By Pierre Kosmidis
The Italian occupation of Greece, from 1941 up until 1943, when the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini collapsed and the Italians swiftly changed sides, was a dark period, which was full of atrocities.
Almost all of mainland Greece, the Ionian Islands and the Lasithi Prefecture of Crete were under the domination of Italians from 1941 to 1943.
|Map of Greece with all villages, towns and cities destroyed during the triple occupation (Germany, Italy, Bulgaria)
Brutality, executions, thefts, rapes and burning of villages were a daily occurrence and the Italians proved to be as ruthless and evil, as the nazi Germans and the Bulgarians were, since Greece was under a triple occupation from Germany, Italy and Bulgaria.
Eastern Macedonia and Thrace was under Bulgarian administration, Central Macedonia, the islands of the northeastern Aegean islands and of the Saronic Gulf, most of Crete and Piraeus belonged to the German zone and the rest of Greece was under the control of Italian occupation forces.
The Italian army in Greece as an occupying power is treated by some revisionist historians, as a “friendly force”.
Movies like “Captain Corelli’s mandolin” added to that perception, portraying the Italian occupation army as a group of peace-loving people who treated the Greeks in a civilized manner.
|“Thank you Adolf, I think I can manage the Greeks now” – A sketch from the British newspaper Manchester Daily Dispatch, 1941
This image is incorrect and attributed largely to post-war construction, according to which all criminal acts were caused only by the nazi German occupation forces.
The historical truth is that the Italians, who were seen by the Greek population as the “losers” of the Greco-Italian war (October 1940-April 1941) and treated with contempt, took advantage of the German occupation and conducted a series of atrocities, which by any measure are considered war crimes.
From the first days of the occupation, the Ionian Islands (Corfu, Kefalonia, etc.) came under exclusive Italian political and military administration, as opposed to the areas of Greece under German occupation, which had Greek political administration of nazi collaborators or “Quislings”.
The Italians with a series of measures proceeded to cut the Ionian Islands off Greece and aimed at the annexation of the islands to Italy, just as they did with the Dodecanese Islands (Rodos etc.).
Italian politicians were appointed as commanders of the islands, which belonged directly to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Learning the Italian language became compulsory and the teaching of Greek history was restricted.
Greek teachers were under Italian supervision and denied any contact with the Greek government.
They established the so-called “Anonymous Society of Ionic Commerce” which had the exclusive rights to all imports and exports. They introduced a new currency, the Ionian drachma. Agricultural products were confiscated and transported to Italy.
They introduced a new tax system, while the judges applied the mandatory Italian law and tried in the name of the Italian king. They opened camps for “disobedient Greeks” in Paxos, Othoni and Lazaretto, where approximately 3,500 Greeks were jailed, tortured and executed under harsh conditions.
At the end of May 1941 Crete was occupied by the Germans, who took control of the western part of the island and left the eastern part (Lassithi) to the Italians, who landed there from the Dodecanese in a farcical way.
The Germans had no interest to occupy Lassithi, which had no airports or deep sea ports and was considered of minimal geostrategic importance.
The Lassithi region was occupied by the Siena Division. Unlike other regions of Crete occupied by the Germans, there were no mass executions.
The Italians were busy stealing agricultural products and using forced labor to construct their defenses.
The people of Crete nevertheless regarded the Italians with contempt, as a bunch of cowards.
Executions and ethnological alteration
The Italian occupation in mainland Greece was particularly hard, especially in areas they planned to annex, such as central Greece and the northwestern parts of the country.
Due to the occupation of most areas of the Greek countryside, the Italians were the first to face the growing Greek resistance movement.
To address it, they resorted to tactics of retaliation by performing atrocities, just like their German allies did.
In December 1942 in retaliation for the resistance movement they burned the villages Chryso and Mikro Chorio (“Little Village”) and murdered almost all of their residents.
The most characteristic case was the massacre in the village of Domenico, where on February 13, 1943 Italian soldiers burned the village and murdered 194 people, including women and children.
Approximately in the same area one month later, on March 12th, 1943, the Italians burned Tsaritsani to the ground and executed 40 villagers.
On June 6, 1943, in retaliation for the bombing of a rail tunnel by the resistance in the vicinity of Kournovo (central Greece), the Italians executed 106 Greeks.
There are many other instances like the above that prove Italy treated Greece in the worst possible manner during the two years of fascist Italian occupation.
Italy changes sides – Massacre in Kefalonia
After the capitulation of Italy on September 8, 1943, the commander of the Italian troops in Greece signed the surrender of Italian units to the Germans.
Two divisions, Pinerolo in Thessaly and Acqui in Kefalonia, did not follow the order to surrender.
The latter numbered 12,000 soldiers. On September 15, the Germans launched an operation to neutralise Acqui Division.
Until September 25, when the nazis announced the elimination of the division, there was a constant pounding of Kefalonia with aerial bombardments and mass executions of Italian soldiers who were arrested by German military units.
The total number of executed Italian soldiers is estimated at 9,500.
The movie “Captain Corelli’s mandolin” is loosely based on these events and because of the nazi brutality, several historians after the war wanted to embellish the Italian occupation of the Ionian Islands and present the Italians as “victims”, rather than aggressors.
An Italian writes about thefts and atrocities
Romolo Galimberti, an Italian soldier who later became journalist and author wrote a book and described the actions of the Italian occupation forces:
“The (Italian) soldiers ransacked, destroyed houses, they ripped floors or dug for hidden treasures, emptied the chests, broke all the furniture, they scattered clothes and linen everywhere and they dirtied the houses even with shit.
The soldiers, some intoxicated, wore women’s clothes and dresses, carrying back tobacco packs and flasks with raki, or hens writhing desperately.
|Map of Greece with all villages, towns and cities destroyed by Germans, Italians and Bulgarians
They would shoot men, women or children indiscriminately, just because there was a vague suspicion that they were resistance sympathizers. None of the officers ever tried to return the goods or punish anyone”.