Yesterday Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras demanded that Germany pay reparations for crimes committed by Nazis when they occupied Greece for three years during World War Two. He added that German assets in Greece will be seized in lieu of reparations. Greek Justice Minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos also stated he was ready to approve a Supreme Court ruling from 2000 backing payments to relatives of 218 men, women and children of the village of Distomo and who were slaughtered by the SS in 1944. This approval could lead to further claims in relation to other atrocities. Meanwhile, below, we revisit some of the atrocities committed by the Nazis in Greece…
Yesterday we were one of the first to publish the English version of the speech by Mr Tsipras to the Greek Parliament in which he outlined why Greece is due reparations from Germany for the atrocities committed during World War Two. The Greek Government has estimated that the unpaid debt to Greece by Germany is around 341 billion euros – far in excess of the 59 million euros paid to Greece in 1960.
During World War Two around 130,000 Greeks were executed – not killed in combat, but murdered – by German soldiers. Altogether seven percent of the Greek population – over half a million people – was wiped out. Four-fifths of those killed were civilians, who were murdered in mass executions.
Massacres perpetrated by Germans in Greece include: Massacre of Kondomari, Razing of Kandanos, Massacre of the Acqui Division, Kommeno massacre, Paramythia executions, Pyrgi (former Katranitsa) massacre, Executions of Kaisariani, Massacre of Mousiotitsa, Executions of Kokkinia, The massacre of Chortiatis and Holocaust of Kedros.
Below we examine in more details the massacres of Distomo (section A), the Viannos massacres (section B) and the Kalavryta massacres (section C).
A. Distomo Massacre
Sture Linner, the head of the International Red Cross in Greece, described the grim reality he saw when he arrived in the town:
Vultures were rising slowly and hesitantly at a low height from the sides of the road when they heard us coming. For hundreds of yards along the road, human bodies were hanging from every tree, pierced with bayonets – some were still alive. They were the villagers, who were punished this way – they were suspected of providing help to the guerillas of the region, who had ambushed an SS unit. The odor was unbearable. In the village the last remnants of the houses were still burning. Hundreds of dead bodies of people of all ages, from elderly to newborns, were strewn around on the dirt. Several women were slaughtered with bayonets, their wombs torn apart and their breasts severed; others were lying strangled with their own intestines wrapped around their necks.
Here’s another survivor account:
Angelos Kastritis, who was eight, remembers the Germans going house to house, bashing down doors and spraying interiors with machine-gun fire. Kastritis’ mother had told him and his father to make themselves scarce while she stayed home with her in-laws, believing that women and the elderly would not be harmed. “When I returned I first saw my grandfather. The back of his head was gone and his brains had been splattered against a staircase. My grandmother was seated next to him [dead]. Inside the house I saw my mother… They had killed her execution-style, from behind.” […]
Perhaps one of the most moving aspects of this dark chapter in Greek history comes from Sture Linner, who returned to Distomo at the end of the war:
When the German occupation forces were forced to leave Greece, things did not go as planned for them. A German unit was surrounded by guerillas exactly in the same area, at Distomo. I thought that this might be taken by the Greeks as an opportunity for a bloody revenge, especially when considering that for quite a while the region had been cut off from any food supplies. I loaded with food necessities a few lorries, I wired to Distomo word of our planned arrival, and we found ourselves on the same road, once again, Cleo and I. When we reached the outskirts of the village, we were met by a committee led by the elderly priest. He was an old fashioned patriarch, with a long, wavy, white beard. Next to him the guerilla captain, fully armed. The priest spoke first and thanked us on behalf of everybody for the food supplies. Then he added: “We are all starving here, both us and the German prisoners. Now, though we are famished, we are at least in our land. The Germans have not just lost the war; they are also far from their country. Give them the food you have with you, they have a long way ahead.” At this phrase Cleo turned her eyes to me. I suspected what she wanted to tell me with that look, but I could not see clearly any more. I was just standing there weeping….
See also a detailed account of the Dostomo Massacre.
B. Viannos Massacres
The Viannos massacres (Greek: Ολοκαύτωμα της Βιάννου) refers to a mass extermination campaign launched by Nazi forces against the civilian residents of around 20 villages located in the areas of east Viannos and west Ierapetra provinces on the Greek island of Crete during World War II. The killings, with a death toll in excess of 500, were carried out on 14–16 September 1943 by Wehrmacht units. They were accompanied by the burning of most villages, and the looting and destruction of harvests. The massive loss of life amounted to one of the deadliest massacres during the Axis occupation of Greece. It was ordered by Generalleutnant Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, in retaliation for the support and involvement of the local population in the Cretan resistance. Müller, who earned the nickname “the Butcher of Crete”, was executed after the war for his part in this and other massacres.
C. Kalavryta Massacre
The Massacre of Kalavryta (Greek: Σφαγή των Καλαβρύτων), or the Holocaust of Kalavryta (Ολοκαύτωμα των Καλαβρύτων), refers to the extermination of the male population and the total destruction of the town of Kalavryta, in Greece, by German occupying forces during World War II, on 13 December 1943. Aside from the deportation and murder of over 80% of Greece’s Jewish population, it is the most serious case of war crimes committed during the Axis occupation of Greece during World War II.
In early December 1943, the German Army’s 117th Jäger Division began a mission named Unternehmen Kalavryta (Operation Kalavryta), intending to encircle Greek Resistance fighters in the mountainous area surrounding Kalavryta. During the operation, 78 German soldiers, who had been taken prisoner by the guerillas in October, were executed by their captors. The commander of the German division, General Karl von Le Suire reacted with harsh and massive reprisal operations across the region. He personally ordered the “severest measures”—the killing of the male population of Kalavryta—on 10 December 1943.
Operation Kalavryta was mounted from Patras and Aigion on the Gulf of Corinth and from near Tripolis in central Peloponnese. All “Battle-Groups” were aimed at Kalavryta. Wehrmacht troops burnt villages and monasteries and shot civilians on their way. When they reached the town they locked all women and children in the local school and marched all males 12 and older to a hill just overlooking the town. There, the German troops machine-gunned them. There were only 13 male survivors. Over 500 died at Kalavryta. Survivors stated that when the Germans machine-gunned the crowd, they had been covered by the dead when they fell. When the Germans went through again to finish off those still alive, some thus escaped the coup-de-grace. The women and children managed to free themselves from the flaming school, some say after an Austrian soldier took pity on them and let them escape, while the rest of the town was set ablaze. The following day the Nazi troops burnt down the Agia Lavra monastery, a landmark of the Greek War of Independence.
In total, nearly 700 civilians were killed during the reprisals of Operation Kalavryta. Twenty-eight communities—towns, villages, monasteries and settlements—were destroyed. In Kalavryta itself about 1,000 houses were looted and burned and more than 2,000 livestock seized by the Germans. The Massacre of Kalavryta was memorialized in the 2014 book, Hitler’s Orphan: Demetri of Kalavrta by Marc Zirogiannis. This historical novella tells the story of the massacre from the perspective of the Zirogiannis family.
Today the Place of Sacrifice is kept as a memorial site, and the events are commemorated every December. On 18 April 2000, the then-president of the Federal Republic of Germany, Johannes Rau, visited the town of Kalavryta to express his feelings of shame and deep sorrow for the tragedy.