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Crete Remembers the Razing of Kandanos by the Nazis

Kandanos Crete Nazi
A German soldier in front of one of the signs erected after the razing. The text reads: “Kandanos was destroyed in retaliation for the bestial ambush murder of a paratrooper platoon and a half-platoon of military engineers by armed men and women.” Credit: Bundesarchiv, CC BY-SA 3.0 de/Wikipedia

The village of Kandanos in Crete was burned to the ground and all its 180 residents were massacred by Nazi troops in June 3, 1941 during the years of the German occupation.

It was one of the worst atrocities committed by the occupiers, and has haunted Crete and Greece for decades.

Battle of Crete

The Battle of Crete began on May 20, 1941, with Germany employing 750 glider-borne troops, 10,000 paratroopers, 5,000 airlifted mountain soldiers, and 7,000 seaborne troops. It was the first occasion where German parachutists were used en masse and the first mainly airborne invasion in military history.

It was also the very first time German soldiers had encountered mass resistance from a civilian population, and they suffered unexpectedly large numbers of casualties.

The outnumbered Greek soldiers, along with the Allied forces based on Crete, fought bravely, but were vastly outnumbered. Cretan civilians joined the battle with whatever weapons were at hand—mostly kitchen knives, but rakes, clubs, and even walking sticks were used in deperate hand-to-hand combat for their homeland.

German parachutists were often knifed or clubbed to death as they landed on fields of Crete. In one recorded incident, an elderly Cretan man clubbed a paratrooper to death with his walking cane, before the German could even disentangle himself from his parachute.

In another incident, a local priest and his son broke into a village museum, took two rifles from the Balkan War era and sniped at German paratroops as they landed. The Cretans also began to use small arms from captured German soldiers as the battle continued.

But this valor came at a terrible cost, as the Germans retaliated as soon as they managed to gain control of Crete.

The temporary German commander of the island, Kurt Student, ordered a series of brutal reprisals against the local population immediately after the surrender of Crete on May 31, 1941.

Kandanos Crete Nazi
The Nazi occupying forces massacred civilians in Crete. Credit: Bundesarchiv, CC BY-SA 3.0 de/Wikipedia

Every last resident of Kandanos, amounting to a total of 180 men, women, and children, were brutally massacred, and their ancient village was burned to the ground.

Nazis order for the destruction of Kandanos

Below is the order of the German commander:

It is certain that the civilian population including women and boys have taken part in the fighting, committed sabotage, mutilated and killed wounded soldiers. It is therefore high time to combat all cases of this kind, to undertake reprisals and punitive expeditions which must be carried through with exemplary terror. The harshest measures must indeed be taken and I order the following: shooting for all cases of proven cruelty, and I wish this to be done by the same units who have suffered such atrocities. The following reprisals will be taken:
1. Shooting
2. Fines
3. Total destruction of villages by burning
4. Extermination of the male population of the territory in question
My authority will be necessary for measures under 3 and 4. All these measures must, however, be taken rapidly and omitting all formalities. In view of the circumstances the troops have a right to this and there is no need for military tribunals to judge beasts and assassins.

After the surrender of Germany, General Kurt Student was captured by the British. In May 1947, he came before a military tribunal to answer charges of mistreatment and murder of prisoners of war by his forces in Crete.

Greece’s demand to have Student extradited was declined. Student was found guilty of three out of eight charges and sentenced to five years in prison. However, he was given a medical discharge and was released in 1948. Student was never tried for crimes against civilians.

Today, Kandanos has been rebuilt and is the seat of the eponymous municipality. Reproductions of the somber Wehrmacht signposts commemorating the destruction of the village are displayed on a local war memorial.

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