Kalavryta, as seen from the memorial site
70 years from the Massacre of Kalavryta
The Massacre of Kalavryta (Greek: Σφαγή των Καλαβρύτων) refers to the extermination of the male population and the subsequent total destruction of the town of Kalavryta, in Greece, by German occupying forces during World War II on 13 December 1943. Aside from the deportation and murder of over 80% of Greece's Jewish population, 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 guerrilla 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 struck 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 school and marched all males 12 and older to a hill just overlooking the town. There, the German troops machine-gunned down all of them. There were only 13 male survivors. Over 500 died at Kalavryta. The survivors told their story of survival, saying that after the Germans machine-gunned the crowd, some falling bodies were covered by the dead. This way, when the Germans went through again to finish off those still alive, the few lucky ones escaped the coup-de-grace. The women and children managed to free themselves from the school, some say after a German soldier took pity on them and let them escape, while the town was set ablaze. The following day the Nazi troops burnt down the Monastery of Agia Lavra, 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 were seized by the Germans.
Today the Place of Sacrifice is kept as a memorial site and the events are commemorated every December. War reparations was paid in 1960 (115 million deutschemarks), Greece accepted the payment and agreed not to come with any more claims. Greece has however since then demanded more money, claiming they did not get all that they had asked for. 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; however, he didn't accept responsibility on behalf of the German state and did not refer to the issue of reparations. He felt unable to do so as his position is largely a ceremonial one and does not allow the President the ability to raise such matters.