In the summer of 1940, Mussolini, perceiving the presence of German soldiers in the oilfields of Romania (an ally of Germany) as a sign of a dangerous expansion of German influence in the Balkans, decided to invade Greece. In October 1940, Greece was dragged into the Second World War by the invasion of its territory by Mussolini. To save Mussolini from a humiliating defeat, Hitler invaded Greece in April 1941.
Greece was looted and devastated by the Germans as no other country under their occupation. The German minister of Economics, Walter Funk, said Greece suffered the tribulations of war like no other country in Europe.
Upon their arrival, the Germans started to live off the country. They appropriated whatever they needed for their stay in Greece, and shipped back to Germany whatever they could lay their hands on: foodstuff, industrial products, industrial equipment and stocks, furniture, heirlooms from valuable collections, paintings, archaeological treasures, watches, jewelry, and from some houses even the metal knobs from the doors. The entire output of Greek mines of pyrites, iron ore, chrome, nickel, magnesite, manganese, bauxite, and gold was obtained for Germany. James Schafer, an American oil executive working in Greece, summed it up: “The Germans are looting for all they are worth, both openly and by forcing the Greeks to sell for worthless paper marks, issued locally” ( Mazower p.24). Mussolini complained to his minister of foreign affairs Count Ciano “The Germans have taken from the Greeks even their shoelaces”(Ciano p.387).
The massive looting of the country, the hyperinflation generated by the uncontrolled printing of German Occupation Marks by German local commanders, and the consequent economic collapse of the country, precipitated a devastating famine. In addition to providing food for the 200,000 to 400,000 Axis occupation troops stationed in Greece, the country was forced to provide the Axis forces involved in military operations in North Africa. Greek fruits, vegetables, livestock, cigarettes, water, and even refrigerators were shipped from the Greek port of Piraeus to Libyan ports (Iliadakis p. 75). The International Red Cross and other sources have estimated that between 1941 and 1943 at least 300,000 Greeks died from starvation (Blytas p. 344, Doxiadis p.37, Mazower p.23).
Germany and Italy imposed on Greece exorbitant sums as occupation expenses to cover not only their occupation costs but also to support the German war efforts in North Africa. As a percentage of GNP, these sums were multiples of the occupation costs borne by France (which were only one fifth of those extracted from Greece), Holland, Belgium, or Norway. Ghigi, the Italian plenipotentiary in Greece, said in 1942, “Greece is completely squeezed dry” (Mazower p. 67). In an act of utter audacity, the occupation authorities forced the Tsolakoglou government to pay indemnities to German, Italian and Albanian nationals residing in occupied Greece for damages, presumably suffered during military operations, which were never defined. The Italian and Albanian citizens alone received sums equivalent to 783,080 dollars and 64,626 dollars respectively! (Iliadakis p. 96). Greece, which was destroyed by the Axis, was forced to pay citizens of its enemies for presumed but unproven damages.
In addition to the occupation expenses, Germany obtained forcibly from Greece a loan (occupation loan) of $ 3.5 billion. Hitler himself had recognized the legal (intergovernmental) character of this loan and had given orders to start the process of its repayment. After the end of the war, at the Paris meeting of 1946 Greece was awarded $ 7.1 billion, out of $ 14.0 billion requested, for war reparations.
Italy repaid to Greece its share of the occupation loan, and both Italy and Bulgaria paid war reparations to Greece. Germany paid war reparations to Poland in 1956, and under pressure from the USA and the UK (to placate Tito and keep him from joining the Soviet block) paid war reparations to Yugoslavia in 1971. Greece demanded from Germany payment of the occupation loan in 1945, 1946, 1947, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1974, 1987, and in 1995 (after the unification of Germany). Before the unification of Germany, using the London Agreement of February 27, 1953, West Germany avoided to pay its obligations arising from the occupation loan and war reparations to Greece on the argument that no “final peace treaty” had been signed. In 1964, German chancellor Erhard pledged repayment of the loan after the reunification of Germany, which occurred in 1990. As the German magazine “Der Spiegel” wrote on July 23, 1990, with the Two (West and East Germany) Plus Four (USA, former Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and France) Agreement that paved the way for the German unification, the nightmare of demands for war reparations by all those damaged by Germany, which could be raised by signing a “peace treaty”, disappears. This statement by Der Spiegel has no legal basis whatsoever, but it is an acknowledgement of the devices Germany is using to refuse a settlement with Greece (see also guardian.co.uk, June 21, 2011). The same magazine, on June 21, 2011, quotes the economic historian Dr. Albrecht Ritschl, who warns Germany to take a more chaste approach in the euro crisis of 2008-2011, as it could face renewed and justified demands for WWII reparations.
Indicative of the current value of the German obligations to Greece are the following: using as interest rate the average interest rate of U.S. Treasury Bonds since 1944, which is about 6%, it is estimated that the current value of the occupation loan is $163.8 billion and that of the war reparations is $332 billion. The French economist and consultant to the French government Jacques Delpla stated on July 2, 2011, that Germany owes to Greece 575 billion euros from Second World War obligations(Les Echos, Saturday, July 2, 2011).
The Germans did not just take “even their shoelaces” from the Greeks. During WWII Greece lost 13% of its population as a direct result of the war (Doxiadis p 38, Illiadakis p 137). During the Battle for Greece almost 20,000 enlisted Greek men were killed, and more than a 100,000 were wounded or frostbitten, while about 4,000 civilians were killed in air raids. But these numbers pale by comparison to the loss of human life experienced during the occupation.
According to conservative estimates, the deaths resulting directly from the war before the war ended adds up to about 578,000 (Sbarounis p. 384). These deaths were the result of the persistent famine, caused by the looting and economic policies of the Axis, and of the atrocities committed either as reprisals, as a response to the resistance, or as means to terrorize the Greek population. The above number does not include the deaths which occurred after the end of the war from diseases such as TB (400000 cases) and malaria, from persistent malnutrition, wounds and exposure, all of them a direct result of war conditions. Thus, in WWII Greece lost as many lives, mostly of unarmed men women and children, as the USA and the UK together.
Most of the atrocities committed by the Germans in Greece stemmed directly from two executive orders issued at the highest levels of the Third Reich. According to the torching directive, issued by Hitler himself, if there was a suspicion that a residence was used by the resistance, that building was a legitimate target to be burned down with its inhabitants. The second order, signed by Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, specified that for every German killed, a minimum of 100 hostages would be executed, and for every wounded one, 50 would die (Payne 458ff, Goldhagen pp 189-190 and pp 367-369, Blytas pp 418-419).
The first mass executions took place in Crete even before the island fell to the Germans. In 1945, under the auspices of the United Nations, a committee headed by Nikos Kazantzakis enumerated the destruction of more than 106 Cretan villages and the massacre of their inhabitants (see video on Kontomari massacre). During the occupation, the Germans murdered the population of 89 Greek villages and towns (see the massacre at Distomo), while over 1,700 villages were totally or partially burned to the ground and many of their inhabitants were also executed (see the Greek Holocaust). To the Greek victims of the German reign of terror should be added about 61,000 Greek Jews who, along with about 10,000 Christians, were deported to the concentration camps and most of them never returned (Blytas p.429 and p. 446).
Another aspect of the Greek occupation is the systematic looting of Greece’s many museums, both under orders from the occupation authorities, and as a result of the individual initiative of officers in position of command. The names of General von List, commander of the the 12th Army, of General Kohler, of the Larissa command, and of General Ringel, of the Iarakleio and Knossos command, are associated with the removal of significant archeological treasures. List was responsible for accepting as a present a beautiful ancient head of the 4th century BC, while Ringel sent back to Austria several cases of antiquities from the historic Villa Ariadne as well as boxes containing small objects from the Knossos Museum. “Officially sanctioned thefts” have been recorded at the museums of Keramikos, Chaeronea, Thessaloniki’s St. George Museum, Gortynos, Irakleio, Pireaus, Skaramangas, Faistos, Kastelli Kissamou, Larissa, Corinth, Tanagra, Megara, Thebes and many others (Blytas p. 427). What is especially tragic is that in many of these lootings, well known German archeologists provided expert guidance to the perpetrators. And although some of these antiquities were returned to Greece in 1950, the majority of the stolen museum pieces have never been traced.
In Crete and elsewhere, local German commanders ordered the excavation and looting of many archeological sites. These excavations were carried out by German archeologists, while Greek archeologists, curators and museum inspectors were forbidden to interfere, usually under threats which could not be ignored.
We request the German government to honor its long-overdue obligations to Greece by repaying the forcibly obtained occupation loan, and by paying war reparations proportional to the material damages, atrocities and plundering committed by the German war machinery.
Sign the petition
- Blytas, George C., The First Victory, Greece in the Second World War. Athens: Cosmos Publishing, 2009.
- Ciano, Galeazzo, The Ciano Diaries, 1939-1943, Hugh Gibson Editor. New York: Doubleday & Co, 1946.
- Doxiadis, Konstantinos, Oi Thysies tis Ellados ston Deftero Pangosmio Polemo [The Sacrifices of Greece in the Second World War]. Athens: Ministry of Reconstruction, 1946.
- Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah. Hitlers’ Willing Executioners, Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. New York: Vintage Book, 1997.
- Iliadakis, Tasos, M., Oi Epanorthosis kai to Germaniko Katohiko Danio [The Reparations, and te German Occupation Loan]. Athens: Ekdoseis Detoraki 1997.
- Mazower, Marc. Inside Hitler’s Greece , The Experience of the Occupation 1941-1944. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993.
- Payne, Robert. The Life and Death of Adolph Hitler. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1973.
- Sbarounis, Athanasios I. Meletai kai Anamniseis ek tou Defterou Pangosmiou Polemou. [ Studies and Memoires from the Second World War]. Athens: Government Printing Office, 1950.