By Norman Paech (1999)

When mass crimes commited by the German Wehrmacht are being talked about the names Lidice, Oradour, Babi Jar are mentioned. But few others. The places Kragujevac in Serbia, Kortelisy in the Ukraine or Distomo, Kalavrita, Kandanos, Klissoura and Kommeno are not even mentioned in the “Enzyklopädie des Holocaust”. But they are only a few examples of countless places in eastern and central Europe where similar war crimes took place. This lack of knowledge is not due to a lack of sources. One of the twelve Nuremberg follow up trials, case seven against the “south-east generals”, overwhelmingly dealt with the murder of hostages and “expiatory- and revenge-measures” against partisans in the Balkan region. But the history of these trials was subject to a similar process of suppression and myth making as was done with the whole history of crimes committed by the Wehrmacht. The German post war justice system played a decisive part in this.

Despite hundreds of judicial inquiries only one case about war crimes in Greece actually came before a court at the Landgericht Augsburg. It was about the shooting of six civilians in Crete. The court took the view of the Wehrmacht, “that the term partisans (…) describes all civilian persons in the occupied territory who are even vaguely suspicious of committing hostile acts.” Thus the Landgericht qualified the executions as “self-defence according to international law” and acquitted the captain (Hauptmann).

This legal point of view was responsible for the winding up of all other judicial inquiries. The prosecution service in Bochum justified the winding up of an inquiry against a battle-group leader who had participated in “operation Kalavrita”, one of the biggest massacres in Greece with the necessity of such reprisals. These had been “permissible measures according to international law to (…) force partisans to comply with international law.

The justification of such mass crimes against the civilian population as “repression in accordance with international law” is still playing a role today in the refusal of the German government to even enter a dialogue with Greece about compensation claims.

Norman Paech is a professor emeritus and politician. The FCH editorial-board took the text above from an extensive article published by N. Peach in the Kritische Justiz 1999 (Heft 3, S.380ff) magazine. It is equally sad and astonishing: For sixteen years almost nothing has changed in the situation.