May Day of Pain and of Hope
By Nikos Raptis
Suppose that the daughters of the Obamas picked up from somebody that "May Day" is an important, historic, and interesting holiday. Being young and curious, they decide to learn more about "May Day". So, they go to the "Britannica (Ages 8-11)". They read: "A holiday celebrated on May 1, May Day marks the start of spring. May Day is not an official holiday in the United States. The government, businesses, and schools do not usually close. Still, many people celebrate May Day with festivals or flowers. In some countries May Day is a holiday that honors workers, similar to Labor Day in the United States". [This is the "Britannica" after the fall of the Soviet Union.]
[Note: The entry in the Britannica (1984), before the fall of the Soviet Union, reads: "May Day was designated as an international labor day by the Socialist International congress of 1889. It is a major holiday in the Soviet Union and other Communist countries, and elsewhere it is the occasion for important political demonstrations".]
Now, let us take a Greek child, of 8-11 years old, and see what she or he could learn about "May Day" by reading a Greek newspaper, say "Eleftherotypia", a mainstream [centrist] daily that their parents brought home:
The first thing that the child shall see, in a two [tabloid] pages-long article, will be 10 photos or engravings of the persons or sites involved in the Chicago Haymarket incidents of May 1886:
- An engraving of August Spies (1855-1887). Its caption reads: "He was born in Germany. Went to the USA as an immigrant in 1872. An excellent writer both in German and in English... When Spies read a French article titled 'The Day After the Revolution' he asked a comrade of his what he would do the day after. The comrade answered: 'I would put you in prison until things had settled down, because your compassion would prevent us to take direct action'. Before he was hanged, with his head covered by a hood, Spies said: 'There will come a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today'".
- A photo of Albert R. Parsons (1848-1887). Its caption reads: "He was orphaned when he was five and he was sent to live with his older brother. He was raised by a black slave, aunt Esther. During the Civil War he fought on the side of the South... When he returned he was ashamed to face the black aunt Esther, who in essence had been his mother. After a long discussion with her, he changed deeply his life. He became politicized... He married Lucy Gathings [see below] had two children with her... His last words [on the scaffold] were: 'Let the voice of the people be heard'".
- A photo of Lucy Parsons (1853-1942). Its caption reads: "Lucy Parsons was a woman, black (with Indian blood), an anarchist, and of unknown parents. Therefore, she ought to be erased from History. This is why the forces of 'law and order' seized her personal papers after she died... Her writings and her activist work ranks her among the most important [and most ignored] personalities of the global Left. It is not an exaggeration to say that the recognition and the continuation of the Workers' May Day is due mainly to the efforts of that woman, who for 55 years after the execution of her husband, Albert R. Parsons, dedicated her life to this aim and to the struggle for ordinary people." [The writer (a Greek) of the Eleftherotypia article dedicates it to the memory of Lucy Parsons].
- A photo of Nina Van Zandt Spies. Its caption reads: "Daughter of a very wealthy Chicago family. As it was fashionable [at the time], she went with her mother to follow the trial of the Haymarket anarchists, as an amusement. However, a new world opened for her there. She began visiting the prisoners... and when she was prohibited to visit, she married Spies. She entered the movement of the Left and she died in 1936 in utter poverty, as an aunt of hers disinherited her of an inheritance of half a million dollars (of 1886)".
- An engraving of Julius Grinnel, State's Attorney: Its caption reads: "Make the raids first and look up the law afterwards". [Words of the person, Grinnel, who was the Prosecutor (!) in the Haymarket trial].
- A photo of the Monument of the Haymarket Martyrs. Its caption reads: "At the base of the monument engraved are the [above] words of August Spies... It is found in the Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago, since 1893. It is, arguably, the most important monument in the world history of the Left".
- A photo of a Chicago statue of a policeman. Its caption reads: "The statue of the policeman, photographed during a [May Day] commemoration in 1969 on the anniversary of Haymarket. A little time later it was blown up".
[Note: The text in the article, that includes the photos, has a short history of the statue of the Chicago policeman: "The monument was erected by the Chicago elites who spent 10,000 dollars for it. It was created by the sculptor John Gelert... who chose as his model the 'perfect policeman' an Irish-American, Thomas F. Birmingham. Later, Birmingham, was sacked from the police as a dealer in stolen goods and an accomplice of criminals. He died of heavy drinking as a petty thief in a seamy Chicago neighborhood.
The unveiling of the statue took place in 1889...On May 24, 1890, an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the statue was made. In May of 1903 the bronze plaques at its base were torn away. In 1927, the 41st anniversary of Haymarket, a streetcar driver, by the name O'Neil, derailed purposely the streetcar he was driving and threw it on the monument thus toppling over the statue of the policeman. On May 4, 1968 buckets of black paint were thrown on the statue during a demonstration against the Vietnam war. On October 6, 1969 the statue was blown up. It was blown up again on October 6, 1970... Finally in 1976 the statue was moved in the garden of the Police Academy". End of Note.]
The main body of the "Eleftherotypia" article offers a summary of the Haymarket events and adds the information that in 1911 in Japan Shusui Kotoku and 11 of his comrades were executed in Japan, because they carried on the struggle that began in Haymarket. [Source for the "Eleftherotypia" article had been mainly the "Haymarket Scrapbook", ed. Dave Roediger & Franklin Rosemont, Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, Chicago, 1986.]
So, the daughters of the Obamas, for a "strange" reason, the only things that they will learn about Haymarket, the Waldheim monument, Lucy Parsons, the Chicago police statue, etc. will be that "May Day is not an official holiday in the United States. [And that] In some countries May Day is a holiday that honors workers...", while children in Greece will not only know what happened in Haymarket but they will grow up in a society that offers experiences and knowledge based on the Haymarket martyrs. Experiences and knowledge that are part of their culture and of their history. Here are a couple of these "experiences":
- The Haymarket events took place on May 3 and May 4 of 1886. The number of American workers killed by the Chicago police is unknown. On May 9 of 1936, in Salonica [or Thessaloniki], the second most important city of Greece [even for St. Paul's "travel" itinerary and epistles], there was a demonstration by the local Greek labor movement. The police killed 8 workers. The first death was that of Tasos Tousis, a 25-year-old worker. After a while his mother arrives at the site and she starts mourning over the dead body of her son. The Greek poet Giannis Ritzos writes a poem, "Epitafios" [Epitaph], inspired by the pain of the mother. Mikis Theodorakis, in 1958-59, composes an oratorio-type of musical work by the same name, "Epitafios". This composition, for the Greeks, is the "hymn" for May Day and the workers of the world.
[Parenthesis: About Mikis Theodorakis and his music, see my ZNet Commentary "Cultural Resistance", of December 14, 2005. By the way, given the discussion about torture, Cheney, ConDolcezza, et al, here is an interesting piece of information. A couple of weeks ago, in mid-April '09, during an interview on television, Mikis said that Mamalis, the notorious torturer of the security police during the 1967 dictatorship in Greece, boasted to him, while Mikis was under arrest, that he had "new methods of torture that he was taught in the US." Obviously, that was before 1967. After the "removal" of the dictatorship by the US, Mamalis was executed in an Athens street by unknown persons. End of Parenthesis]
- Entering Athens from the West one meets on his left an area called Haidari (the name probably is Turkish!). What follows about Haidari could be profitable for ConDolcezza Rice to do her "homework":
For all of us living in Athens during the 1941-1944 Nazi occupation the name of "Haidri" was a synonym for death. Haidari was a concentration camp run by the Nazi SS. There is quite extensive literature on Haidari, in Greek. To convey a faint idea of "life" in Hairdari under the Nazi SS, I chose a 24-page yellowed little booklet of 1944, printed a few weeks after the Nazis left Greece in 1944.The author, Iris Skaraveou, probably is a very conservative person as she uses a very "refined" language used only by conservative people or the authorities, in contrast to a "demotic" [people's] language used by the Left. As a matter of fact, I was almost arrested by the security police, while accompanying an American from Toledo, Ohio in the early '70s, to show him the Parthenon, because I supposedly used the "demotic" form for the genitive of a noun. "Ms" Rice can enrich her "homework" by checking the truth about this Orwellian use of language by her predecessors in "occupied" countries like Greece. All she has to do is ask the CIA to explain to her the procedure.
Iris Skaraveou writes: "Each morning the German Commander of the prison conducted an inspection of the prisoners and forced them, especially the women, to remove all their vestments, and present themselves in front of him stark naked ['in Adam's raiment', in Iris' refined Greek]. This was done without any requisite reason, but simply and only intending to humiliate the unfortunate detainees". [Does this remind Condi of any photos from recent activities of the US military in Iraq, Guantanamo, etc.?].
Iris continues: "The German soldiers did not need any instructions. They knew well what to do. They took a detainee and directed him to one of the corridors of the building and ordered him to stay standing close to the wall facing it and was not allowed to let his body or his hands touch the wall. The detainee remained in this position for many hours..." This was 1943-1944 in Nazi occupied Greece. The reader is [strongly] prompted to read my ZNet Commentary "Interrogation Methods and People" of March 11, 2006, describing the torture-through-standing of a Greek, Anastasios Minis, in July 1972, by the [US supervised] Greek military.
Finally, Iris describes the rape of the imprisoned women by the German soldiers "under the gaze and the lusty cheers of their officers...who attacked the detained women...in the same brazen manner". No need to go on. The picture is clear, even for Condi.
In the Haidari concentration camp there was a very important group of detainees. They were a group of 200 plus communists who were arrested between 1936 and 1940 by Metaxas, the pro-Nazi dictator of Greece at the time. When the Germans occupied Greece in 1941 the Greek police, probably with the acquiescence of the British, who were the enemies of the Nazis, handed the Greek prisoners to the Nazis!
On April 27, 1944 anti-Nazi Greek Resistance fighters in Peloponese killed a German general and three German soldiers. The Germans decided to kill 200 Greeks plus 100 Greeks in Peloponese [the latter finally killed by Greek collaborators of the Nazis].
On the evening of April 30, 1944, on the eve of May Day, the German commander of the Haidari concentration camp, read a list of 200 detainees who, supposedly were to be moved to another concentration camp. The 200 were the above mentioned communists. The 200 readily understood that they were chosen to be executed for the killing of the four Germans. Among the 200 there was Napoleon Soukatzidis, whom the Germans used as an interpreter in the camp, as he was fluent in the German language. The Commander told Napoleon that he was not going with the 200 and that he, the Commander, would substitute another detainee in Napoleon's place. Napoleon refused to allow the execution of another human in his place. The detainees started to sing and dance. A German soldier with tears in his eyes shouts "Bravo!" The next morning, on May Day the trucks that carried the 200 started through the streets of Athens towards the neighborhood of Kesariani, the site of the executions. At the site the 200 demand not to be shot in groups of ten but all of them together in one group. After a series of negotiations between the executioners and those to be executed it is agreed that the execution will be in groups of 20, so that the rest could load the dead bodies of the previous group to the trucks and not the German soldiers. Then, the 200 start to sing and dance once more and the execution begins. Finally, the last group of 20, inevitably, is loaded by the German soldiers on the trucks.
The execution took place on 10 a.m. The site of the executions was the "Shooting Range" where the Greek sportsmen and the Greek athletes prepared for the Olympic games, etc. It is situated smack in the middle of the Kesariani neighborhood. Thus, many of the people in the neighborhood were eyewitnesses of the slaughter from the roofs of their houses which were adjacent to the "Shooting Range." I rarely take American friends who visit Athens to the Parthenon. I take them to the Kesariani "Shooting Range." As a matter of fact, in 1985, a charming American lady from Los Osos of California, to thank me for showing her the site, managed to unearth a used copy of "Time" magazine, dated April 28, 1967, which I had never seen, as the US-instigated dictatorship had confiscated that particular issue of "Time".
The Nazis were killed, in Peloponese, on April 27. Usually, the Nazis "settled" the matter of the ratio, 1 German : 50 Greeks, in a matter of hours. It is not farfetched to think that they chose the "leftist" May Day, 4 days later, to execute the 200. Anyway, the Name of Napoleon [even a rather vulgar first name] is imprinted in the minds of the 2/3 of non-conservative Greeks and is part of the May Day holiday for them. Of course, for the 1/3 of "conservative" Greeks, as for Con Dolcezza and for the "conservatives" of the world, the Nazis were not that bad. Can any one imagine that W. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condi, and the rest of the gang could ever have the moral greatness of Napoleon Soukatzidis, an atheist Greek?
As the trucks with the 200 were driving through the streets of Athens towards the execution site, the detainees threw pieces of paper or cloth on which they had written the address of their relatives and their last words. These pieces of paper were gathered by passersby and given to the relatives.Thirty years later, in 1974, they were published in book form. Here are a couple of them:
- Napoleon Soukatzidis, graduate of the Athens University of Economics, to his fiancee: "My last thoughts are with you. I would like to make you happy. Love my dad and my sister. Find the mate of your life. Some keepsakes will be given to you by Zisis". May 1, 1944
- Kostas Tsirkas, teacher: "May Day of 1944. Good-bye to all, we are going to the battle". May 1, 1944
To honor the dead of the May Day from 1886 to this day all over the world is a personal moral, political, and inspirational matter for each of us. To demand the punishment of the Bushes, the Blairs, the Cheneys, and the rest of the murderous individuals who carry on the barbarous tradition of the May Day killers, judges, executioners, etc. is a duty for all of us.