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Thread: Distomo

  1. #1
    Senior Member Theseus's Avatar
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    Distomo

    I have just heard of the massacre at Distomo, near Delphi. It beggars belief that we went on a school trip on which Delphi was a must and I had never heard of this. We even intended to visit the church of Agios Loukas in Arahova. I am horrified. Is there anything I can read about it in Greek? This photograph expresses the emotional shock and heartbreak that most of the villagers had to suffer, even though apparently the massacre was not approved by the Nazi High Command:
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    The heartbreak, the numbness, the women whose children and menfolk had all been lost and the brutality that every age has had to face but some infinitely more than others--all enshrined in the face of this lovely Greek woman.

  2. #2
    Senior Member SBE's Avatar
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    If I remember well, because it's been years since I saw it, there was one episode on The World at War that was devoted to German and Bulgarian atrocities in Greece during WW2, so that might be a good general starting point.
    When I was growing up in Patras, the massacre of Kalavryta was all we knew, possibly because it was nearer. Distomo is something I first heard as a grown up.
    I found this one googling and it looks like what you are after.

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    Senior Member Theseus's Avatar
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    Thanks so much, SBE. I hadn't heard of Kalavryta either. It seems that when school trips visit France & Germany, they visit the battlefields of WW1 or the gas camps in Poland. But in Greece it is the sites of Classical interest without a mention of the sufferings the Greeks endured in WW2.
    Looking at this woman's face again, I am reminded of a hymn about the head & face of the Crucified Christ & with him all suffering humanity:-
    What sorrow mars thy grandeur?
    Can death thy bloom deflower?
    O countenance whose splendour
    the hosts of heaven adore!

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    Senior Member SBE's Avatar
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    Oh, dear! Then you've probably not heard of Doxato, either.
    I once met someone whose father was one of the few survivors . He was 15 at the time and there was some commotion when the inhabitants were rounded up and he managed to escape and hide among the women. His son was telling me that he was treated with suspicion by the other survivors, there was too much why him and not my father/brother/ son.
    And a friend tells me of one aunt, now dead, who was a teenager in Doxato living with her father and brother, having already lost her mother to illness. She went to the main square, found her father's and brother's body, dragged them to the house, buried them in the yard and then went to some relatives in Thessaloniki, and spent most of her life on medication.

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    Senior Member Theseus's Avatar
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    How ignorant I am of this side of Greek life! A classical education has proved invaluable to me in so many ways but there is a huge lacuna to be filled between the Greek history I have studied & the Greece of modern times. For you to have met someone whose father survived Doxato (& no! I had not heard of this tragedy either) & your friend's aunt who clearly carried this awful horror to her grave is a sober reminder to me of this vast other Greece which almost too late I have come to know & love.

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    Senior Member SBE's Avatar
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    The father survived Kalavryta, not Doxato. I just realised I didn't write it clearly. The father of a fellow student of mine was a pupil in Xanthi during the war and was telling us about how Greek was banned at school and anyone not paying sufficient attention to the new language of instruction (Bulgarian) received severe beatings by the teachers.

    But don't forget Theseus that the people who lived through this never discussed it or at least never discussed it with their grandchildren and children. Add to that the 40-year rule in history, our school books stopped at 1939 and all I know about WW2 and Greece comes from the movies, literature, travel and whatever we learned about our second national holiday. I didn't even know that Patras was bombed heavily in 1940 until I read it in a book, although it makes sense- it was a port and industrial city. And I only found out that the gulf of Patras between Rion and Antirrion was full of mines that were cleared in 1945 by the Lowestoft minesweepers (RNPS), when I interpreted for a delegation from Rion, who went to Lowestoft for a town twinning.

    I believe that my maternal grandfather fought in the battle of Kalpaki (and others, of course), but my only indication for that is that when I was about 12 we went on a day trip at the museum in Kalpaki and when I returned I told him where I went and what it was like and he appeared to be emotional, which was not like him. My grandmother on the other hand claimed when I asked her (aged 7 or 8) that my grandfather was a cook in the army and did not fire a single bullet and was giving away bread to anyone who was hungry- an unlikely tale, maybe what she was thought a child ought to hear? Who knows. By the way my grandparents were around 25 in 1940 and already had two very young children.

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    Senior Member Theseus's Avatar
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    Thanks for all these reminisces, SBE. My modern history was from the outbreak of the French Revolution to 1939. What had happened in WW2 was still relatively recent & not yet 'history'. The Holocaust wasn't even heard of. A conservative estimate of how many Greeks were massacred by the Nazis is about 85,000, which includes 60,000 Jews, Roma & those Christians who sheltered Jews.
    The reluctance of those who lived through the war to discuss their experiences I have encountered both with my own father & his contemporaries. Some years ago a neighbour who I had hitherto only passed the time of day with invited me into his house for a sherry. He showed me photographs secretly taken in the Japanese war camp where he had been imprisoned in 1943 so that the Thailand-Burma railway could be constructed. He had been nearly starved to death & he and several fellow prisoners were forced to work harder, some literally to death, on May 8 1945 (VE Day), since his Japanese captors mocked their German allies for surrendering. The following week he died. He had only spoken once about his experiences & that was to me. I must add that his wife had died several years before.
    Thanks so much for your informative & moving stories. Please write in Greek in future. It's a real help for my 'reading comprehension' despite the odd misunderstanding & misinterpretation on my part!

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    Senior Member SBE's Avatar
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    It is my understanding that the number of casualties in Greece during WW2 is well over 300,000. That number includes the civilians who died of famine during the occupation.

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    Senior Member Theseus's Avatar
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    See the table in the article at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worl...ses_by_country. The total sum there is given at
    507,000 to 807,000. My figure was based on massacres and extermination of the Greek Jews & is clearly wrong. The table I have given is more accurate than either of our estimates.
    The horror of Distomo is that after D-day the defeated Nazis, knowing that their doom was sealed, went on this kind of rampage of rape, infanticide & random massacre out of a sheer satiation of bloodlust. And the horror is compounded by the fact that these soldiers were absolutely normal people with families, wives & children. It has been observed that fanaticism of any kind is incompatible with any empathy.

  10. #10
    Senior Member SBE's Avatar
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    Wikipedia is not necessarily the most reliable source and the source cited next to this number is no longer accessible so it is best to err on the lower side.
    As for Distomo, it is one of several similar events- Wikipedia lists 15 massacres, some with a lot more victims- and the reason you hear about it more than others is because they have sued Germany for compensation.

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