KALAVRYTA ( December 13, 1943 )
Due to partisan activity around the town of Kalavryta in southern Greece, a unit of the German army 'Kampfgruppe Ebersberger' the 117th Jager Division, surrounded the town on the morning of Monday, December 13. All the inhabitants were herded into the local school. Females and young boys were separated from the men and youths, the latter being marched to a hollow in a nearby hillside. There the soldiers took up positions behind machine-guns. Below, they witnessed the town being set on fire. Just after 2pm a red flare was fired from the town. This was the signal for the soldiers to start firing on the men and youths who were huddled in the hollow. At 2.34pm the firing stopped and the soldiers marched away. Behind them lay the bodies of 696 persons, the entire male population of Kalavryta. There were 13 survivors of the massacre, the town itself totally destroyed. Only eight houses out of nearly five hundred, were left standing. It was not until late afternoon that the women and young boys were released to face the enormity of the tragedy. Today a memorial stands on the site of the massacre on which are carved the names of 1,300 men and boys from Kalavryta and 24 nearby villages who were murdered that day. (Around 460 villages were completely destroyed and approximately 60,000 men, women and children were massacred during the occupation of Greece)
THE KOS MASSACRE ( October 4, 1943 )
When the island of Kos in the Aegean, fell to the German forces, a total of 1,388 British and 3,145 Italian troops were taken prisoner. Italy had signed an armistice on September 8 and the Italian troops were now fighting on the British side. On September 11, Hitler gave the order to execute all Italian officers who were captured. The officer in charge of the Italian troops was Colonel Felice Leggio. He, and 101 of his officers, were marched to a salt pan just east of the town of Kos and there, shot in groups of ten. They were buried in mass graves. When Kos was returned to Greece after the war, the bodies were dug up and transported back to Italy for burial in the Military Cemetery at Bari.
CEFALONIA MASSACRE ( September, 1943)
Almost unknown outside of Italy, this event ranks with Katyn as one of the darkest episodes of the war. On the Greek island of Cefalonia, in the Gulf of Corinth, the Italian ‘ACQUI DIVISION' was stationed. Consisting of 11,500 enlisted men and 525 officers it was commanded by 52 year old General Antonio Gandin, a veteran of the Russian Front where he won the German Iron Cross. When the Badoglio government announced on September 8, 1943, that Italian troops should cease hostilities against the Allies, there was much wine and merriment on Cefalonia. However, their German counterparts on the island maintained a stony silence and soon began harassing their Italian comrades, calling them 'traitors'. The German 11th Battalion of Jäger-Regiment 98 of the 1st Gebirgs (Mountain) Division, commanded by Major Harald von Hirschfeld, arrived on the island and soon Stukas were bombing the Italian positions. The fighting soon developed into a wholesale massacre when the Gebirgsjäger troops began shooting their Italian prisoners in groups of four to ten beginning with General Gandin. By the time the shooting ended four hours later, 4,750 Italian soldiers lay dead all over the island. But that was not the end for the Acqui Division, some 4000 survivors were shipped to the mainland for further transportation to Germany for forced labour. In the Ionian Sea a few of the ships hit mines and sank, taking around 3,000 men to their deaths.
The final death toll in this tragic episode was 9,646 men and 390 officers. Major Harald Hirschfeld was later killed by a bomb splinter during the fighting at Duklapass in Warsaw in 1945 after he was promoted to Lieutenant General. General Hubert Lanz, commander of the Gebirgsjäger troops, was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. He was released in 1951. In the 1950s, the remains of over 3,000 soldiers, including 189 officers, were unearthed and transported back to Italy for proper burial in the Italian War Cemetery at Bari. Unfortunately, the body of General Gandin was never identified. In 2002, the investigation into this massacre was reopened in Germany and ten ex-members of the 1st Gebirgs Division, of the 300 still alive, have been investigated and may be charged. The youngest is 81 and the oldest is now 93. There is no Statute of Limitations for murder
MASSACRE AT DISTOMO (June 10, 1944)
Four days after the Allied invasion of Normandy, a most despicable atrocity took place in the village of Distomo in the province of Boeotia in Central Greece. A unit of the SS Police Panzergrenadier Regiment No 7, on an antipartisan sweep, massacred 218 Greek civilians in the village. Packed into seven trucks, the unit drove through the village without incident but a short distance beyond the village the convoy was ambushed by a guerrilla band that resulted in the killing of seven SS soldiers. The SS unit doubled back into the village and in a last ditch effort to crush partisan activities, the reprisals, including looting, burning and rape, began. When a Red Cross delegation visited the village some days later they found bodies hanging from trees along the main street. One survivor, Yannes Basdekis, recalled, "I walked into a house and saw a woman, stripped naked and covered in blood. Her breasts had been sliced off. Her baby lay dead nearby, the cut off nipple still in its mouth".
The unit commander, SS Hauptstrumführer Lautenbach, was later charged with falsifying a military report on the massacre but the charges were dropped as the massacre was judged a 'military necessity'. Today, the skulls and bones of the victims are displayed in the Mausoleum of Distomo. In 1960, Germany paid the Greek government 115 million marks as compensation for the suffering of its citizens during the German occupation but as yet no payment is forthcoming for the victims of Distomo. It was not until 1990 that members of the German embassy first took part in the wreath laying ceremony on the annual anniversary of the massacre. (It is somewhat ironic that other massacres took place on a same date, the 10th of June, Lidice in 1943, Oradour-zur-Glane and Distomo, in 1944.
KOMMENO (August 16, 1943) The eight hour massacre by the First Alpenjäger Division 'Edelweiss' commanded by General Stetner, started early in the morning at 5.30 and finished at 12.30 midday. Of the 680 inhabitants of the village, 317 were murdered, 74 of whom were children aged between one and ten years old. In the house of Thedoros Mallios, a wedding reception was taking place for his son Spyros and his new bride. In the early morning, after a celebration that lasted all night, the bride and groom and all guests were confronted by the machine guns of the Edelweiss soldiers and shot to death. The house was then burned to the ground. In all, 34 persons died. Both priests of the village were shot and after the massacre the rest of the houses in Kommeno, about 180, were put to the torch.