Of Wisdom and War: Women Trapped in Hitler's Greece

2008, by Ida Rae Egli

In 1940, when Mussolini's swaggering army marches into Northern Greece and is instantly repelled by fierce Greek ground units, Hitler is furious. He must revenge the Axis army's first defeat. He reroutes his seasoned 12th Army, adding advance air bombardment and tank support, and by April of 1941 German and Italian troops are drinking champagne at the Acropolis.

Anthi Skambilis, a young mother of two, watches German Wehrmacht divisions high-step through Athens' Plaka district near her home, wondering if her husband Yorgoes is one of the thousands rumored to be dead, his body bloating on a muddy battlefield in the North. Whether or not Yorgoes lives, Anthi knows by the sound of the pavement-pounding boots that her life will never again be what it was.

Winter brings food shortages and starvation: 50,000 Athenians perish. Malnourished, Anthi bears a stillborn daughter. Months later, passing through a checkpoint, Anthi is confronted by a German lieutenant both attracted to her spunky beauty and repelled by her "fallen race." When she outwits him, the lieutenant promises to hunt her down. Days after, Anthi runs into her pursuer at the outdoor market. Running for her life away from him, she knows she must flee Athens immediately.


Along with her widowed mother and children, Anthi Skambilis narrowly slips away from the grip of the German lieutenant, traveling by ferry to the island of Rhodes, to the village of Lindos where two childhood friends, Maria Metallis and Kalliope Petaluthas, accept her under their protection. But the war that ravages Europe eventually takes aim at the strategic islands in the Dodecanese that link East with West, in particular the largest, Rhodes. After Mussolini is conquered, German units wrestle command of the island from the easier-going Italians and the result is a reign of terror, starvation winters, confiscation of crops and wanton murder and kidnapping. Women are raped or simply disappear. Polio breaks out. Anthi, Maria, and Kalliope live in constant fear and want, barely staving off disaster. Finally, at a panegyric held in the mountains at Agios Soulos, prematurely celebrating the liberation of Rhodes by the British, Anthi comes face to face with the fate she has tried to outrun. The German lieutenant is back. What ensues between them is a horror Anthi will bury deep in her memory for forty years.

Of Wisdom and War, based in large part on the true stories of women and men who lived to tell about the war in Athens and on Rhodes, takes you deep into the lives of three strong and determined women and their families, who learn by way of death and war the meaning of commitment, family, and love.

Read a review by James Minahan, author of Stateless Nations and Miniature Empires

Winner of Best Fiction Award at Mendocino Coast Writer's Conference (2004). Conference judge John Dufresne, noted that "Here is a writer with a graceful and lyrical prose style, a brave heart, and a remarkable gift for metaphor. I admired [her addressing] the role of writing and storytelling in honoring those we have loved and keeping them alive."


Micra Poulakia: Little Birds, A Collection of Contemporary Greek Stories

A work in progress - which included the following stories - by Ida Rae Egli:

The Age Old Story

A middle-aged Rhodian businessman, driving friends through the old Turkish quarters just off Rhodes' harbor region, remembers an elderly Turkish couple who lived across the street when he was a child, and the rite of passage he experienced by way of realizing these people were not like the people of his family. More....