Commemorating the Kalavryta Massacre of 1943

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December 13, 1943, is a dark day in the history of Kalavryta. German soldiers shot around 700 men, and boys died in a small town in southern Greece.

On the early morning of December 13th, 1943, the people of Kalavryta, in the mountains of Achaea in the Peloponnese, woke up to the sounds of ringing church bells. The omens were bad.

Commemorating the Kalavryta Massacre of 1943
Commemorating the Kalavryta Massacre of 1943

Within hours, at 9 am, the first German soldiers of the Wehrmacht 117th Jägerdivision appeared on the town’s main road. The orders were definite: Everyone should assemble at the local school.

Half an hour later, all women and children were locked in the schoolhouse while all men, between 12 and 80 years of age, were lined up and driven to a nearby hillside (Kappi Hill).

The infamous “Unternehmen Kalavryta” (Operation Kalavryta) had just begun.

The heroic town would be burned to ashes in less than three hours. Only 13 of its inhabitants would survive to keep the memory of their beloved ones alive, along with the shocking testimonies describing the Nazis’ atrocities.

It is reported that over 500 men and boys were murdered in this single incident.

While women and children were locked in the school and men were marching towards the hill by the town, Nazi soldiers were burning houses, churches, and public buildings, looting and loading the spoils on trucks.

The men who could see their houses burned down were ordered to dig their graves.

A few minutes later, the signal for the mass execution was finally given, and the machine guns began firing.

At midday, one of Europe's worst atrocities in the 20th century was complete.

Women and children managed to free themselves from the flaming school only to witness that the rest of the town was set ablaze, and their fathers, brothers, and sons were butchered.


The mass shooting at Kalavryta was the largest single massacre in Greece and it came as the Nazis responded to an operation carried out by the partisans of ELAS in October 1943, which left some 80 German soldiers dead.

The order for the massacre was signed by the commander of the 117th Jägerdivision, Generalmajor Karl von Le Suire.

Ironically, the “butcher of Peloponnese” was the grandson of Bavarian Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Le Suire, who served as the War Minister of Greece under his compatriot King Otto in 1833.

His instruction was to “level” Kalavryta and the nearby village of Mazeika, along with other towns that supported the partisans.

German reports describe how the participating military units torched within a few days 24 villages and towns, three monasteries (among which that of Agia Lavra, where the Greek revolutionary flags had been blessed before the War of Independence) and executed 696 inhabitants.

Independent and Greek sources, though, increase the number of those killed in Kalavryta and the surrounding area to more than 1,100.


Local people also faced starvation as the departing Germans burned houses and warehouses after they took all the available food.

The school where women and children were locked up currently houses the “Kalavryta Holocaust Museum”, founded in 2005.

The sight of the sacrifice on top of Kappi Hill is kept as a memorial site, featuring a white cross and stones inscribed with the names of those brutally executed.

The commander of the Wehrmacht 117th Jägerdivision, Karl von Le Suire, who ordered the massacre -and witnessed it personally- died in 1954 as a prisoner of war of the Red Army in Stalingrad.

Some 50 years after the massacre, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Johannes Rau, visited Kalavryta and stated:

“I came here to keep the memory of this event alive in Germany. Here, at this place, I feel immense grief and shame. The only one who knows and accepts his part can find the path to a better future”.

He added that Greece and Germany have “the opportunity to shape a European future of peace, democracy, and respect for human rights. In such, European atrocities and destruction have no place”.