Monday, October 28, 2013
The Melbourne-born who would sojourn along the banks of the lake at Ioannina are surprised when dusk falls, to see lights seemingly suspended in mid-air. These are the lights of the villages that are perched upon the slopes of otherwise invisible Mount Mitsikeli, which broods wearily over the lake, a lake, which, if the popular traditions are to be believed, is the repository of the tears of the world.
Few lights can be seen emanating from Lingiades, for this village has never fully recovered from one of the most brutal and horrific instances of Nazi inhumanity – the slaughter of all of its inhabitants, ninety two men women and children and the immolation of their homes, on 3 October 1943. As late as the nineteen nineties, most of the village still lay in ruins. The enormity of the crime still haunts the people of Epirus, who shudder and speak of the massacre in hushed tones every time they drive up the mountain. Four were the survivors of this heinous crime, two twenty four year old boys who were lucky enough to have the bullets graze but not penetrate their bodies, a young woman, and the then infant Yiannis Babouskas who sought vainly to suckle from his dead mother’s breasts, in a scene evocative of that of Delacroix’s paiting of the Massacre at Chios.
The slaughter of the inhabitants of Lingiades, took place by way of a reprisal by the Nazis for the assassination of veteran Nazi lieutenant colonel Jozef Zalminger by the EDES resistance forces, led by Kostas Tolis. In the view of the German National Socialists, the lives of the undermenschen held no intrinsic value and could be taken away at will in order to secure the obedience of a cowering and terrorised subject population. That the massacre at Lingiades still plays upon raw emotions is amply evidenced by the fact that at a 2007 conference in Munich on crimes of the Wehrmacht in Greece, the son of the Nazi Josef Salminger, , Hermann, who was mayor of Mittenwald, refused to meet with the Greek delegation and in particular, with Yiannis Babouskas, the sole surviving survivor of this terrible crime. His very words: “I will not meet with the Greeks.”
Historian Christoph Schmink-Gustavus maintains that this crime, unlike many others, seems to have been covered up by the German authorities. According to his view, the massacre was subject to an inquiry by the court at Bremen. While thousands of pages of evidence was amassed, the court gave emphasis to the testimony of one Nazi officer who swore: “I did not ever see any village in Epirus burning.” Subsequently the inquiry blamed Hitler and the rest of the Nazi hierarchy for such brutalities as were committed in Greece and the whole event was forgotten. This is despite the report of Sergeant Alfred Schrepel who had reported at that time: “At the village of Lingiades at peaks 1015 and 1277, limited resistance by the enemy was neutralised. Fifty citizens were killed. Lingiades was burnt and 20 mules collected in loot.” It was in this banal way that the murder of thirty four children aged between six month and eleven years, thirty seven women aged between thirty to sixty and eleven elderly inhabitants, along with the destruction of 43 houses, and 57 sheds was reported.
The court at Bremen may have skipped over the incident, the mayor of Mittenwald may harbour resentment at the fact that victims of his father’s belief in German racial superiority refused to accept their domination by a hysterical and genocidal regime but instead, fought valiantly for liberty, seeing, as a result, the wholesale destruction of Lingiades but the inhabitants of Epirus have not forgotten. Indeed, it is easy to see why they have not, for the massacre in Lingiades was not an isolated incident. A few months before, on 12 August 1943, a two-man Wehrmacht reconnaissance team came across a small group of ELAS guerrillas in the village of Kommeno near Arta, and had reported back to divisional headquarters in Ioannina. On the evening of 15 August 1943, Lieutenant Colonel Josef Salminger, whose son was so eager to pour salt in the wounds of Greek victims of his brutality, ordered an attack the village on the following morning. The attack was led by Lieutenant Röser, who personally shot the village priest at the outset of the assault. Men, women and children, seventy four of them under the age of ten, were killed indiscriminately, though thankfully, almost half of the village's population managed to escape by swimming across the Arachthos river. The first Wehrmacht reports recorded that 150 civilians had died. As the reports moved up the command chain, they were amended so that "150 civilians" became "150 enemy". The names of the three hundred and seventeen villagers who were killed are now recorded on a marble monument in the village's main square, a testament to the German totalitarian regime and it was for this crime that the EDES resistance assassinated Salminger and it was for this that the hapless victims of Lingiades paid with their lives.
The Nazis came to my mother’s village too, in 1943, suspecting that its inhabitants were arming the ELAS guerrillas. They rounded up all the inhabitants in the village square and were preparing to gun them down when the village priest offered his life in exchange of that of everyone else. The bemused Nazi office, having concluded his search of the village and found no weapons, dismissed the terrified villagers and permitted them to return to their homes. Had he not done so, I would never have existed. For me, this brings the magnitude of the crimes at Kommeno and Lingiades into stark focus. Generations of people were denied a chance to live as a result of a brutality that has gone unpunished. Hubert Lanz, who ordered the attack on Lingiades and other villages in Epirus, was rewarded in 1951 by being appointed by the Free Democratic Party of Germany as adviser on military and security issues. It is worthwhile mentioning that this was the party that advocated the release of all "so-called war criminals" and welcomed the establishment of the "Association of German soldiers" of former Wehrmacht and SS members, to advance the integration of the nationalist forces in democracy.
When I consider 28 October 1940, our so-called OXI day, I do not conjure up images of a defiant petty dictator Metaxas, or of gallant Greek soldiers repulsing the Italians from the mountains of Epirus. Instead, I think of Lingiades, Kommeno and the many other villages that fell victim to Nazi fascist barbarism. And I scratch my head and wonder how it is possible, given the amount of blood spilled and the enormity of the suffering that was caused, that many so-called ‘patriots’ cannot say OXI to the perverse appeal of fascist ideologies or political viewpoints that demonise and dehumanise others. To the martyrs of Lingiades and Kommeno, then, on this seventieth anniversary of their slaughter, let us resoundingly cry OXI to the besmirchment of their memories and a further OXI to all forms of intolerance and brutality wherever these raise their disgusting heads.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 26 October 2013