Torture exposed

Early on, from June 1947, Rizospastis, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Greece, as well as the National Liberation Front (EAM) newspaper Eleftheri Ellada (Free Greece), published accounts of the dire living conditions and, later, torture at Makronissos military camp. After both newspapers were banned under Law 509, these accounts continued to appear in the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE) Deltiou Eidiseon (News Bulletin).

Georges Lambrinos, Le Dachau Americain en Grece, Edition "Grece Libre", 2/1949

Georges Lambrinos, Le Dachau Americain en Grece, Edition “Grece Libre”, 2/1949

From 1949, an international campaign was mounted aimed at closing down Makronissos. The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) publishing house, Nea Ellada, issued two books that year: Makronisi: H kolasi ton dimokratikon fantaron (Makronissos: the hell of the democratic troops) and Giorgis Lambrinos’ Makronisi: To amerikaniko Dachaou stin Ellada (Makronissos: the American Dachau in Greece). The latter, which was translated into English and French, was widely distributed in the West. The parallels drawn with Nazi concentration camps, particularly Dachau, emerged as the campaign’s rallying cry. Accounts of torture were also aired on Eleftheri Ellada radio, the KKE’s radio station that was broadcast from Bucharest.

Meantime, across Western Europe, committees – most notably, in France, the Comité Française d’aide à la Grèce Dèmocratique, and in Britain, the League for Democracy in Greece – mounted active campaigns to abolish Makronissos and draw attention to rights violations and the lack of freedoms in Greece. This activity peaked in the early 1950s, with the publication of several magazine articles by the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre in Les Temps modernes and a piece in New Statesman by Kingsley Martin, who maintained close links with the Labour Party’s left flank.

In Greece, the conditions on Makronissos were shrouded in silence in 1948 and 1949 (as the KKE, EAM, National Solidarity and their publications had been outlawed). With few exceptions, the press was rife with laudatory references to the work being done at Makronissos. In the political climate of the Greek Civil War, marked by suspension of political freedoms and persecution of left-wing ideas, information was shared by word of mouth almost exclusively between relatives of prisoners and leftists, thus establishing – albeit, underground – Makronissos’ reputation as a “hellhole”.

Supprimez Makronissos! Le Dachau americain en Grece, Editions "Grece Nouvelle", 1950

Supprimez Makronissos! Le Dachau americain en Grece, Editions “Grece Nouvelle”, 1950

The silence in Greek public discourse was broken in March 1950, just days before the holding of parliamentary elections. The social-democratic newspaper Machi, edited by Ilias Tsirimokos, launched a campaign to close the “hellhole” through a series of articles beginning with the account of Evangelos Macheras, a lawyer and political detainee on Makronissos. The series, published under the header “Behind the blue-and-white curtain”, was largely comprised of letters by current and former prisoners denouncing the inhuman detention conditions and torture to which they had been subjected. The articles caused an uproar – including charges brought against Machi, whose editors were acquitted – as this was the first time that information became available to Greek public opinion about what was taking place on Makronissos. The series ran through the autumn of 1950, but over the summer, the focus was no longer on Makronissos

Note: All the articles and letters published by Machi have been compiled by Evangelos Machairas in the book Piso apo to galanolefko parapetasma: Makronisos, Yioura, ki alla katerga (Behind the blue-and-white curtain: Makronissos, Yioura and other labour camps), published by Proskinio (Athens, 1999).

Indicative bibliography:

Euangelos Machairas, Pisō apo to galanoleuko parapetasma. Makronēsos, Gioura ki alla katerga, Proskēnio, Athēna 1999.

Giōrgēs Lamprinos, Makronēsi. To amerikaniko Ntachaou stēn Ellada, Nea Ellada, ch.t. [=Boukouresti]1949 (gall. ekd.: «Grece Libre»,1949; anglikē ekd.: League for Democracy in Greece, Sidneu 1949).