Mrs Lela Karayianni in 1944. Picture from Chris Jecchinis, Beyond Olympus, Harrap 1960
Mrs Karayiani ran one of the most fashionable boutiques in Athens, which was able to survive even during the early days of the occupation. It was a cosmetics business in Patision Street, where she mixed and prepared her own lotions and creams.
In the opinion of Allied SOE agents sent to Greece during the occupation to aid the resistance, she was considered one of the most pro-Allied and anti-Axis agents. Behind the beautiful satin curtains at the rear of her boutique, information on developments in the hinterland and details of German troop movements was passed on and exchange among the resistance. She directed the work of many resistance agents and spies in Athens – all dedicated to removing the hated occupier from Greece.
One member of her resistance circle – Chris Jecchinis – remembered her.
“She was an imposing woman … handsome, with big, beautiful eyes. Her posture was proud and erect, and she looked a true descendent of her great-grand mother Bouboulina,” the legendary heroine of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. She named ger three sons Byron, George and Nelson.
In early 1943 she was arrested by the Germans and taken to the infamous Haithari concentration camp near Athens. She had been betrayed by a Greek collaborator. As he appealed for her to talk, she slapped him. She would be beaten and starved. Even her children were tortured in an effort to get her to talk,
Despite torture by the SS, she refused to divulge any information regarding the resistance or the agents she had helped.
She was taken to a pine grove, beyond Daphni, on the 8th September 1944. As she was taken out to be shot with other women prisoners, she began to sing and they all joined in. Then she shouted – “No fish can live on land, nor Greek can live as a captive.” As the rain began to fall, she was shot by a German firing squad.
Lest we forget
For more information read Chris Jecchinis, Beyond Olympus: The Thrilling Story of the “Train-Busters” in Nazi-occupied Greece, Harrap, 1960.
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee
Member, Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Committee