Costas Sarantidis, a Greek fighter who fled Nazi labor camps during World War II to become Vietnam’s national hero, died on June 25 in Athens. He was 94 years old.
He was the only foreigner, awarded the title of Hero of the People’s Armed Forces of Vietnam. “The life of Kostas Sarantidis is linked to the heroic moments of the Vietnamese people,” said Wu Binh, Vietnam’s Ambassador to Greece.
Sarantidis was born in 1927 in Thessaloniki, in a family of refugees from Asia Minor. In the fall of 1943, during the occupation of Greece by the Axis countries during World War II, he was arrested for selling smuggled tobacco and sent to a Nazi forced labor camp in Germany. He managed to escape near Vienna and steal a military uniform, in which he disguised himself as a German until the end of the war.
After the end of the war, Sarantidis went to Rome and tried to repatriate to Greece. However, this proved to be impossible, since he did not have identification documents. With no livelihood, Sarantidis enrolled in the French Foreign Legion, seduced by the prospect of a life full of adventure and meeting beautiful women.
Greek hero in Vietnam
After Sarantidis enlisted in the legion, he was initially sent to Algeria, and then, in 1946, he was sent to Indochina. Upon arrival, he and the other legionnaires were told that their stay would be short and that their mission would be to disarm the Japanese and restore order.
Sarantidis did not like the way the French colonial forces oppressed the local population. After two months in the legion, he contacted the Viet Minh agents and went over to their side, taking with him a rifle and a machine gun.
He was given the name Nguyen Van Loop and held various positions, participating in many battles. He rose to the rank of captain, and in 1949 he was admitted to the Communist Party of Vietnam.
After the end of the war in 1954 and the division of Vietnam into the northern and southern zones, Sarantidis moved to North Vietnam and retired from the army. At the time, he was married to a nurse who was accused of being reactionary and sent to prison.
Sarantidis worked as a translator from German and then as a miner. He remarried a Vietnamese woman with whom he had three children.
From the day of his arrest in Thessaloniki until the early 50s, Sarantidis did not communicate with his family, who believed he was dead. Towards the end of the war, he began to exchange letters with them and in 1965 decided to return to Greece.
With the help of one of his brothers, who helped the Sarantidis family obtain passports, he moved to Thessaloniki.
While in Greece, Sarantidis joined the Greek Communist Party and helped Vietnam and also promoted Greek-Vietnamese relations. He has also been active in helping children in Vietnam affected by Agent Orange / dioxin.
Sarantidis (right) with Greek President Karolos Papoulias in Vietnam. Credit: AMNA.
Sarantidis accompanied then Greek President Karolos Papoulias on an official visit to Vietnam in October 2008.
In 2010, Sarantidis received Vietnamese citizenship and a passport. In 2013, he was named “Hero of the People’s Armed Forces”. In addition, he was awarded several honorary awards – as Vietnamese sideand Greece. Including the Order of Friendship in 2011 – the Victory Medal of the III degree and the Medal of the War of Resistance of the II degree.