Greece Remembers the Cold-Blooded Nazi Massacre at Distomo

Distomo massacre Nazis
Photo of German troops in the burning village of Distomo. Original description: “The photo was preserved by Pantelis Karakitsis and was made well-known by Spyros Meletzis. It was found in the pocket of a German soldier held prisoner by ELAS. Depicts Germans in Distomo on fire.” Public Domain.

The massacre at Distomo remains to this day one of the most heinous crimes the Nazis committed against innocent women and children just months before the German occupying forces pulled out of Greece.

On June 10, 1944, Fritz Laufenbach, captain of the 2nd company of the 1st battalion of the 7th SS armored regiment, was ordered to move his troops from Livadia to Distomo, Steiri and Kyriaki in order to locate guerrillas on the western side of Helicon Mountain.

This move by the German soldiers was in retaliation for several troops who had been killed by the Greek Resistance. As bait, the Nazis had used two Greek civilian trucks filled with SS men disguised as villagers. The two trucks were moving ahead of the main phalanx.

At the same time, the 10th and 11th Amphissa companies of the 3rd Battalion were directed to Distomo to meet the 2nd company. The German troops met outside Distomo without finding any resistance fighters, save for eighteen children hiding near the village. Six of the children who tried to escape were executed.

The Germans entered Distomo, and after intimidating the villagers, they discovered that there were Greek guerrillas at Steiri. The 2nd company headed toward the village, and at Litharaki near Steiri, they were ambushed by fighters from the ELAS resistance group.

The battle at Steiri was so bloody that the Germans were forced to retreat. Approximately forty of them were killed.

Cold-blooded massacre at Distomo

After the casualties they had suffered at Steiri, the Nazis entered Distomo with a clear intention of retaliation for their losses. The cold-blooded massacre of everyone they found in the village then began.

Around 600 people were killed by the Nazis in the wider region of Distomo in 1944. Public Domain.

They went from door to door, killing anyone in sight. Their fury was such that they were careless about whether they killed women or children. The slaughter lasted into the night until the Nazi troops had to return to Livadia. However, they did not leave before burning the entire village to the ground.

According to survivors describing the atrocities, SS soldiers bayoneted babies in their cribs, stabbed pregnant women, and beheaded the village priest.

However, the Germans did not stop at Distomo. The executions continued all the way back to their base, as they killed any civilian they encountered on the way. The death count in Distomo amounted to 228 of which 117 were women and 111 men while 53 were children under the age of sixteen.

According to the testimony of International Red Cross Swiss envoy George Wehrly, who arrived in Distomo a few days later, about six hundred people were killed by the Nazis in the wider region.

Haunting pictures from Distomo

Distomo massacre
Maria Padiska in mourning several months after the massacre. Public Domain. 

A few months after the Distomo massacre, LIFE magazine published a haunting report on the Nazi atrocity. Under the headline “What the Germans did to Greece,” the US magazine interviewed survivors and published photos of the town in ruins.

Among the survivors was Maria Padiska, who has come to be known as the “woman of Distomo.” She passed away in March 2009 at the age of 84.

Her photo adorns the Museum of the Victims of Nazism, located at the entrance of Distomo. The museum was founded in 2005 at the site of the old primary school. It was inaugurated by then President of the Hellenic Republic Carolos Papoulias.

The total area of the museum, which is roughly about 200 square meters, is divided into two levels. On the first floor, one can see photos of all the victims, and there is also a special area with photos of the ossuary, which is located intact at the Mausoleum on Kanales Hill of Distomo.

The museum also holds historical issues of newspapers and magazines of the time with related articles, photographs, and documents.

Distomo massacre
Memorial to the massacre of Distomo. Credit: Dawetie , CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons

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