While the atrocities committed by Nazi forces against civilians in World War II are vast and resulted in the most sweeping war-crime trials in history, one of the least-known Nazi war crimes was the massacre of civilians in Kalavryta in Greece.
In early December 1943, the German Army’s 117th Jäger Division began Operation Kalavryta, which was trying to encircle and eliminate Greek resistance fighters in the mountains surrounding the area of Kalavryta. The Jäger Division specialized in anti-partisan operations and had arrived in Greece after the fighting insurgents in Yugoslavia.
Operation Kalavryta began in October after the Greek resistance captured 80 German soldiers during a battle in the village of Kerpini, near Kalavryta. The Germans threatened to raze nearby villages and massacre civilians if the resistance didn’t release their soldiers.
The church tried to reason with the resistance to release the German prisoners, but they refused. In response, on December 8th, the 117th Jäger Division troops entered nearby villages of Kerpini and Pogi, killing the entire male population of both villages. The resistance then executed 78 German prisoners.
The Germans reached Kalavryta on December 9. They demanded to speak with the Greek resistance leaders, but after executing the German prisoners, they had left the area and moved to a different location. Many of the residents had fled as well, but the Germans had called upon the residents to return. German commander Ebersberger gave his “word of military honor” that their safety would be guaranteed.
On December 13, other units and senior officers arrived in the village in the early morning. They began ringing the church bell, rounded up all town residents, and forced them into the school building, separating the older boys (12 years or older) and men from the women and children. Those who remained were given a blanket and enough food for one day.
The boys and men moved the men to a field called Kapi Rake, just overlooking the town. The Germans looted the town of all food and livestock and then proceeded to set it ablaze. Then the slaughter began. German troops turned machine guns on the men and boys, killing 438 of them. Somehow 13 of them survived by hiding under the dead bodies of their townsmen. From their vantage point, the women and children could see the Germans killing their family members and friends. But they weren’t done there. There the Germans set fire to the school.
From the Greek Holocaust Monument website: The women and the children locked up in the burning school could see their husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers being killed, and the men from the hill could see their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters being burnt inside the school. Finally, the women managed to escape from the burning building. It is said that an Austrian soldier had pitied them and helped them to get out.
The women and children were left with the gruesome task of burying the dead the next day. However, the Germans had burnt down all of the roughly 1000 buildings in town, taken all of the food, and confiscated 2000 livestock. So, while they were alive, they had no food or shelter. During the Nazi operation, a total of 28 villages and towns were destroyed. And 693 civilians were murdered.
After the Nazi occupation was over, the church cathedral was rebuilt, but the clock in the steeple is forever frozen at 2:34, the time that the massacre began. The site where the women and children were kept was made into the Kalavryta Holocaust Museum.
The Kalavryta Massacre during the Nazi occupation remains one of the darkest days in modern Greek history.