Remembering Greek Heroes: The Story of Lela Karagianni

Remembering Greek Heroes: The Story of Lela Karagianni

I recently did some research about female members of the Greek resistance during WWII and found so many inspiring stories. One woman, in particular, stood out to me and I wanted to share her story during the month that we take time to remember so many of those who have fought and died:

THE STORY OF LELA KARAGIANNI

A full-length marble statue of a woman standing proud and fearless occupies a spot between the National Museum and the Polytechnic in Athens. A bronze bust of the same woman sits at the War Museum as a tribute to an ordinary person whose life was extraordinary. This woman was Eleni ‘Lela’ Karagianni.

Born in Lemini, Euboea in 1898, Lela was married to a pharmacist and had seven children. During the Axis occupation of Greece in WWII, the Karagianni’s provided medicine to retreating British soldiers and later joined the National Republican Greek League. An intelligent and brave woman, Lela even formed her own cell within the wider movement, code-named ‘Bouboulina’ in reference to the Greek captain Laskarina Bouboulina who happened to be her great grandmother.

Operating out of a monastery in Megara and her husband’s pharmacy in Athens, Lela’s cell coordinated with British intelligence to disrupt the Axis occupation, as well as taking in starving children and helping to hide British soldiers seeking to escape. Karagianni’s own children also helped and in September 1944 the whole family was arrested by the German occupation forces.

Lela was tortured for several days at the notorious SS headquarters on Merlin Street, but refused to turn in the other members of her organisation. She was then sent to Haidari concentration camp on the outskirts of Athens where she continued to coordinate a resistance effort against the Germans.

A great threat to the enemy, 46-year-old Lela and other captured resistance members were executed by firing squad on the 8th September 1944, just 34 days before Athens was liberated. She was posthumously awarded the Virtue and Self-Sacrifice Award, as well as receiving Israel’s highest honour as a member of the ‘Righteous of the Nations’ for those who risked their own lives to help save Jews. Her house in Athens is a protected monument and the city of Athens named a central street after her.

Lela’s husband and children survived the war and her story has been told in several books and even in films. ‘Lela Karagiannis, the Fragrance of a Heroine’ filmed by writer and director Vassilis Loules shows a poignant interview with Lela’s son Giorgos Karagiannis, capturing the struggles of a mother, fighter and war heroine, whose legacy will live on.

(Image sourced from Wikipedia)

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2 Comments

  1. 3rd November 2021 / 1:27 pm

    I Remember reading about her. What courage! I have to wonder if I could be that brave – or any of us, for that matter!

    • Ekaterina
      Author
      3rd November 2021 / 1:31 pm

      Yes I often wonder that too! I don’t think people are made like that anymore. X

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