German Army Atrocities & Resistance in Crete

Crete under German Occupation

On 20 October 1940, war was declared between Greece and Italy, following the Italian ultimatum demanding the surrender of Greece. The Greek Army drove back the Italians but was then faced with the might of the German Army, with its superior armament, and was soon defeated and was forced to capitulate.

On 20 May 1941, Crete was bombed by the Germans and thousands of paratroopers were dropped over the island. Crete was defended by only limited Greek and Allied forces, as the Cretan 5th Division had been transferred to mainland Greece the previous November. However, the determined resistance of the island’s civilian population was such that the battle of Crete lasted several days and cost the lives of 4,000 German paratroopers. Crete fell definitively on 29 May, having endured longer than the time needed to occupy the whole of France.

German Army Atrocities in Crete – Resistance in Crete

It was already clear from the first days of the German occupation that the bloodthirsty invader had no respect for human life. On 3 June 1941 the village of Kandanos in southwest Crete felt the rage of the German Army, who massacred the inhabitants and razed their homes to the ground “so that the village will never be rebuilt”, according to a sign set up at the scene of the destruction. The village was later rebuilt in defiance of the Germans, just as resistance to the invader continued.

german atrocities at kontomari village in crete
Kontomari Massace, Photo from the German Army Archive

From early June 1941 many resistance organisations were formed across Crete, including Manolis Badouvas’ group in Agios Syllas, Petrakoyiorgis’ group in Kamares, Adamis Krassadakis’ group on Mt Dicte, the Anogia Organisation, Raftopoulos’ KEEE in Viannos, Antonis Grigorakis’ organisation in Kroussonas, G. Katsias’ organisation in Sfakia, Mandakas’ organisation in the White Mountains, Giorgos Katsirdakis’ group in Houstouliana, and others.

The resistance against the German Army of Occupation was organised with the aid of the British secret services and inflicted severe damage. The crowning moment was the abduction of General Kreipe, the German Commander of Crete. Unfortunately this achievement cost Crete dear, as the enraged Germans carried out mass reprisals against the civilian population.

One of the villages of Crete which paid a high price for the help it offered to the abductors of General Kreipe was Anogia, the famous mountain village on Mt Psiloritis. The village was emptied of its inhabitants and then razed to the ground. When the “punishment” of Anogia was complete, not one brick was left on another.

Will you bet on it, Kommandante?

families with men executed by the German arny in Crete in world war 2
One cross for each executed male member of the family

In a beautiful Cretan village, during the German Occupation – as Nikos Kazantzakis describes – an old Cretan woman risked her life to hide two English soldiers in her house for six months. One day the Germans discovered them and captured them. The old woman ran to the cruel German commander, stood before him and shouted:

“Know, Kommandante, that all the mothers in the world are in pain and that this pain will be the end of Germany. Germany will be lost, I stake my head on it! Will you bet on it, Kommandante?”

We don’t know if the German placed a bet or not, but Germany certainly lost the gamble of the second world war. Sixty-four years ago, the fighters of Crete showed that nothing is impossible; anything can be done when you fight with all your soul for what you believe in. You can upset the plans of those who want to enslave you, who want to take your most precious possession, Freedom. Sixty-four years on, the Battle of Crete continues, against the selling-off of Cretan land, against all those who want to change the face of the Great Island, against all those who are trying to gain with money what they could not conquer through war. Sixty-four years on, the Battle of Crete continues, against the depopulation of Cretan soil, against the reduction of the inhabitants’ quality of life.

Sixty-four years on, there are still open wounds in the Greek body politic. The other Great Island, Cyprus, cries out for justice, demanding the fall of the last wall of shame in the Europe of Progress and Development. It demands an end to the mockery by the various foreign decision-making centres. It demands that the famous UN resolutions be upheld, so that Greek and Turkish Cypriots may live together in peace. The Battle of Crete will be remembered down the ages as the symbol of the values of Freedom, Democracy and, above all, the upholding of human dignity. Honour the fighters of Crete, of Greece, of Europe.

By Kostas Xylouris ( Κostas Xylouris is a Prefectural Councillor of Heraklion and a former president of the Pancretan Union of Attica.)

NOTE. The photos and most of the texts of this article have been re-published with the kind permission of the ‘Ano Gi” newspaper of Anogia town.

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