Massacre of Kalavryta
The Massacre of Kalavryta, or the Holocaust of Kalavryta, refers to the extermination of the male population and the total destruction of the town of Kalavryta, in Greece, by German occupying forces during World War II, on 13 December 1943. It is the most serious case of war crimes committed during the Axis occupation of Greece during World War II.
In early December 1943, the German Army's 117th Jäger Division began a mission named Unternehmen Kalavryta (Operation Kalavryta), intending to encircle Greek Resistance fighters in the mountainous area surrounding Kalavryta. During the operation, 78 German soldiers, who had been taken prisoner by the guerillas in October, were executed by their captors. The commander of the German division, General Karl von Le Suire reacted with harsh and massive reprisal operations across the region. He personally ordered the "severest measures"—the killing of the male population of Kalavryta—on 10 December 1943.
Operation Kalavryta was mounted from Patras and Aigion on the Gulf of Corinth and from near Tripolis in central Peloponnese. All "Battle-Groups" were aimed at Kalavryta. Wehrmacht troops burnt villages and monasteries and shot civilians on their way. When they reached the town they locked all women and children in the local school and marched all males 12 and older to a hill just overlooking the town. There, the German troops machine-gunned them. There were only 13 male survivors. Over 500 died at Kalavryta. Survivors stated that when the Germans machine-gunned the crowd, they had been covered by the dead when they fell. When the Germans went through again to finish off those still alive, some thus escaped the coup-de-grace. The women and children managed to free themselves from the flaming school, some say after an Austrian soldier took pity on them and let them escape, while the rest of the town was set ablaze. The following day the Nazi troops burnt down the Agia Lavra monastery, a landmark of the Greek War of Independence.
In total, nearly 700 civilians were killed during the reprisals of Operation Kalavryta. Twenty-eight communities—towns, villages, monasteries and settlements—were destroyed. In Kalavryta itself about 1,000 houses were looted and burned and more than 2,000 livestock seized by the Germans. The Massacre of Kalavryta was memorialized in the 2014 book, Hitler's Orphan: Demetri of Kalavrta by Marc Zirogiannis. This historical novella tells the story of the massacre from the perspective of the Zirogiannis family.
Today the Place of Sacrifice is kept as a memorial site, and the events are commemorated every December. On 18 April 2000, the then-president of the Federal Republic of Germany, Johannes Rau, visited the town of Kalavryta to express his feelings of shame and deep sorrow for the tragedy.