In 1941, when Axis forces occupied Greece, the Ionian Islands (except Kythera) were handed over to the Italians, who in their three years of rule attempted to Italianize the population of Corfu (as has happened with the Corfiot Italians).
Many revisionists claim that the Italian occupation was a period of friendly relation between the fascists and the Greek population of the islands.
The massacre of the Italians in Kefalonia island, in the hands of their former German allies, in September 1943, when Italy swiftly changed sides and lined up with the Allies, as well as a Hollywood movie staring Nicholas Cage “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” (see further below) helped the Italians to give a false impression to a wide audience.
The historical truth is totally different:
As demonstrated in this rare and unique fascist newspaper published in Kefalonia (dated 3 April 1943), the Italian authorities threatened with death whoever helped the partisans in guerrilla actions and informed the people of Kefalonia that their villages would be blown to pieces.
Following the Italian surrender there were disputes surrounding the status of Italian military units.
Most of the Italian saw themselves as having to abide by the orders of the new Italian government.
Yet some units already fell under the command of German senior officers, particularly those in occupied Greece.
The German view was that by not abiding by the orders of the Germans they were committing treason.
The Acqui Division, on the island of Cephalonia, was amongst those that fell into this position.
The commander received orders from Italy that he must regard the Germans as hostile and resist attempts to give up his weapons.
From the Germans he received the ultimatum that he must either fight with them, fight against them, or surrender peacefully.
Negotiations broke down as the Italians sought further clarification from their higher authority.
Fighting broke out in which the numerically superior Acqui Division were initially successful.
However, when the Germans landed battle hardened Gebirgsjäger, mountain troops, on the island, the largely conscript Acqui Division was easily overcome.
By now the German High Command had now issued orders:
Because of the perfidious and treacherous behaviour [of the Italians] on Cephalonia, no prisoners are to be taken.
Between 13 and 22 September 1943, on the island of Cephalonia, the Germans fought the Italians of the 33rd Acqui Infantry Division.
A total of 1315 were killed in battle, 3,000 were drowned when the German ships taking them to concentration camps were sunk and 5,155 were executed by 26 September.
It was one of the largest prisoner of war massacres of the war, along with the Katyn massacre of approximately 22,000 Poles by Soviets and it was one of many atrocities committed by the 1. Gebirgs-Division.
Only a few nazis were ever put to trial and sentenced in Greece, among them Generalleutnant Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, the “Butcher of Crete” and Bruno Bräuer who were both executed by firing squad on May 20, 1947, exactly 6 years after the nazis started their invasion of Crete.
Major Harald von Hirschfeld was never tried for his role in the massacre of the Italians in Kefalonia. Hirschfeld’s superior commander, General Hubert Lanz, was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment at the so-called “Southeast Case” of the Nuremberg Trials for the Cephalonia massacre, as well as the participation of his men in other atrocities in Greece like the massacre of Kommeno on 16 August 1943.
He was released in 1951 and died in 1982. Lt Colonel Barge was not on the island when the massacre was taking place. He was subsequently decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross for his service in Crete. He died in 2000.