Massacre of Kondomari

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Civilians being shot during the Massacre.

The Massacre of Kondomari (Greek: Σφαγή στο Κοντομαρί) refers to the execution of male civilians from the village of Kondomari in Crete by an ad hoc firing squad consisting of German paratroopers on 2 June 1941 during World War II.[1] The shooting was the first of a series of reprisals in Crete. It was orchestrated by Generaloberst Kurt Student, in retaliation for the participation of Cretans in the Battle of Crete which had ended with the surrender of the island two days earlier. The massacre was photographed by a German army war correspondent whose negatives were discovered 39 years later in the federal German archives.

Background[edit]

Aged civilians confronting the paratroopers at Kondomari.

Geography[edit]

The village of Kondomari is part of the Platanias municipality and is located near the north coast of Crete, 18 km west of the city of Chania and 3 km southeast of the Maleme airstrip.

During the Battle of Crete[edit]

The Battle of Crete began on 20 May 1941 with a large-scale airborne invasion aimed to capture the island's strategic locations. As was proven in practice, one of the most important such locations was the Maleme airstrip and its surrounding region. Its capture allowed the Luftwaffe to fly in large-scale reinforcements of troops and supplies that eventually determined the outcome of the Battle.

In the morning of 20 May 1941, German paratroopers of the III Battalion of the 1st Air Landing Assault Regiment were dropped southeast of Maleme. Their landing site extended to Platanias and included Kondomari. The invaders were confronted by men from the 21st and 22nd New Zealand Infantry Battalions,[2] joined by ill-armed local civilians carrying primitive weapons. The paratroopers experienced strong resistance and suffered severe losses that totaled nearly 400 men out of 600, including their commander Major Otto Scherber. Eugen Meindl, the regiment's commander, was shot through the chest during his parachute jump near the Platanias bridge and had to be replaced by Oberst Hermann-Bernhard Ramcke.

Student's order on reprisals[edit]

The Greek hostages at Kondomari.
Paratroopers with Horst Trebes in front being prepared to open fire.

Throughout the Battle of Crete, the Allied forces and Cretan irregulars had inflicted heavy losses of lives on the Wehrmacht. In particular, the unprecedented resistance from the local population exasperated the Prussian sense of military order according to which no one but professional warriors should be allowed to fight. Reports from General Julius Ringel, commander of the 5th Mountain Division, stated that Cretan civilians were picking off paratroopers or attacking them with knives, axes and scythes. Even before the end of the Battle, unproven and exaggerated stories had started to circulate, attributing the excessively high casualties to torture and mutilation of paratroopers by the Cretans.[3] When these stories reached the Luftwaffe's High Command in Berlin, Göring commanded Student to undertake inquiries and reprisals. Thus, seeking to counter insurgency and before inquiries were complete, temporary commander General Kurt Student issued an order for launching a wave of brutal reprisals against the local population right after the surrender of Crete on 31 May. The reprisals were to be carried out rapidly, omitting formalities or trials and by the same units who had been confronted by the locals.[3]

The massacre[edit]

Firing squad soldier closeup.

Following Student's order, the occupants of Kondomari were blamed for the death of a few German soldiers whose bodies had been found near the village. On 2 June 1941, four lorries full of German paratroopers from the III Battalion of Luftlande-Sturm-Regiment 1 under the command of Oberleutnant Horst Trebes surrounded Kondomari.[4] Trebes, a former member of the Hitler Youth, was the highest ranking officer of the Battalion to have survived the Battle unwounded. Men, women and children were forced to gather in the village square. Then, a number of hostages was selected among the men while women and children were released. The hostages were led to the surrounding olive groves and later fired upon.[5] The exact number of the victims is unclear. According to German records, a total of 23 men were killed but other sources raise the toll to about 60.[3] The whole operation was captured on film by Franz-Peter Weixler, then serving as a war propaganda correspondent (kriegsberichter) for the Wehrmacht.

Aftermath[edit]

Horst Trebes (right) with W. Gericke in July 1941.

The day following the massacre of Kondomari, forces of the 1st Air Landing Assault Regiment went on to raze Kandanos and execute most of its populace.

After the summer of 1941, Franz-Peter Weixler was dismissed from the Wehrmacht for political reasons. He was later accused of high treason against the III Reich for having leaked uncensored material related to the paratroopers' activities in Crete that included photographs taken in Kondomari, and for having helped some Cretans to flee.[3] Weixler was arrested by the Gestapo, court martialled and imprisoned from early 1944. Post-war in November 1945, during Göring's trial in Nuremberg, Weixler gave a written eyewitness report on the Kondomari massacre. According to a documentary of the Greek TV NET Κοντομαρί Χανίων ~ Η πρώτη εκτέλεση αμάχων στην Ευρώπη, he returned to Kondomari in 1955 where he was received by the villagers according to their traditional custom of hospitality. At one point, when he saw there was no apparent hostility towards him, he told them that he had been following orders on the day. However, despite appearances there was tension amongst the villagers present, and at this one of the survivors stood up and told the group that the formal requirements of hospitality had been observed and they should now leave. The assembled villagers then immediately left the taverna leaving the photographer on his own.

Weixler's negatives from Kondomari were discovered in 1980 in the federal German archives by the Greek journalist Vassos Mathiopoulos,[6] who was unaware of the actual location of the shootings they depicted. Their connection to the events at Kondomari was later established via extensive research by journalist Kostas Papapetrou, after which Weixler's photographs became widely known.

In July 1941, Horst Trebes was awarded the Knight's Cross for his leadership during the assault against Crete. Three years later (1944), he was killed in action in Normandy.[3]

After the surrender of Germany, Kurt Student was captured by the British. In May 1947, he came before a military tribunal to answer charges of mistreatment and murder of prisoners of war by his forces in Crete. Greece's demand to have Student extradited was declined. Student was found guilty of three out of eight charges and sentenced to five years in prison. However, he was given a medical discharge and was released in 1948. Student was never tried for crimes against civilians.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mazower, Mark. Inside Hitler's Greece: The Experience of Occupation, 1941-44, Yale University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-300-08923-6.
  2. ^ Official History of New Zealand in the 2nd World War 1939–45. 21 Battalion — Battle for Crete
  3. ^ a b c d e Beevor, Antony. Crete: The Battle and the Resistance, John Murray Ltd, 1991. Penguin Books, 1992.
  4. ^ Kiriakopoulos, G.C. The Nazi Occupation of Crete: 1941-1945, Praeger Publishers 1995, ISBN 0-275-95277-0.
  5. ^ MacDonald, C.A. The lost battle--Crete, 1941. Free Press, 1993, ISBN 0-02-919625-6.
  6. ^ Μαθιόπουλος, Βάσος. Εικόνες Κατοχής, εκδ. Μετόπη, 1980.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°30′N 23°51′E / 35.5°N 23.85°E / 35.5; 23.85