One of the first things the Nazis did upon taking control of Athens was to hoist a huge swastika flag over the Acropolis. It hung atop a 50ft high flagpole and quickly became a hated symbol of Greece’s occupation.
On the night of 30 May 1941, Apostolos Santas, a 19-year-old student and his 18-year-old friend Manolis Glezos, snuck through a natural cave on the side of the Acropolis that led to the flagpole, armed only with a torch and a pocket knife. They scaled the pole and cut down the flag, tore off pieces for themselves and discarded the rest. Athens awoke the next day to see the flag gone and the Gestapo swiftly promised death for the unknown perpetrators.
This brave act of resistance was one of the first in Greece, and as word spread around the world via telegraph and newspaper, it inspired millions across Europe.
Both men went on to become active members of the resistance, with Santas joining communist partisans in 1943 and fighting in the mountains of central Greece, while Glezos was captured by Germans in 1942 and thrown in prison, where his death sentence was commuted. During the subsequent civil war, both sided with the communists, earning Glezos an additional two death sentences which were also subsequently reduced.
Speaking of that night at the Acropolis, Glezos later said:
“We had absolute consciousness that it was a historic moment. [...] No struggle for what you believe in is ever futile.”