September 14, 1944

insidehitlersgreecebkcover I read a book last summer, Inside Hitler’s Greece: The Experience of Occupation 1941-44 by Mark Mazower. It was an interesting read, easier than what I expected. I am struck by three main points:

–Even though 60,000 -65,000 Greek Jews were exported to German gas chambers (50,000 from Thessaloniki alone), many Greeks helped Jews hide and escape from the Germans. The Italians were completely opposed to the Germany policy towards the Greek Jews.

–the Wehrmacht depended on Greek collaborators, and I was surprised at how many did collaborate. The Germans were successful in gathering these collaborators with the fear of communism.

–the Greek Civil War evolved as part of the German plan. Mazower writes, “If German troops occasionally refrained from intervening, it was precisely because the main purpose of building up the Security Batallions and other anti-communist Greek forces had been to ‘save precious German blood’. HSSPF (Higher SS & Police Fuhrer of Greece) Schimana admitted openly that his aim was to sow dissension among the Greeks in order to allow the Germans to sit back and ‘watch the fight in peace’. Civil strife was the inevitable outcome.”

In 1941, Vera and Niko moved to Yannitsa (Giannitsa) when Yanni was about 2 years old. Yianni remembers hiding in the mountains away from the Germans. Yia yia tells the story of the Germans killing the mayor of Yannitsa, cut off his penis and carried it around the town—lots of blood. In the mountains, Vera used a sheet tied to trees for cover from the elemengiannitsats. If Germans were sighted heading for their village, someone called out, “oloi sto vourno!” and everyone left their houses running to the mountains. Yianni says that one time his mother heard airplanes overhead approaching. In her hurry to kill the fire she’d started to heat up their food, she covered the fire with her skirts and burned herself. According to yia yia, on September 14 (H Mera Tou Stavrou) 1944, the Germans rounded up the villagers to find the Greek who killed a German officer. They lined up the people around a freshly dug pit and then aimed their guns at them all—women and children included—demanding to know who the culprit was. Daddy remembers clinging to yia yia’s skirts. Finally, the Greek was found and the villagers were released. Every Sept. 14, yia yia Vera lit a candle to commemorate their being saved from death.
That was yia yia’s recollection. In reading the book Inside Hitler’s Greece: the experience of occupation, 1941-44 by Mark Mazower (Yale University Press, 2001), I read this account of the massacre in Giannitsa:

Further north in Macedonia, Wehrmacht counter-intelligence and SS police officers were also using right-wing Greek paramilitaries to keep the andartes at bay. The town of Giannitsa, lying to the west of Salonika in the Axios valley, was a centre of resistance activity, and it was there that a massacre took place in September 1944 which demonstrated the truly horrific nature of this policy. Overseen by German officers, the killings were nevertheless carried out by Greeks, under the command of a pair of infamous anti-communists, the republican Colonel George Poulos, and a Greek-speaking Wehrmacht sergeant called Fritz Schubert.
On 13 September the inhabitants of the town had—without warning—been ordered into their homes. At dawn next morning, Poulos’s and Schubert’s men ordered all males over ten years old to gather in the square in front of the school building where the local German garrison was lodged. Women and children were herded together in another square nearby. After a short address from Father Papagrigoriou, the priest who rode alongside the squad, it was Schubert who began to speak in his heavily accented Greek: ‘Poustides (Faggots), ruffians, pimps, arse-lickers…I’ll wipe out the lot of you,’ he bawled. Then he gave the orders to his men. For them, already compromised beyond redemption by their association with the Germans, murder had become a routine and perhaps even a sport. In ten minutes they beat a town clerk to death with clubs and iron bars before everyone’s eyes. By the time Poulos appeared, in Greek army uniform, six other men had been battered to death. Poulos simply made a short speech to the terrified civilians, and left again. By mid-afternoon many more people had been murdered, among them a woman who worked as an interpreter for the German commander. The final death toll amounted to at least seventy-five, not including people who were shot at random as they worked in their fields. Poulos’s men took the victim’s clothes, shoes, money and valuables, and burned many houses. All this time, German officers from the local garrison stood by watching and taking photographs. As soon as the paramilitaries drove away, the survivors fled into the countryside.

Wenger, a Swiss Red Cross worker, arrived in the town two days later, and found himself in a ‘dead city.’ Walking through the deserted streets, he noted that a third of the town had been burned down. As he traveled across the plain, he heard about other atrocities —in Verria, where twelve women had been raped; in the village of Skylitsi, where Poulos’s men had shot whomever they met; and most horrible of all, in the village of Hortiatis, just a few miles from the comfortable HQ of General Löhr himself, where dozens of villagers had been slaughtered. Wenger finally caught up with Poulos at his heavily fortified headquarters in the village of Krya-Vrysi just outside Salonika. He found the stocky colonel in a combative mood. Poulos told Wenger to take his complaints to the andartes, who were responsible for ‘the entire situation.’ He showed no remorse, and made his low opinion of the Red Cross clear.

Poulos, a short, overweight reserve army engineer from Salonika, was one of the few out-and-out collaborators in Greece. Like many of the most fanatical anti-communists he was a republican. Working for Sonderkommando 2000, a German counter-intelligence operation, he started out organizing networks of informers and spies to infiltrate the resistance. He also helped to run an anti-Semitic organization called the National Union of Greece (EEE), which the SS had revived.

….After Giannitsa, Poulos led his men northwards together with the Germans, and ended up forming a Greek Police Volunteer Battalion in Slovenia, before surrendering to the Americans in April 1945. Two years later, Schubert was put on trial in Athens and Poulos was the subject of proceedings in Salonika. Still in detention, he wrote a letter to the Greek government, declaring that he had only acted out of love of his country, and offering—in view of the fact that events had borne out his warnings about communism—to find volunteers to fight the Left in Greece. In the right-wing climate of the times it was not a foregone conclucsion that such an offer would be rejected. But the Greek public was so horrified by their crimes that the two men were among the very few war criminals to be executed in Greece after the war.”

(pages 336-339)

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One Response to September 14, 1944

  1. Anonymous says:

    Dear Iosifina,Magriotis, the Mayor of Yannitsa was executed by the Germans in 14th September 1944 at the centre of the town. Next day his relatives burried him. It is not true that parts of his body were carried around the town.If you have any story from your grandmother about Yannitsa, please contact with me. thank you/Maria

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