In October 1943, Greek People’s Liberation Army guerrillas captured 77 German soldiers on a patrol mission, following an ambush in the mountains outside Kalavryta, southern Greece. After negotiations for a prisoner exchange failed, the captives were executed in a local ravine, with only two making a lucky escape undetected.
In response, commanding General Karl Von Le Suire ordered Unternehmen Kalavryta, a guerrilla cleanup operation that included terrible reprisals aimed at the local civilian population. Troops from the 117th Jaeger Division, a unit with previous counter insurgency experience in what was then occupied Yugoslavia, converged to the town of Kalavryta from all directions, burning and looting 50 villages along the way and executing 143 male civilians.
Upon reaching Kalavryta on December 13, 1943, the soldiers began setting the town ablaze. They then gathered the town’s entire population at the schoolyard and separated them in two groups. All able men age 13 and upward were led to a hill outside the town, while women, the elderly, and small children were locked inside the schoolhouse.
At noon, the schoolhouse was set on fire with over 200 people inside, while at the hill, the soldiers began executing the 461 men by machine gun fire. The action was coordinated by flares, so the men would die in full view of the burning town, and within earshot of the screaming women, children, and elders, now surrounded by flames. While the execution was taking place on the hill, the panicked, choking prisoners managed to smash through the school’s doors and escape in a frantic stampede, while others threw their children outside the windows of the burning building to save them.
Only 13 men survived the execution, injured or hiding under the bodies of the dead, while soldiers roamed the hill, delivering the coup-de-grace. After the soldiers’ departure, the escaped women, children, and elderly reached the blood-soaked hillside, where they discovered the grim fate of their male relations. Without any tools or farm animals left in their looted households, they began dragging the bodies to the cemetery nearby or digging shallow graves with their hands.
Today, a solemn memorial complex stands on the hill where the execution took place. It includes a large cross, ossuary, the harrowing sculpture of a lamenting woman of Kalavryta, as well as some on-the-spot graves that remained on site since that day. The Kalavryta schoolhouse has been converted to a museum displaying everyday and personal items that survived the town’s destruction, as well as photos and eyewitness accounts that testify to the atrocious conduct of the 117th Jaeger Division.
Know Before You Go
The memorial site is open at all times. Please note that the museum is not open on Mondays.