On This Day: Jun 3, 1941: What Happened to the Cretan Village of Kandanos When its Citizens Defended their Homes from Invading Nazis?


The answer: The complete annihilation of a village and the massacre of 180 of its citizens.

The Razing of Kandanos was one of the most atrocious war crimes committed during the occupation of Crete by Nazi German forces in World War II.

The complete destruction of the village in Western Crete and the killing of about 180 of its inhabitants was ordered on June 3, 1941 by Nazi commander Kurt Student in reprisal for the participation of the local population in the Battle of Crete that had held advancing German soldiers for two days.

The Battle of Crete began on 20 May 1941 with a large-scale airborne invasion planned to capture the island’s strategic locations. Kandanos is located on the road from Chania on the north coast to Paleochora in the south.

The village of Kandanos had been bombed during the first days of the attack and a small motorized German detachment attempted to move through it on May 23 1941, aiming to reach and secure Paleochora.

Untrained and insufficiently armed, local civilians from Kandanos, Paleochora and nearby smaller villages spontaneously confronted and fought the German force. On the following day, the locals gathered in larger numbers and set an ambush for the advancing German troops at Kandanos’ gorge. Despite their strong resistance on the 24th and 25th of May and their limited casualties, the locals were vastly outnumbered and were thus eventually forced to retreat in the mountains, letting the Germans advance towards Paleochora.

The unprecedented resistance from the local population exasperated their Prussian sense of military order according to which no one but professional warriors should be allowed to fight.

Even before the end of the Battle, exaggerated stories had started to circulate, attributing the excessively high casualties to torture and mutilation of paratroopers by the Cretans.

Such stories proved to be false later on, as more careful investigations could identify only a few cases of mutilation all over Crete, most of which had been inflicted after death.

Nevertheless, as a result of the above allegations and seeking to set an example, right after the surrender of Crete on May 31st, temporary commander General Kurt Student issued an order for launching a wave of brutal reprisals against the local population. The reprisals were to be carried out rapidly by the same units who had been confronted by the locals, omitting formalities.

The Germans killed about 180 residents and slaughtered all livestock in and around Kandanos; all houses were torched and razed. Nearby villages such as Floria and Kakopetro met a similar fate. After its destruction, Kandanos was declared a ‘dead zone’ and its remaining population was forbidden to return to the village and rebuild it.

Finally, inscriptions in German and Greek were erected on each entry of the village. One of them read: Here stood Kandanos, destroyed in retribution for the murder of 25 German soldiers, never to be rebuilt again.

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. Reproductions of the sombre Wehrmacht signposts commemorating the destruction of the village are displayed on a local war memorial.



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