Pope John Paul II was a prolific apologizer. He sacrificed Papal infallibility on the altar of posthumous fairness and crescendoed by apologizing to Galileo, thus making apologizing trendy.
Our politicians are quite proficient apologizers, distinguished for sniffing out potential apology recipients. I, for one, was taken aback by Trudeau laying the groundwork for apologizing to “Italian Canadians mistreated in the country during the Second World War”. (The T-C June 14)
Trudeau was pictured without the usual court of representatives to whom he will apologize. Perhaps the Italians have succumbed to the aftereffects of the torture they suffered at the hands of the Bad Canadians ... who knows? Anyway Trudeau grins solo above the bold headline reading: “Trudeau says Italian Canadians will receive an apology”. He resolutely resolves “to face the dark chapter in our Country’s history” head on. Heavens above!
A pinch of living-memory history: Germany, Italy and Japan were the WWII “Axis”. Hitler had occupied eight countries by October 1940 when Mussolini attacked Greece. The Greeks turned back the Italians and Hitler came to the rescue in April 1941, opening a second front and causing Greece to fall.
I vividly remember the arrival in Pyrgos (15 Km from Olympia), of the Germans, most of them riding motorcycles fitted with machine guns on the sidecars. Days later the Italians came to town marching up the main street lead by a large military band.
Days before reaching Pyrgos, they sent a couple of bombers to intimidate us in preparation for the occupation. The raid was surprising because they had not bothered to bomb Pyrgos before.
It was a sunny early May day and about noon the sirens wailed. Soon thereafter a pair of airplanes appeared overhead and surprisingly started dropping bombs on us. The sound bombs make as they descend to kill and destroy is horrible.
The bombs caused no loss of life, did insignificant building damage and started no fires. The only casualty was my cousin Harry. When the bombardment started, he not alone, sought safety in a stone-walled shed with a corrugated tin roof, used as laundry room. Safe from bombs exploding outside but very vulnerable to a direct hit. But a bomb came through the roof, struck the concrete floor and disappeared forever into a sewer without exploding or ever being found. But a chunk of concrete flew from the impact and hit Harry’s right forearm breaking his bone.
Ironically, Harry was serving with Air Defense, working from the bell tower of the cathedral. He and his comrades scanning the sky for enemy aircraft coming to bomb us. No, Harry and his pals had no AA Guns.
Harry carried his splintered arm in a white sling, contrasting his soldier’s khaki attire. He was jokingly bragging that he got injured armwrestling Mussolini’s bombs, true to his calling to protect the town folk.
We ended occupied by a few thousand Italian “Alpinista” troops wearing plumage on their helmets. And by a couple of dozen Germans.
Enter my mother’s cousin, George Papaschinas. He was a lawyer, a bachelor and a “ladies’ man”. Tall and slim, perennially impeccably dressed, including spats between his creased pants and shiny shoes, never seen without a flower in his lapel, standing out in any crowd. My “Uncle George”, as I called him, was also the honorary Consul of Italy in Pyrgos prior to the war.
The moment the war started, the police nabbed and jailed George. They also confiscated the Italian Consulate crest affixed to the balcony railing of the 2nd floor Law Office /Consulate. We became worried, but the police assured us that George would be treated well while in custody and would be safer in jail than on the street.
When the Italian army arrived in Pyrgos, the police hurriedly let George out and re-affixed the Italian Consulate crest on his balcony. George became the political “governor” of the place for the duration of the occupation. He held no grudges about his incarceration and neither asked for nor offered apologies. But he worked hard over the four years of the occupation to ensure it was as bearable as possible.
The occupation turned out less harsh for us than elsewhere in Greece and George had a hand in that. I will exemplify it with the “Hospital”.
The Italians seized a school building and turned it into a military hospital. And they opened the Hospital to the people. There were daily lineups and all comers were treated adeptly and free. It was a godsend at a time when the municipal hospital was starved of supplies.
I remember well “Dottore Nilo”. He was in charge of the Italian hospital and became a hero with the locals as he drove his staff to exhaustion to help the people. I remember Dr. Nilo examining me and giving me chocolate bars.
George performed marvelously, as was evidenced much later, after liberation, when his time came to go. He would have been pleasantly surprised to see “the whole town” crying a tear and saying thanks and goodbye to him.
Trudeau set me thinking of what Uncle George would say about the expression of apologies to those incarcerated when War had seized the collective cranium of the World and scrambled the “stuff” that was inside the crania of those who perpetrated that insanity that was WWII.