Women after the War

'Beneath the Olive Tree' explores untold horror story what happened in Greece after WWII

Filmmaker Stavroula Toska's new documentary, Beneath the Olive Tree, aims to uncover an often hidden chapter of WWII history from the viewpoint of Greek women who survived the aftermath of their country's occupation. During Germany's control of Greece in the 1940s, a resistance movement was born out of both Communist ideals and a desire to put the needs of the people first. Neither age nor gender were important to the movement, and with the help of their military branch, the ELAS Army, Greece was liberated in 1944. This was, however, just the beginning of the Greek Civil War. By 1946, the restructuring of Europe found Greece living under a puppet regime, and a false treaty was drafted and used to lure out Communists. Once the resistance fighters had laid down their weapons, however, the government recanted, and many who had fought for freedoms were forced to sign the Declaration of Repentance against their will. Those who refused were beaten, tortured or worse. As Toska learns more about her country's ordeal, she discovers that when men who had fought as part of ELAS could not be found or were already dead, their wives and daughters and children were arrested in their place. A shadowy and militaristic arm of the national police called the Alphamites detained them in island-based concentration camps and subjected them to torture for information. But all through the hardships, many of the women kept detailed journals of their experiences, hidden in tin cans and buried near olive trees on the islands, and interviews with these secret writers form the foundation of the film. It is nearly as difficult for us to learn about what they faced as it is for them to recount the events of the civil war, but even more shocking is the Greek government's refusal to officially acknowledge these tragedies to this day. Viewers witness the absolutely sick measures taken by Greek leaders following WWII. Yet the resolve shown by these women, most of whom committed no crimes outside of being related to Communists, is beyond inspirational. Narration switches between Toska and Olympia Dukakis often cause some confusion, but the overall emotional weight of the subject matter overshadows any editorial missteps. Beneath the Olive Tree is heart-wrenchingly moving and every bit a celebration of the strength these women continue to display, even so many years after they endured such monumental atrocities. Must-see would be an understatement.

Beneath the Olive Tree
Jean Cocteau Cinema,
92 min.

Santa Fe Reporter

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