REVIEW by Willard Manus
Demopoulos, former head of the Hellenic University Club of Southern California,
recently published an important book which commemorates the 70th anniversary
of the December 13, 1943 Holocaust of Kalavryta. On that date, the Nazi
army which had
invaded and occupied Greece in WW II not only slaughtered the entire
male population of the northern Peloponnesian village of Kalavryta but
wreaked havoc on the nearby monasteries of Aghia Lavra and Mega Spileon.
The Nazis took these measures in
retaliation for the attacks on their troops and supply lines by the andartes--the
Greek guerrillas who had joined the resistance movement.
Demopolous, who grew up in a village near Kalavryta and personally witnessed
some of the Nazi brutality, has tried to present a balanced account in
KALAVRYTA. He has not only researched the subject by reading all of the
available books and articles he
could find (all of them in Greek, he notes), but traveled to the Peloponnese
to interview survivors of the Holocaust and former Resistance participants.
Everything having to do with the Kalavryta disaster is shot through with
complexity and controversy. Some Greeks felt that the guerilla attacks
on the Wehrmacht were not only ineffectual but irrational in the way they
provoked the enemy into a wholesale
slaughter of the innocent. Others, as the author points out, "consider
the Greek resistance against the Axis invaders critical in delaying the
war against the Soviet Union. The delay in capturing the large cities
of Moscow and Leningrad and other strategic objectives before the Russian
winter set in was decisive in the outcome of the war. Before he died,
Hitler cited this as the main reason for losing the war...The Greek resistance
in this phase of the war unified the Greek people and enhanced their pride
as a nation."
Another complication stemmed from the divided nature of the Resistance,
with the andartes split between Left and Right (and sometimes battling
each other, instead of the Germans). Dominating everything though was
the fanatical German response to the
Resistance as typified by Hitler's 1943 order "to execute not only
andartes, but also any suspects who might be andartes and those who help
them, remove all materials and wealth from the area, and destroy the infrastructure
that might be supporting the rebellion."
As a result, monstrous crimes were committed by the German army, such
as mass executions, looting and torching of homes and barns, the killing
of women, children, shepherds and even priests. The death toll on the
day of the Kalavryta Holocaust, alone, was 1,101 plus another two hundred
victims from surrounding villages.
Demopoulos quotes a German soldier who participated in the massacre thusly:
"Now that I am older, I realized we committed heinous crimes. I disapprove
of it and want to forget it...I ask forgiveness from all Greeks for what
I did as a soldier, under orders, and I curse the fate that sent me to
those places. Now I admire the Greeks and I honor them, because they are
indeed a glorious and proud race."
(Online copies at www.huc.org,
click on "publications)