Mimis Kalaitzoglou, in the Labyrinth of Messara in 1941
Mimis Kalaitzoglou, Born
in Heraklion in 1921, Interpreter to the German Army
I happen to learn German from a German worker when
we worked together here at the Heraklion airport. Not long after the
German invasion I found myself in Panassos, where I had some relatives,
and the mayor of the village put me in forced labour. Initially,
I worked in Tympaki and then the Labyrinth. One day at the Labyrinth
I heard the Germans say something to one of our own people. The poor
man couldn't understand them so they started to shout and hit him.
I couldn't help myself. I went over and explained to him what the
Germans were saying. That's when the Germans realized I knew their
language and was told to stay as their interpreter. The Labyrinth
then had only a small little door and they made us open two big doors.
Everyday there were a thousand people working forced labour. Half
worked outside to build the road to Kasteli and the other half inside
clearing out rubble. As soon as a big part of the entrance was cleared,
the Germans installed a generator and the Labyrinth was lighted.
The work progressed quickly. They put in railroad cars to take out
the rubble. We would take out the rubble from one side while we were
building the other. Small rooms were formed which we had to fill
with firearms. There were a lot of Germans around then and it was
difficult to accommodate all of them in Kasteli. They had constructed
a camp outside the Labyrinth with kitchens, rooms, etc., and lived
My being there was compulsory but with the understanding that I
didn't want any part of what they gave out. I did not want any money
or provisions. They didn't like it in the beginning but I told them
I want to hold my head in its place, not in my armpit.
There were difficult times and the resistance was around in the
mountains. If my position was just a bit unclear they would have
killed me. And I, on the other hand, tried secretly to help our side
as much as possible. When I knew the Germans were searching for someone
I would warn him to leave and hide. We had many stories like that
because many people, who by day worked in the Labyrinth, were in
the resistance by night, risking their lives.
Twice I had gone to the end of the Labyrinth with
Odysseas Markoulakis as a guide, who had learned from Roussos. With
Roussos I had only been as far as just inside the entrance where
we both worked. The Labyrinth is very large. I don't know how many
kilometers but I do know it starts from the entrance we all know
and ends after Ambelouzo at Agios Titos. If when you go in you trun
a bit left or turn back you will never come out again. You must keep
going right in order to come out again.
I'll tell you a story. Thirty German pilots had come to see the
Labyrinth and asked the commander to provide them with an interpreter
and a guide. Odyseas and I went and when we had advanced enough - we
were walking for at least 20 minutes after the last electric light - the
Germans got frightened and asked us to turn back. I tried to explain
that it wasn't possible to return by the same way because we would
get lost. They thought we were trying to imprison them so they took
out their weapons and took aim. I told them if they killed us they
had no chance of ever getting out and finally was able to convince
them to continue on, and finally we came out after some time.
It's not an easy task to come out of the Labyrinth if you don't
know the way. You will wind up going round and round for eternity.
You must keep going right and you will come out at the same point.
To do that circle you need about two hours. I have a thousand stories
to tell about the Labyrinth. Each day was an adventure. More than
40 villages provided manpower to work in the Labyrinth. They came
from Mesohoria down after Pyrgos to Pompia, and north until Yeryeri
We worked from daybreak until night in shifts, and those who couldn't
get back to their villages at night stayed overnight at the encampments
the Germans had constructed. Every morning we were given tea and
a small slice of bread. At noon we had bean soup, or sometimes rice.
Most people, though, brought their own food and wouldn't eat what
the Germans provided.
The interventions at the Labyrinth lasted long enough. The Germans
knew what they wanted and followed their plans. Just inside to the
left they had installed the generator which was huge. Right next
to it on the same side there was a room where they put all the pistols.
We couldn't enter that room. Right across they had the infirmary
and a bit further down there was the hole where we had the food provisions,
because in this cave you had the privilege to enjoy warmth in the
winter and coolness in summer. It's a matter of fact that years before
the shepherds from the area kept their homemade cheeses in those
rooms. The Germans knocked all that down and stored their weapons
there. There wasn't an inch up to the second plateau where arms were
not kept. They had brought Italian prisoners who, together with some
of our own men, cleaned and oiled the weapons. When they Germans
had to evacuate they put a bomb in front of each of the rooms and
connected them all to the generator so they could blow up the Labyrinth.
When I realized what would happen I said to the German commander:
What are you doing? If you blow up the Labyrinth you will destroy
all of Kasteli. He answered: Only Kasteli? Agii Deka, Mires, Moroni
, Roufas and Pluti will disappear from the map. You will see this
entire mountain disintegrate so that the English will not take possession
of all this firepower. He was a good man and I felt confident in
proposing to blow up only the entrance and he said he would try and
convince his seniors. Finally, he did it because in about 20 days
he called me and said that what I had proposed would happen.
Right away the German automobiles started to arrive. They would
bring dynamite and take out all the food stuff warehoused in the
Labyrinth. More than 50 trucks arrived. We positioned all the dynamite
about 20 meters from the entrance. When all was ready, the Germans
gave the word and I warned all neighbouring villages for the people
to leave and come down to the plains. It was afternoon when we blew
it up. It was a tremendous explosion. Nothing remained in its place.
Everything inside the Labyrinth was destroyed but no one was killed.
For some time to come no one would come near the Labyrinth. Eventually
some people went in search of gun powder endangering their lives
in the process. But no one died there until 1961 when another explosion
occurred killing five people.
At the end of 1945 and the beginning of 1946, the Greek army came
and asked me to make a diagram so they could figure out how to find
the firearms trapped from the explosion. I made it and gave it to
them, and after studying it they said they wanted to open a hole
from the top, on the surface of the mountain. I explained to them
that that was a lost cause so they started to open up the cave from
the entrance. In fact, I told them about a civil engineer from Athens
, Panos Neofytou, whom the Germans had consulted on the building
of the small rooms within the Labyrinth, and classifying the firearms.
The army did call on him and was assisted by his instructions. However,
the army did not really accomplish anything important given that
the entrance of the cave was totally destroyed, and with it all of
the fire power.
Since then I have never been back to the Labyrinth. It
breaks my heart when I think of how beautiful it was, and how they
NOTE. This story comes from the book "The
Labyrinth of Messara" by Kaloust Paragamian and Antonis Vasilakis.
English translation by Lou Duro for ExploreCrete.com - ALL RIGHTS