Travelers to Greece often visit the local islands: Mykonos, Rhodes, Santorini, Corfu, Crete. But, one island remains a mystery, inaccessible to most tourists as a result of its checkered history. Just across from the Poseidon Temple at Cape Sounion, Makronissos, “Long Island”, remains relatively uninhabited, a testament to its role as a site of exile for political prisoners from the 1930s to the 1970s.
Makronissos, called Helena in ancient times, was reputed to be the island on which Helen, the wife of Menelaus, landed after the capture of Troy; or a site to which Paris fled with Helen. The island unfortunately became a military prison during the Greek Civil War from 1946-1949 through the Greek Colonels’ Junta of 1967-1974. Mikis Theodorakis, composer of the Zorba the Greek movie starring Anthony Quinn, was a prisoner at Makronissos as a result of his political views.
Greeks united to resist the Nazi Occupation of their country in World War II. After the war, Europe was “divided” among the “victors”, with many countries in Eastern Europe and the Balkans “ceded” to the Soviet umbrella. As the cradle of democracy and the font of classics, however, Greece was to remain under the influence of Western Europe. Allied support for left-of-center governments was withdrawn, and the Marshall Plan endeavored to establish right-of center governance. Greeks who had fought side by side against the Nazis turned against each other, left vs. right; those labeled communist or left-wing sympathizers were killed, imprisoned, or exiled in camps for years on the long deserted island, facing harsh conditions and torture. It was only after the overthrow of the Colonel’s junta in 1974 that a left-of center government under Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou returned to Greece, and the process of healing the decades-long schisms between right and left began.
Based on the real-life experiences of a close family member who survived imprisonment in the camps, our third Sammy Greene thriller, Deep Waters, describes the horror and heroism of the Makronissos political prisoners through the eyes of ex-Boston cop Gus Pappajohn’s Greek brother-in-law, Georgios Kapsis.
In July 2019, Exile Island was declared an archaeological site to be preserved in the memory of those who suffered and lost their lives in a tragic chapter of modern Greek history.
-this post was written by Dr. Linda Reid, co-author of Deep Waters