In autumn of 1943, a lone allied soldier parachutes into Greece. His stated goal: to build an airstrip for the British. Brendon O’Malley is an Irishman, and he soon discovers that fighting the Nazis is not the same as embracing the British, who have seriously misled him about his mission. Wounded during the drop, he’s set upon and robbed by a seventeen-year-old girl, Danae, and her little brother, Stefanos, who hold him captive for over six weeks, first in a cave and later in the cellar of their home in Kalavryta. A wary friendship develops between the three. Over time O’Malley’s relationship with the girl gradually deepens into love.
Slowly O’Malley earns Danae’s trust, and he stays on with her family in their house in the village. After his wounds heal, he heads up into the mountains to join the Greek soldiers, the antartes, who are suspicious of the British and slow to accept him into their ranks. O’Malley is no ordinary man, and his honesty, strength, and courage impress them and finally win the day. But disaster lies just ahead, and the Nazis, already a palpable presence in their lives, stage a savage attack on Kalavryta. Through it all, the love of this Irishman for his indomitable Greek muse cannot be extinguished.
The Germans massacred the male inhabitants of Kalavryta on December 13th1943,following a number of bloody engagements with partisan guerrillas and the killing of 81 German POWs by ELAS forces. General Le Suire gave the order to the 117th Jaeger Division and the men directly responsible for the attack were Major Hans Ebersberger and Hauptmann Doehnert, neither of whom was ever brought to justice.
The German army withdrew from Greece seven months later in October of 1944. They raided Kalavryta two more times after the massacre, once on Good Friday of 1944 and again in July of the same year. Several women and children were killed in the first attack. Following that raid, the majority of inhabitants abandoned Kalavryta and the Germans found the village almost completely abandoned when they passed through it again in the summer.
The damage the Wehrmacht inflicted on Greece during the course of the war was horrific.According to the Red Cross, over 1000 villages were destroyed and 800,000people died during the conflict. Hunger was omnipresent; one out of ten Greeks starved to death the first year of the German occupation. Thousands more contacted tuberculosis and typhus from the living conditions the Germans imposed on the captive population.
Many of the victims perished directly at enemy hands. The Jewish community in Salonika,once called the ‘Jerusalem of the West,’ was completely decimated. At the start of the war, 70,000 to 80,000 Jews lived in Greece, 50,000 in Salonika. Fewer than 10,000 of them survived the war.
Led by the Archbishop of Athens, Damaskinos, there were widespread efforts in Greece to help the Jews avoid deportation to concentration camps. The Archbishop personally signed thousands of false baptismal certificates and 250 Jewish children were hidden by clergymen and their families. The Germans grew so angry at the Archbishop’s efforts, they threatened to shoot him. To which he replied:
“Greek religious leaders are not shot, they are hanged. I request that you respect this custom.” The simple courage of the religious leader’s reply caught the Nazi commander off guard, and his life was spared.
Damaskinos filed a formal protest against the deportations. It reads in part:
“The Greek Orthodox Church and the Academic World of Greek People protest against the Persecution… The Greek people were… deeply grieved to learn that the German Occupation Authorities have already started to put into effect a program of gradual deportation of the Greek Jewish community… and that the first groups of deportees are already on their way to Poland…”
“According to the terms of the armistice, all Greek citizens, without distinction of race or religion, were to be treated equally by the Occupation Authorities. The Greek Jews have proven themselves… valuable contributors to the economic growth of the country [and] law-abiding citizens who fully understand their duties as Greeks. They have made sacrifices for the Greek country, and were always on the front lines of the struggle of the Greek nation to defend its inalienable historical rights…”
“In our national consciousness, all the children of Mother Greece are an inseparable unity: they are equal members of the national body irrespective of religion… Our holy religion does not recognize superior or inferior qualities based on race or religion, as it is stated: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek’ and thus condemns any attempt to discriminate or create racial or religious differences. Our common fate both in days of glory and in periods of national misfortune forged inseparable bonds between all Greek citizens, without exemption, irrespective of race…”
“Today we are… deeply concerned with the fate of 60,000 of our fellow citizens who are Jews… we have lived together in both slavery and freedom, and we have come to appreciate their feelings, their brotherly attitude, their economic activity, and most important, their indefectible patriotism…”
According to the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, “the appeal of the Archbishop and his fellow Greeks is unique; there is no similar document of protest of the Nazis during World War II that has come to light in any other European country.”
Atonement actions as described in this book were routine occurrences. German officers rarely distinguished between civilians and partisans during round-ups; and they often found ingenious ways to justify their actions to themselves and their men. When ordered to shoot a group of women, a battalion commander was told by his superior, ‘these aren’t women.They’re female sharpshooters.’
A German lieutenant, Fritz Lautenbach, led his men on rampage in the village of Distomo,where they sliced open a pregnant woman and beheaded a priest, eventually killing all who lived there. Other soldiers attacked civilians in Komeno and Klisura. But most of the killings were orderly, hangings in the square or mass-shooting as in Kalavryta.
British Commonwealth soldiers, largely from Australia and New Zealand, served valiantly throughout Greece during the war and many were captured during the retreat from Athens in 1941. 6508 soldiers from the United Kingdom, 2030 Australians and1614 New Zealanders. An additional 5100 became POWs after the Battle of Crete that same year.
In 1948, the Greek government investigated the killings and sent the names of the dead to the German Department of Justice which subsequently found them to be “hearsay evidence” and declared “there was no way to document the facts of the case…Depositions of Greek witnesses could not be proven.”
The German District Attorney declared:
“The punishment of the Greeks in Kalavryta by the Germans could not be considered inappropriate taking into consideration the way the Greek antartes treated POWs.”
In 1995, the Helmut Kohl-Klaus Kinkel government rejected a Greek diplomatic “note verbale”calling for discussion of the issue of wartime reparations:
The Areios Paghos (Greek Supreme Court)ruled on April 13, 2000 that Germany must pay compensation to Greek victims of Nazi oppression, upholding a 1997 decision by a court in the city of Livadia to award 9.45 billion drachmas (about 35 million dollars) compensation to relatives of persons killed in the Distomo massacre by German troops in World War II.
The ruling,which recognized the right of Greek courts to order Germany to pay compensation to victims, would allow individuals to file claims against Germany. In 1960,Germany paid a total of 115 million German marks to Greek victims of Nazi racial discrimination. The relevant treaty signed between Germany and Greece did not, however, exclude other Greek citizens with claims from coming forward and seeking compensation.
But Germany steadfastly refused to entertain the possibility of more compensation payments,saying that no private citizen can sue a state and that Germany has already paid blanket compensation under postwar reparations to Greece.
German president, Johannes Rau visited Kalavryta in March 2000 to commemorate the mass execution of 1,252 boys and men there by Nazi troops in retaliation for the killing of 81 German POWs by ELAS forces.
However, a month later on April 14, 2000 the day after the Greek Supreme Court ruling,German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told the German Parliament that the issue of the war reparations—which, under the German government’s rationale,includes the indemnities to the victims of the Nazi atrocities in Greece—was definitively closed.
Despite the fact that the Federal Republic of Germany has publicly acknowledged the Nazi atrocity at Kalavryta, war reparations have never been paid.