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The Dodecanese Mark Anniversary of Union with Greece on March 7

Dodecanese union with GreeceCrowds holding Greek, British and American flags celebrate the end of the war in 1945. Credit: Hellenic Parliament Foundation

The Dodecanese — the island archipelago which literally means ”The Twelve Islands” — officially joined their motherland of Greece on March 7, 1948.

Only a few years after the end of World War II, the islands of Rhodes, Kos, Kalymnos and other scenic gems entered a new chapter in history by becoming the last areas to join Greece after the War of Independence in 1821.

Dodecanese joined Greece in the mid-20th century

The Dodecanese have long been known as some of Greece’s most idyllic destinations; however, not so many know that these stunningly beautiful, fairytale-like islands were actually Italian before becoming Greek.

Many sipping their ouzo or Greek coffee there would be surprised to know that these sunny havens became part of the Greek state only halfway through the twentieth century.

It was only in 1948, after having endured centuries of occupation by different powers and a campaign to strip them of their Greek identity, that the islanders were finally able to join with their fellow Greeks.

Grecian Delight supports GreeceDodecanese GreeceMajor General Otto Wagener surrendering the Dodecanese Archipelago to British forces in May of 1945.

The Dodecanese under Italian rule

Rome also tried to implement a resettlement policy in the archipelago, and by 1936, a total of 16,700 Italian nationals were living on the islands, most of them on Rhodes and Leros.

But even worse was to come, as fascist racial laws were enforced, and totalitarian architectural projects — sometimes using forced Greek labor — were undertaken as part of Mussolini’s efforts to Italianize the islands.

With a second European war looming, the Dodecanese’s Greek population narrowly avoided conscription since they were technically not full citizens of the Italian state.

However, the Allied attempt to take the Dodecanese without air cover proved to be a disaster, and Nazi Germany maintained its tight military grip on the islands all the way to the end of the Second World War.

This military occupation led to the deaths of most of the islands’ Jewish community, with only 1,200 individuals out of its pre-occupation population of 6,000 successfully escaping to Turkey.

After Germany’s defeat, the islands passed into British hands and in 1947 a Treaty of Peace between Italy and the victorious powers finally transferred them to Greece, along with $105 million in reparations.

Ever since that time, the Dodecanese have been part of Greece, despite the occasional historical hangover showing their once-independent status — for example, amateur radio still treats the islands as another jurisdiction, giving them a different call sign from mainland Greece.

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