander stating that the “unidentified culprits” responsible for taking down the Nazi flag from the Acropolis were handed a sentence of death in absentia — a punishment that was never applied.
Early next morning, the German guards realized that the flag was missing. The Nazi authorities ordered several interrogations and by 11 AM, a new Nazi flag was flying above the Acropolis.
Glezos ended up being arrested three times during the German occupation. He was even put in prison for a time, but managed to escape, while Lakis Santas escaped the enemy entirely and joined the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS).
Apostolos Santas died in Athens at age 89 in 2011, and Manolis Glezos passed away on March 30, 2020.