The Holocaust of Kalavryta (Ολοκαύτωμα των Καλαβρύτων)


The Drama of Kalavryta is an English translation of the most important chapters of THE TRAGEDY OF KALAVRYTA by Dimitris Kaldiris, translated by Mary Jane McNally Crotty of Evanstan Illinois. The book is an eyewitness account of the massacre by the author who was in elementary school at the time. It also includes interviews with the survivors, some who were actually among those murdered in the field where the killings took place. The painting is titled Slaying 1942 by Leopold Survage and dedicated to the Greek Resistance.

Books about the Massace of Kalavryta: Just Another Man by Andy Varlow and Charlotte Delbo's book, Days and Memories, in which she interweaves memories of Auschwitz with scenes from Spain, Greece, Argentina and the Soviet Union.

The Holocaust of Kalavryta (Greek: Ολοκαύτωμα των Καλαβρύτων), or the Massacre of Kalavryta (Σφαγή των Καλαβρύτων), refers to the extermination of the male population and the subsequent total destruction of the town of Kalavryta, in Greece, by German occupying forces during World War II on 13 December 1943. It is the most serious case of war crimes committed during the Axis occupation of Greece during World War II.

In November 1943, the German 117th Jäger Division began a mission named Unternehmen Kalavryta (Operation Kalavryta), intending to encircle Greek guerilla fighters in the mountainous area surrounding Kalavryta. During the operations, some German soldiers were killed and 77 of them, who were taken prisoners, were executed by the Greek guerillas. The Command of the German division decided to react with harsh and massive reprisal operations. The order was signed by Karl von Le Suire on 10 December 1943.

The reprisals began from the coastal area of Achaea in Northern Peloponnese; Wehrmacht troops marched to the town of Kalavryta, burning villages and murdering civilians on their way. When they reached the town they locked all women and children in the town's school and ordered all male residents 12 and older to a hill just overlooking the village. There, the German troops machine-gunned down all of them. There were only 12 male survivors who were present on that day. One other boy of Kalavryta survived, but he was at school during the massacre in a near-by town. The 12 survivors told their story of survival to him, saying that after the Germans went down the line with the machine-gun, their fallen bodies were covered with other dead bodies. This way, when the Germans went through again to pick off the survivors, the few lucky ones were not further injured or killed. Allegedly, the women and children managed to free themselves from the school after a Nazi took pity on them and let them escape while the town was set ablaze. The following day the Nazi troops burnt down the Monastery of Agia Lavra, a landmark of the Greek War of Independence.

In total, more than 1200 civilians were killed during the reprisal operations.

About 1,000 houses were looted and burned and more than 2,000 sheep and other large domestic animals were seized by the Germans.

Today the Place of Sacrifice is kept as a memorial site and the events are commemorated each year. Despite the fact that the Federal Republic of Germany has publicly acknowledged the Nazi atrocity at Kalavryta, war reparations have not been paid. 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; however, he didn't accept responsibility on behalf of the German state and did not refer to the issue of reparations which he could not as the position is largely a ceremonial one and does not afford the president the ability to do so.

Source: Wikipedia:

Revenge in Greece

Writing in italics from Charlotte Delbo's Days and Memory

The massacre at Kalavryta was one of retaliation. Guerillas resisted Germans in northern Peloponnesus, where 78 men from a German division were killed and took others captive. As a result, The Germans raided several Greek villages trying to find their prisoners and seek revenge. In December of 1943 they arrived at Kalavryta and asked the whole village to meet at the schoolhouse with some food. The town complied; some believing it was an evacuation.

The soldiers went about their work rapidly, methodically. You saw they were trained…in no time they had everything arranged. The men standing in ranks, the women over against the wall of the school.

All the women and children were locked in the schoolhouse while the men and boys over 12 were led away.

All were to die at the same appointment. An appointment where words were wasted. Why speak to death?
…the words you want to say…are for those…who will go on living and who will transmit to others what you said.

After watching their town burn, they were then shot with machine guns.

….in batches of a hundred men were cut down.

The widows of Kalavryta

The schoolhouse had been burned but its inhabitants escaped when the German officer guarding them didn’t follow orders and let them go. Once the Germans had left they went to find their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons and spent the night burying about 500 dead men.

The night was spent in prayers…each mourner knelt next to her own. Sometimes holding the hand of her husband or of her son…as though to maintain a bit of warmth in it for as long as possible, a semblance of life.

In Remembrance

The government in Kalavryta has done much to memorialize the massacre, including participating in an active exchange with German students who occasionally visit the town. Today there is a large cross atop the infamous hill that can be seen from a distance. A set of stones spells out the name of those killed and sculptures by various artists try express the sorrow it produced. A primary school is home to the museum where the personal articles of the victims are on display. And the church clock stands still; telling the time the massacre began in 1943.

Memorial to the executed villagers

As for us, we know what they would have told us and we have done it.