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In memory of the anniversary of the massacre of Distomo
In memory of the anniversary
of the massacre of Distomo, Greece, the famous Pergamon Altar was occupied
today by demonstrants in Berlin. On banners in Greek and German they demanded
the immediate compensation for the victims of German war crimes.
ART AND FORGET THE MASSACRES?
»The German traveller loves Greece and places of the antique, yet likes to block out recent history ...«
(Historian Martin Seckendorff)
Tomorow is the 58th anniversary of the massacre in Distomo. On June 10,1944 members of the 4th SS-Tank Grenade Division raided the Greek village of Distomo and killed 218 inhabitants, regardless of age.
We are here to create publicity for the survivors and their legitimate demands. The Pergamon Museum is the perfect location for that cause. The plan to create this museum arose in 1875 after the German Reich was founded and had envisioned global supremacy. Emperor Wilhelm II. felt that Germany needed »a new cultural legitimation on all levels.« ,therefore the museum was established. Science as well as museums were asked to provide for that request. In a letter to the king the then current Prussian Minister of Culture wrote: « It is of special importance that we shall expand our collection of original Greek sculptures, so that our stocks of these original pieces of art will be similar to the collections in British museums.« The German Reich actually managed to buy Greek art for little money from corrupt sources. Emperor Wilhelm II wanted to establish Germany as a world power with »speed ahead«. »Rising for greatness« was the idea. Not just by accident Wilhelm II opened the Pergamon Museum on exactly the same day that he also celebrated the final touch on Berlin’s »Victory Road« with all its militaristic monuments.
Another interesting story documenting the German relation between »taste of art« and war is the fact that Hitler personally ordered further archeological diggings at the classical sites of Olympia right after the German occupation of Greece in 1941. He even partly paid for them from the earnings of his book »Mein Kampf«. High officials of the SS had to oversee the archeological project while at the same time committing war crimes against the Greek people.
This interest in Hellenic pieces of art went hand in hand with the exploitation of Greek resources for the Nazi economy, as well as taking hostage and humiliating the Greek civil population along with the liquidation of Greek communists and resistance fighters.
During the German occupation between 1941 and 1945, 460 Greek villages were completely destroyed and approximately 60,000 men, women and children were killed. 65.000 Greek Jews were deported with the support of the German Wehrmacht and killed in Auschwitz. All in all 800.000 people died in Greece, 600.000 of those starved because their food was used for the occupying troops or destroyed by them. June 10 is also the anniversary of the better known massacres of Lidice and Oradour. In 1944 the French village of Oradour was raided by the Weapon-SS-Division »The Reich« and 650 people were killed. On June 10, 1942 the Czech village of Lidice was destroyed by SS and Wehrmacht. All male inhabitants were shot and all female inhabitants were deported to concentration camps. Distomo is only one of 60 larger but almost unknown massacres that German troops committed during World War II in Greece. Only three will be mentionned here as examples: Soldiers of the first Mountain Hunter Division »Edelweiss« destroyed on August 16, 1943 the Greek village Kommeno and killed 317 inhabitants. Even German soldiers who had participated spoke of incredible cruelties. In December 1943 the 117th Hunter Division destroyed the smalltown Kalavryta and 24 villages in its surroundings. More than 1300 men were shot. Also on Crete the German Commander ordered in May 1941 »to act with ultimate hardness...(..)..1. executions, 2. contributions by force..3. burning of villages after robbing them..4. extinction of the male population of whole regions.« That’s how one unit of the 22nd Infantry Division murdered almost 500 inhabitants of the crete village Vianos.
None of the murderers of Distomo or any other massacre in Greece ever got tried by a German court. Most cases got dropped and in no case did the Federal Republic of Germany recognize any demands or pay reparations. The cynical reasoning was that these massacres were not crimes but the usual conflicts pertaining to a war against partisans. Besides that Greece had been paid 116 million for reparations in 1961. In reality the victims of war crimes did not receive anything and Germany only paid that other money because the former »war administrator« Max Merten, responsible for the deportation and murder of the jews of Thessaloniki, got arrested and tried in Greece in 1959. The FRG at that time was scared that the NATO member Greece would officially recognize the second German state, the GDR, because of a potential reparations agreement. After agreeing on the money Greece extradited Mertens to Germany where he was supposed to receive a trial which never took place.
The Jewish community of Thessaloniki is today pressing charges against Germany to receive back the valuables which Merten took from the Jewish population in 1943 before murdering them. Greece has currently about 10.000 cases for reparation payments. In May 2000 the highest Greek court granted the plaintiffs from Distomo 55 million marks in reparations. FRG-institutions in Greece like the Goethe-Institute or the German Archeological Institute in Athens, were almost forcibly auctioned. The German government does not recognize the verdict and is rejecting any culpability and refusing to pay.
For fifty years the victims were told that it is too early for reparations as there was no peace contract. Today after the »four plus two-contract« has been ratified as a peace contract, they are told that after fifty years it is too late for reparations. This strategy of pleading that too much time has elapsed in order to avoid having to pay a single mark or euro is similar to the handling of reparations money for the former forced laborers. It was hard enough to officially get money for the few survivors. Many victims do not receive anything and of those who should at least half have not even received a first installment.
During the last years a new »Berlin Republic« is developing towards becoming a major power. Military interventions all over the world and a costly renovation of the museum island. While this restoration costing more than 1 billion euro has been declared a national quest, no cent is left for reparations to Greek survivors. The exhibition of artwork, stolen 100 years ago close to the government quarter shall distract from the greediness the German government is exhibiting towards the victims of German crime.
Today the Mountain Hunter Division »Edelweiss« is back to worldwide action and every year is honoring their dead with the participation of German politicians. The dead are the »fallen comrades«, not the thousands of victims of this unit who got killed during massacres in Greece and Yugoslawia.
Perpetrators are honored, victims are forgotten.
We are here to prevent that!
Reparations for the victims! Remember instead of forgetting!
Initiative against forgetting
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