Wartime graffiti: Soldier artists turn their barracks into an art gallery

Interviews, WW2, WW2 in Greece

By Pierre Kosmidis

Photos: Markos Spanos

Leros Island in the Dodecanese, Greece,  was a theatre of fierce fighting in 1943, marking the last German victory of strategic importance in the Aegean, with the Operation code named “Taifun”.



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Much has been said and written about the actual fighting in 1943, but significantly less is known about the daily lives of the soldiers stationed there.


Leros, along with Rodos, Milos, the western part of Crete and other smaller Greek islands were the last nazi bastions in Europe, with the garrisons stationed there surrendering in May 1945, well after the Russians conquered Berlin.


Leros, an important naval base, up until the Italian capitulation of 1943, was then used by the Germans as a base which controlled the area.

Many German soldiers remained stationed on the Greek island and after the 1943 battle, they tried to get by as smoothly as they could, away from home.


Some of those soldiers were artists, as is the case of Otto Meister. A German soldier stationed in Diapori, Xirokampos, Leros, Meister made some impressive frescoes on the walls of the barracks, which remain to this day, reminding us that wars are being fought by humans, individuals who are not just fighters, but have interesting personalities too.


Markos Spanos, a researcher and photographer from Leros island visited the barracks and provided www.ww2wrecks.com with photos and information on the wartime graffiti, which remind us of WW2 in the Aegean.


“A German soldier named Otto Meister made copies of paintings of the famous Dutch painter Pieter Bruegel, the “Peasant wedding” and the “Peasant dance”, originally painted around 1567.”


Both works of art are exhibited at the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum.


Apart from these reproductions though, Meister, or possibly other soldiers before him, probably Italians, depicted everyday scenes and a painting of the… sexy lady with her dog.


Other frescoes have unfortunately been destroyed and are hardly visible.  


The frescoes are in good condition, compared to the rest paintings, because in 2006 renovations were made in this building.


Unfortunately, the rest of the paintings, as well as many other military buildings in the mountains of Leros,are greatly damaged, because of the elements and also because local shepherds have turned these buildings into sheep farms.”