In the stirring new documentary film "The 11th Day," an old woman in black talks about the pretty colors falling from the sky on a day in May.
Then, she was a young girl hiding in an
olive grove, when the bombing of the Greek Island of Crete finally
stopped. Villages and cities had been ruined. Survivors were trembling
Suddenly, the sky cleared. The silence was audible. She looked up.
"I was only 15," says Kaliopi Kapetanakis, remembering sitting in the
olive tree while talking to a friend. "Oh, I said, `Look. The whole sky
is full of umbrellas.'"
They weren't umbrellas. They were
parachutes, carrying more than 8,000 of Adolf Hitler's elite
paratroops, the Fallschirmjager, the Sky Hunters. They were the tip of
the German spear.
Hitler's plan was to take Crete, protect his
southern flank and then quickly turn his attention to the east, to the
invasion of Russia. With the Greek army decimated in Albania, the
operation was to take only a day or so. His war planners didn't take
into account the will of the Cretan people.
ringing the bells," George Tzikas, a veteran of one of the most
successful resistances in history, says in the film. "The church bells.
Freedom! Save the city! Stop the Germans! And men and women, children,
with no equipment, we stopped the advance."
They confronted the
Germans with whatever they could grab. They lunged at the
Fallschirmjager as they hit the ground, gripped by a terrible and
desperate rage. Not only the men, but also the women and the children.
"We did not have many guns," Manolis Paterakis says through his white
beard in the film. "Still, we went to fight, women and men, children,
young and old. They went with hoes. They went with stakes. With
anything we could find."
Of the 8,100 German paratroopers who
jumped out of their planes that day, 3,764 were killed. Another 1,600
were wounded. What was left of the elite German paratroops was never
used as the point of the spear again.
The French Resistance has
been chronicled, and the Dutch, the Polish and others, but what
happened in Greece has been less trumpeted.
If you're interested in what fuels an insurgency--and the news is full of that today--you'll want to see this film.
Funded by San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos, "The 11th Day" is about
the children and adults who fought. They tell it in their own voices,
in translation, with film footage illustrating how they harassed the
Germans for years.
The Germans did not build schools or
encourage democracy. Instead, they responded by burning entire villages
in reprisal. The survivors were ordered to dig mass graves and then
were put into those graves. Priests at funeral processions were gunned
down by German soldiers, as were women and boys and girls.
barbarism prompted a backlash, and captured Germans were slaughtered.
There were more reprisals, and ditch after ditch was filled. Crete,
which only 45 years before had been washed in blood during the uprising
against the Ottoman Empire, was washed in blood again. In World War II,
France fell in a week. But Crete never surrendered.
fear, no question about that," Tzikas, then a young soldier, says in
the film. "But that fear brought anger. Let me tell you: The iron that
was coming down, and the fire made the Cretan heart harder than the
German steel and the Cretan spirit hotter than the German fire. And
when they came down, May 20, 1941, the Cretan people were ready for
His eyes are full of pain and pride while on the screen
farmers rush into the fields where the paratroopers were falling. The
villagers wear long boots and run across the hard ground, clutching
One of the farmers holds a short hoe, on a handle
about three feet long. They used what they had. Then they stripped the
German dead of their guns and used those.
The resistance fighters organized themselves. They worked with British commandos to pass intelligence to Allied commanders.
One of the more fascinating parts of the film is the story of Patrick
Leigh Fermor, the British intelligence officer who lived among the
Cretans and helped organize a stunning coup: The capture of the German
commanding general who later was smuggled off the island for
interrogation. The guerrillas had German uniforms, but they did not
have the proper insignia for the mission. So the Cretan women
embroidered the necessary insignia.
The guerrillas wanted the German general's head on a pike, but Fermor protected him.
"Why is something relevant today that happened 60 years ago?" director
Christos Epperson told me. "It is one of the great untold stories of
World War II. It is a story that has been buried for too long."
"The 11th Day" will be shown at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday and again on
Thursday at the Pickwick Theater in Park Ridge. Tickets are $10. For
more information, go to www.crete1941.com or call 800-791-2858.