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The Massacre of Hundreds of Civilians at Viannos, Crete, Still Haunts Greece

German troops round up innocent civilians at Viannos.

The Viannos area massacres, known as the “Viannos Holocaust,” were a mass extermination campaign launched by Nazi forces against the civilian residents of around 20 villages located in the areas of east Viannos and west Ierapetra provinces on the Greek island of Crete during World War II.

They took place between September 14-16, 1943. In total, more than 500 civilians were executed, and nearly twenty villages were ransacked, looted and burned to the ground.

Every bit of the grain and other agricultural crops growing in the fields, as well as the harvest which had already been brought in for the year, was destroyed by the Wehrmacht soldiers.

The slaughter was in retaliation for the killing of German troops by a band of Cretan resistance fighters, who had been led by Manolis Bandouvas. After the Cretan guerillas killed two German soldiers in a Kato Simi outpost and hid their bodies, their superiors sent an infantry company to the village to investigate their deaths.

Bandouvas and his men received notice that the Germans were coming to retaliate, and decided to defend Kato Simi instead of giving in or running away. They ambushed the German company and a fierce battle then ensued.

At the end, the Greeks defeated the Nazi troops and forced them to retreat. The Partisans then fled into the mountains.

More than 200 Nazi soldiers were deployed to Viannos following the unexpected defeat of the German company in Kato Simi.

Friedrich-Wilhelm Muller, the German commander of Heraklion, ordered troops of the 65th regiment of the 22nd Luftlande Infanterie-Division garrison unit to destroy Viannos and execute all males over the age of sixteen — as well as everyone who was arrested in the countryside, regardless of gender or age.

On September 14, the Germans began to arrested and execute people, often indiscriminately shooting them on sight, in twenty area villages for the next two horrendous days.

They burned houses and destroyed the precious harvests, all that the people had grown and gathered over the summer, the only means they had of surviving the long winter. Such was the rage of Muller that he even forbade survivors to return to their ruined homes and bury their dead.

The “Viannos Holocaust,” as it was later called, was one of the deadliest massacres during the long years of Axis occupation of Greece, second only to the Massacre of Kalavryta.

The memorial designed by sculptor Yiannis Parmakelis. Credit: Marc Ryckaert/Wikimedia commons

Muller, who became known as “The Butcher of Crete,” was brought before a Greek military tribunal after the war to account for his actions in this and other atrocities he had committed on Crete.

After being found guilty, Muller was shot by a Greek firing squad on May 20, 1947, the anniversary of the German invasion of Crete.

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