The Distomo massacre (Greek: Η σφαγή του Διστόμου; German language: Massaker von Distomo or Distomo-Massaker) was a Nazi war crime perpetrated by members of the Waffen-SS in the village of Distomo, Greece, during the Axis occupation of Greece during World War II.
On June 10, 1944, for over two hours, Waffen-SS troops of the 4th SS Polizei Panzergrenadier Division under the command of SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritz Lautenbach went door to door and massacred Greek civilians as part of a 'retaliation measure' for a partisan attack upon the unit. A total of 214 men, women and children were killed in Distomo, a small village near Delphi. According to survivors, SS forces "bayoneted babies in their cribs, stabbed pregnant women, and beheaded the village priest."
Following the massacre, a Secret Field Police agent accompanying the German forces informed the authorities that, contrary to Lautenbach's official report, the German troops had come under attack several miles from Distomo and had not been fired upon "with mortars, machine-guns and rifles from the direction of Distomo". An inquiry was convened. Lautenbach admitted that he had gone beyond standing orders, but the tribunal found in his favour, holding that he had been motivated, not by negligence or ignorance, but by a sense of responsibility towards his men.
Four relatives of victims brought legal proceedings against the German government to court in Livadeia, Greece, demanding reparations. On October 30, 1997, the court ruled in favour of the plaintiffs and awarded damages of 28 million Euros. Eventually in May 2000, the Areopag, the Greek High court, confirmed this ruling. The judgment, however, could not be enforced in Greece because, as necessary under Greek law, the execution of a judgment against a sovereign State is subject to the prior consent of the Minister of Justice, which was not given.
The plaintiffs brought the case to court in Germany, demanding the aforementioned damages be paid to them. The claim was rejected at all levels of German court, citing the 1961 bilateral agreement concerning enforcement and recognition of judgments between Germany and Greece, and Section 328 of the German Code of Civil Procedure. Both required that Greece have jurisdiction, which it does not as the actions in question were sovereign acts by a state. According to the fundamental principles of international law, each country is immune from another state's jurisdiction.
In November 2008, an Italian court ruled that the plaintiffs could take German property in Italy as compensation that was awarded by the Greek courts. The plaintiffs were awarded a villa in Menaggio, near Lake Como, which is owned by a German state nonprofit organization, as part of the restitution.
In December 2008, the German government has filed a claim at the International Court of Justice in Den Haag . The aim being to establish that this kind of lawsuit does not fall under the competence of the Italian courts, that their rulings constitute an infringement of international law and that they constitute an infringement of Germany' sovereignty rights.
In January 2011, the Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou, announced that the Greek Government will be represented at the International Court of Justice in relation to the claim for reparations by relatives of victims. In its 2012 final judgment, the court ruled that Italy had violated Germany's state immunity, and directed that the judgment by the Italian courts be retracted.
A Song for Argyris is a 2006 documentary film that details the life story of Argyris Sfountouris, a survivor of the massacre.
- Hellmuth Felmy
- List of massacres in Greece
- Krupki massacre
- Szczurowa massacre
- Massacre of Kalavryta
- Oradour-sur-Glane massacre, which occurred on the same date.
- "Greek Government response to ICJ Ruling" Embassy of Greece.
- "Greeks lose Nazi massacre claim." 26 June 2003 BBC.
- Mark Mazower, Inside Hitler's Greece (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1993), at pages 212 to 214
- "German Supreme Court: Distomo Massacre Case, BGH - III ZR 245/98 (June 26, 2003)." International Law In Brief, American Society of International Law. 25 July 2003.
- "Greece to join Distomo trial". 2011-01-12. http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_politics_100016_13/01/2011_122277. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
- Eleni Chrepa; Maria Petrakis (2011-01-12). "Greece to Join Hague German War Reparations Case". Bloomberg. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-01-12/greece-to-join-hague-german-war-reparations-case-update1-.html. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
- "International Court of Justice Ruling." International Court of Justice 3 February, 2012.
- Municipality of Distomo on massacre
- German website describing the Distomo massacre
- Dutch website with reference to the Distomo massacre
- Ein Lied für Argyris (A Song for Argyris). A documentary with Argyris Sfountouris, a survivor of the massacre.
- 1944 Life Magazine report on massacre beginning on page 21
- Chandrinos, Iasonas (2012). "Η σφαγή στο Δίστομο και στο Καλάμι (1944)" (in Greek). Encyclopedia of the Hellenic World, Boeotia. Foundation of the Hellenic World.
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