Holocaust of Kedros
The Holocaust of Kedros (Greek: Ολοκαύτωμα του Κέντρους), also known as the Holocaust of Amari (Greek: Ολοκαύτωμα του Αμαρίου), refers to an operation mounted by Nazi German forces against the civilian residents of nine villages located in the Amari Valley on the Greek island of Crete during its occupation by the Axis in World War II. The operation was carried out on 22 August 1944 by Wehrmacht infantry and was followed in the coming days by the razing of most villages, looting, pillage of livestock and destruction of harvests. The number of fatalities among the local population rose to 164 during the course of the operation, which had been ordered by Generalleutnant Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, commander of the garrison of Crete, to cow the population and deter local guerrillas from attacking the occupation forces during their imminent retreat to Chania.
The Amari basin is a scenic fertile valley lying five to six hundred meters above sea level in the southeast part of the Rethymno regional unit. It is located between the Ida (Psiloritis) massif in the east and the conical-shaped mount Kedros in the west. In sharp contrast with the barren mountain peaks overlooking it, the valley has plenty of water and vegetation and has been inhabited as early as the Minoan era. Most of the villages are gathered around the foothills. The valley has long been used for agriculture and numerous olive and fruit trees are grown in it, bearing fruit of renown quality. To promote agricultural education, a school called Scholi Asomaton (Greek: Γεωργική Σχολή Ασωμάτων) was established in 1927 in the buildings of a former monastery located in the valley.
During World War II
Being away from the major urban centers, the valley saw little presence of German forces during the occupation. It provided shelter to several Commonwealth military personnel still hiding on the island. Many more had crossed the valley heading to the south coast for being evacuated to Egypt. The local residents promptly offered invaluable help for the transport of supplies and equipment for the resistance and provided abundant food for its sustainment. Amari soon evolved to an important center of the Cretan resistance. The warm support of the locals combined with the region's idyllic beauty, led the SOE agents then serving in Crete to coin the nickname Lotus Land for the Amari valley. Among those who experienced the local hospitality were Tom Dunbabin, Xan Fielding and Patrick Leigh Fermor who used various hideouts in the nearby slopes. Furthermore, the abductors of General Kreipe stayed at a sheepfold in Amari for a couple of nights during their march southwards.
At the time of the Kedros operation it was clear that Germany was losing the war. By late summer 1944, the occupying forces had begun to plan their withdrawal to Chania, where they would stay until their capitulation on 9 May 1945.
In the dawn of August 22, several battalions of German infantry (presumably belonging to the 16th regiment of the 22. Luftlande Infanterie-Division) arrived at the Amari valley. They succeeded in surrounding the villages lining the western side of the Amari valley without being noticed by their dwellers. These villages, collectively called the Kedros villages, are namely Gerakari, Gourgouthi, Kardaki, Vryses, Smiles, Drygies, Ano Meros and Chordaki. The nearby village of Krya Vrysi was also surrounded. In all villages, the German raids followed roughly the same pattern. The locals were gathered together, the identities of males were verified and those to be executed were picked and kept separately. Women, on the excuse that they would go on a long journey, were ordered to return to their homes and collect their valuables. This was a trick aiming to facilitate the looting that would follow. Women, children and the elderly were taken away while the men whose lives were spared were forced to march towards Rethymno where they were held in Fortezza for a few weeks. Following their departure, firing squads started the executions in groups. When finished, dead bodies were doused in petrol and set on fire. In some cases (e.g., Gerakari, Vryses and Ano Meros), the executions had been carried out in a village house which was afterwards dynamited.
In the days that followed the shootings, the houses were looted and then burned or dynamited, similarly to Kandanos three years earlier. All the loot was collected at Scholi Asomaton, from where it was transported on lorries to Rethymno. Harvests and livestock were confiscated for use by the German troops. Local resistance bands could do nothing but watch with hands tied. Being vastly outnumbered, any opposition attempt for defending the region would be suicidal. George Psychoundakis in his book mentions that from his hideout cave in Ida he could see smoke rising from the villages for more than a week.
Adopting the official German proclamation, accounts of the destruction of the Kedros villages widely attribute it to their residents providing shelter to Kreipe's abductors. This, however, is rigorously disputed by various historians since the abduction had taken place on the 26th of April 1944, almost four months earlier. Such a lag in time was not in unison with the standard German practice of immediate reprisals. A more convincing explanation is that the Germans destroyed Kedros because they wanted to terrorize the local population and hence reduce the risk of being attacked during their impending retreat, which eventually started in early October. In Beevor's words, the Amari operation was essentially a campaign of pre-emptive terror just before the German forces withdrew westwards from Heraklion with their flank exposed to this centre of Cretan resistance.
At the dawn of 11 September 1944, a local ELAS detachment surrounded Scholi Asomaton and captured the garrison of the German outpost established there. Later the same morning, two lorries carrying German troops sent from Rethymno were ambushed at the watershed ridge near the village of Ag. Apostoloi. The battle that followed, which became known as the Battle of Potamoi (Greek: Η μάχη των Ποταμών), continued during the following day as German reinforcements arrived. The battle ended in ELAS' victory with 20 to 30 Germans killed and more being captured alive.
General Müller was captured by the Red Army in East Prussia and later extradited to Greece. He was tried in Athens along with Bruno Bräuer, commander of the ‘’Festung Kreta’’ between 1942–44, for the atrocities committed on the island. Both were convicted, sentenced to death on 9 December 1946 and executed by firing squad on 20 May 1947. No one else was ever brought to justice and no reparations were ever paid to the survivors. The village of Smiles was never rebuilt.
Nowadays, the anniversary of the destruction of the villages of Kedros is honored with events held by turns in a different village every year.
- Greek holocausts: Η καταστροφή των χωριών του Κέντρους
- Μαύρη Βίβλος της Κατοχής -- Schwarzbuches der Besatzung
- German occupation of Crete: Kedros villages (in German -- translate)
- Beevor, Antony. Crete: The Battle and the Resistance, John Murray Ltd, 1991. Penguin Books, 1992.
- Dunbabin, Thomas J. Antiquities of Amari, Annual of the British School at Athens, iss. 42, pp. 184-193, 1947.
- Fielding, Xan. Hide and Seek : The Story of a War-time Agent, Secker & Warburg, 1954.
- Θα τιμηθούν τα ολοκαυτώματα των χωριών του Κέντρους, Ρεθεμνιώτικα Νέα, Αύγουστος 2010
- Η Ολοκαύτωση του Κέντρους - Αφιέρωμα, Επιμέλεια Σπύρου Απ. Μαρνιέρου, Αθήνα 1984.
- "Psychoundakis, George. The Cretan Runner:His Story of the German Occupation, John Murray Ltd, 1955. The Folio Society, 2009. pp 177-178".
- Δραμιτινός, Χαρίδημος. Η μάχη των Ποταμών 11-9-1944, Έκδ. Συνδέσμου Φιλολόγων Νομού Ρεθύμνου, Ρέθυμνο 2000.
- "History of the United Nations War Crimes Commission and the Development of the Laws of War. United Nations War Crimes Commission. London: HMSO, 1948".