A hidden gem of a museum in the town of Platanias, Crete, remains a poignant reminder of the three-and-a-half-year Nazi occupation of the island during World War II.
The War Shelter museum of Platanias consists of an underground complex of booths and tunnels that were used by the Germans to store ammunition and military material during the war.
Many decades after the war, the Platanias Church Committee and citizens of the village decided to reconstruct the war shelter and utilize it as a miniature World War II museum in memory of the Battle of Crete.
The German army used locals as forced labor to build the tunnels that were mainly used to store weapons and ammunition.
Unique Nazi exhibits from the occupation of Crete
The tunnels have been preserved in their original form, and visitors to the museum can see unique exhibits abandoned by the Germans when they withdrew from Crete.
Among the old photographs were Nazi uniforms, helmets, furniture, and containers used by the Germans for storing fuel.
Abandoned military hardware, such as antiaircraft missiles, mines, and torpedo tubes, are also displayed at the museum.
The construction of the shelter itself is related to an interesting local story, according to the local site goplatanias.gr.
During the Battle of Crete, a heavily wounded German pilot died in Platanias after locals nursed him for several days.
The strong fear of Nazi reprisals and executions of innocent civilians forced the villagers to bury the German soldier in a secret grave near a church.
Unfortunately, some days later this exact spot was chosen by the German officer in order to begin the excavations for the shelter construction.
Mihalis Stamatakis, a smart church commissioner, persuaded the Nazis to move the tunnel entrance, thus not revealing the secret soldier’s grave and consequently sparing the village from an almost certain massacre.
He invoked the holiness of an olive tree that stands in the same place at the main entrance of the war shelter today.
The Battle of Crete
Greek and other Allied forces, along with ordinary Cretan civilians, defended the island in one of the most stunning instances of heroism in the war before the superior military forces of the Nazis eventually prevailed.
The Battle marked the very first time in World War II that German troops had encountered mass resistance from a civilian population; they were unprepared for such resistance.
Cretans joined the battle with whatever weapons were at hand. Most civilians went into action armed only with what they could grab from their kitchens or barns, and several German parachutists were stabbed or even clubbed to death upon landing, even as they hung by their parachutes in olive groves.
However, the local population paid a high price for their courageous resistance. As most Cretan partisans wore no uniforms or insignia such as armbands or headbands, the Germans felt free of all of the constraints of the Hague Conventions, and they killed armed and unarmed civilians indiscriminately.
Throughout the German occupation in the years that followed, reprisals in retaliation for the involvement of the local population in the Cretan resistance continued. Villagers were rounded up and summarily executed on several occasions.