The cinematic life of the Greek hero of the Foreign Legion
Stelios Amanakis left Crete after a fight with his father, took part in both World Wars, was injured three times and was honored for his exploits.
The story of Stelios Amanakis from Crete It could very well be an amazing commercial film in Hollywood, as it has nothing to envy from the movie scripts. A young man leaves his homeland, ranks in the famous French Legion of Foreigners, participates heroically in the front line of World War I, manages to escape, before he can rest, throws himself back into the fire of battle during World War II, is chased by the Nazis, survives and dies unexpectedly, just as cinematic as he lived, during a veterans event. His adventurous life may have remained largely unknown if the French Army Historical Archives in Paris had not been searched by the ethnologist and historian Maurice Born, who searched and found useful information about Amanakis. But let's take them in order:
Stelios was born in the twilight of the 19th century and especially in 1896 in Kalo Chorio in the province of Pediada in Heraklion, 7 km south of Gouves. The island at that time was still under Ottoman occupation, but since 1895 the Cretan Revolution has erupted, seeking the coveted shaking off of the Turkish yoke and the subsequent union with mother Greece. One day the minor Amanakis fights with his strict father and without any turns he gets up and leaves
He boarded a boat bound for Alexandria and from there continued his voyage to the picturesque port of Marseille, one of the largest commercial ports in Europe. Without a compass in his life, he will move to Paris. We have entered 1914 and the adult Cretan dazzled by the French capital. From the small Greek village that was plunged into darkness in the evenings, it has been found in the cosmopolitan City of Light.
World War I breaks out
Unfortunately for him, on July 28, 1914, he broke out First World War. Six days later, Germany marches against France, violating Belgium's neutrality. In the streets of Paris, an unbridled enthusiasm prevails. Almost everyone is convinced that war is a victorious affair that will not last more than a few weeks. But it was to last four full years, until mid-November 1918, killing 18,6 million people, of whom 8,9 million were ordinary citizens. The young Greek is not unaffected by the events.
Unable to return to his homeland (Crete has been incorporated into the Kingdom of Greece since 1913), he made the big decision in October 1914 to enlist in the mercenary corps of the Foreign Legion. A total of 45.000 have applied to the military, but only 15.000 have been accepted, including Stelios, who is listed in French archives as Helios instead of Stelios. After all, when someone was ranked, they got whatever nickname they wanted. Although the preparation of the hoplites in its regular army France It lasted about four months, in the legion it barely lasted 20 days. Nowadays, those who are admitted to the "Légion étrangère" immediately hand over their passport and get it again when they are fired after five years or much earlier if they do not pass the painstaking tests of education. All they keep is their cigarettes and money - up to 50 euros. The rules were similar at the time (except that instead of the euro, French francs were circulating).
Amanakis is sent along with the other legionnaires to the Western Front, taking part in the deadliest and largest military operations. At the Battle of Artois (17 December 1914 - 13 January 1915) in 1914 at the Battle of Campania (20 December 1914 - 17 March 1915) at the Battle of Somme (1 July - 18 November 1916) the French lost 204.000 men at the same time the longest battle of World War I, the battle of Verdun (February 21 - December 19, 1916) in which France would count 378.000 dead as well as the battle of Aras (April 9 - May 16, 1917). Everywhere the Greek A legionnaire was at the forefront of risking losing his life at any time. He will be injured three times, in the neck, in the ear and in the right arm. Each time he was beaten, he was hospitalized for a period of time, and as soon as his health improved, he took up arms again and was present in the trenches.
One year before the end of the war, he was forced to leave the Foreign Legion as he was diagnosed with a physical disability of 70%. He returns to Paris and learns hairdressing to make a living. He picks up a small amount of concrete and after the end of the war moves much further north, to the city of Lille, very close to the border with Belgium. He is honored by the state for his achievements, receives French citizenship and is active in veterans' associations where everyone narrates their achievements for hours. He is determined to stay in France, enjoying a quiet and, above all, peaceful life after what he has experienced, the scenes of mutilated members, the deafening explosions of bombs and the death of his friends on the battlefields have stigmatized him.
Unfortunately, however, the plans of the great powers of the time are different. When the World war II on September 1, 1939, Amanakis is 44 years old and has serious health problems. Nevertheless, he is ready to take up arms again. The situation for France this time is even more difficult as Hitler's Nazi hordes conquer one country after another within a few weeks. Berlin believes that the French army will put up strong resistance, but very soon the Wehrmacht arrives in Paris with ease.
The Greek veteran cannot return to the front line with the Foreign Legion, due to his condition, but he is part of the Resistance from the beginning. He is involved in sabotage against the enemy, stealing information, carrying weapons and ammunition and secretly distributing propaganda material. The Nazi they start looking for him. At best they would send him for forced labor, which would usually result in death, and at worst they would execute him on the spot. He escapes under their noses and hides in a tiny house settlement, in a forest. Once again he had deceived death.
Amanakis may never have returned to Greece, but after the end of World War II he participated in several expatriate organizations in France, sometimes from the position of president. In 1960 he would take part in a parade of veterans in Lille. He is first in line holding the army flag tightly, paying homage to a large crowd. There, in front of everyone's eyes, in the midst of raids and applause, he will feel a strong tightness in his heart and will fall down with the flag wrapping him above. This time he had not managed to fool death.
* George Sarris is a journalist - member of ESIEA, honored by the President of the Republic with the Ath. Botsis Award for the objective and complete presentation of historical political issues.