The other day I attended the commemoration of the Battle of Crete at the Shrine of Remembrance. In a solemn and poignant ceremony, members of the Australian and Greek armed forces and members of the community commemorated the immense sacrifice of the Cretans and their Allies during the Nazi invasion of that island. The Cretans not only put up an unrelenting resistance to the Nazi occupiers, they also risked their lives to assist in the evacuation and concealment of stranded Allied soldiers, often paying a terrible collective price for their noble patriotism. Their heroism is the raw material from which legends are made and their descendants can rightfully be proud of their legacy.
Not all share that legacy however. Featured herein is a photograph from the German occupation of Crete. It is New Year’s Day 1944. The so-called “Governor of Crete”, Ioannis Passadakis, is depicted departing the headquarters of the Nazi administration in Chania, after a reception was held in honour of the “representatives” of the Cretan people. The caption accompanying the unsettling image, first published in the collaborationist rag “Cretan Herald” is most instructive:
“A nice photograph from the official reception of the Greek authorities and representatives of Chaniot society, held in Chania on the occasion of the New Year, before the main Commander of the fortresses of Crete. The representative of the Commander of Fortress Crete bids farewell to Governor Passadakis and other officials at the entrance of the German Administration Building.”
The newspaper went on to report “Governor Passadakis'” speech at the New Year’s reception, on behalf of the Cretan populace. Its content is decidedly not what one would expect from a Cretan. Instead we are treated to an oleaginous and obsequious, stomach churning array of verbosity, whereby Passadakis characterises the genocidal Nazi occupiers as “valiant children of the great and powerful German Race”, whose victories would apparently cause “the peoples of Europe, saved from the Bolshevik hordes by [the Nazi] struggle, will express their admiration and gratitude to Germany and to you, her brave children, and will raise you to the glorious position that you deserve…”
In contrast to the sacrifices being made in the mountains and villages of the islands by indomitable Cretans resolved not to rest until the invader was expelled from land, Passadakis in his speech was referencing another sacrifice, not that that of his people but that of his overlords and puppet-masters. “But their sacrifice,” he gushed, “will not be in vain. The great victory will be the reward of this sacrifice. The victory of Germany and with it the victory of Christianity and the Culture of Europe. The victory of light against darkness, against atheism, against Asiatic barbarity”.
Not long before Passadakis’ nauseating speech, the Nazis had committed the Viannos massacres, a mass extermination campaign against the civilian residents of around twenty villages located in the areas of Viannos and Ierapetra. The human toll amounted to one of the deadliest massacres during the Axis occupation of Greece, second only to the massacre of Kalavryta.
The Nazis would go on later than year in August, to burn the village of Anogeia, burning six elderly disabled women and executing another nine disabled villagers. Given the extent of their depravity, Passadakis appreciation of just how the Cretans saw their Nazi oppressors is noteworthy:
“The Cretan people did not know the Germans before the war, but during their stay here they began to regard them as people not only brave but also of honest character, as people with a good and deeply loving heart, who do not hate the population, but want its love and friendship….”
Passadakis was perhaps the most ardent German-loving collaborator during the Nazi occupation of Crete and he bent over backwards to please his masters. Formerly surnamed Pachiadakis, changing his name only after being disowned by his family owing to his fascistic proclivities he was a lawyer educated in Germany, whence he derived his adoration of all things Germanic.
In the twenties he stood as a People’s Party candidate for parliament for the seat of Heraklion and it is probable that his failure to carve a political career caused him to seek more opportunistic means of advancement. A fervent admirer of Nazi propaganda chief Goebbels, he regurgitated his drivel often and in acceptable enough form to be noticed by the collaborationist prime minister of Greece Tsolakoglou, who appointed him prefect of Heraklion, being promoted to Governor of Crete, a post he held also during the Quisling administrations of Logothetopoulos and Rallis.
Not permitted by his Nazi controllers to hold any real power, Passadakis was nonetheless prized by them as a propagandist, often addressing the entire nation through Nazi radio in Athens. He called Hitler “a great and inspiring leader”, and he did not neglect to send him telegrams of devotion every year on his birthday. The main goal of his policy, as he wrote in enthusiastic articles for the SS, was for Germany to win the war and for Greece to benefit from submission to Germany, which he wrote was a divine imperative. Alternating between soft propaganda and ugly threats, he threatened the Cretan people after the Allied kidnapping of General Heinrich Kreipe with complete annihilation.
In this he was joined by other high ranking members of Cretan society such as Archmandrite Evgenios Psalidakis, Mayor of Heraklion M Pleuris and President of the Cretan Bar Association Emmanuel Melissidis, who co-wrote and signed the following proclamation, also published in the Cretan Herald:
“The undersigned, representing in this matter the opinion and feelings of the entire people of the Prefecture of Heraklion, bearing in mind the unknown disappearance of General Kripe, a) express our deep pain and indignation at this act b) believe that the Cretan people did not participate in these acts, and if they have, they must be the malicious elements who have recently engaged in murderous and predatory acts against peaceful people. creating friction between the people of Crete and the Occupation Forces and d) appeal to all Cretans as a matter of urgency for anyone who knows anything that could shed any light on the case of General Kreipe’s disappearance to reveal this to the Greek or German Authorities, confident that in this way they provide a great service to our country and contribute to the prevention of great evil.”
A willing henchman in the dissemination of such propaganda was the proprietor of the Cretan Herald Petros Vavoglis, who placed his paper at the disposal of the Nazis. He died before the withdrawal of the Nazi forces from Crete, executed by resistance fighters in June 1944, only to have his own rag eulogise him as one who “fell on the ramparts of the national struggle.”
Passadakis was arrested after the war and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1945 for being a collaborator. In 1949, he was charged with providing the Nazis with 300 names of members of the Cretan resistance and thus contributing to their deaths but was acquitted of all charges.
Prison, where Passadakis eventually died, was perhaps the safest place for him. Other Cretan collaborators did not fare as well, especially those who were members Greek-speaking Sergeant Friedrich Schubert’s Jagdkommando Schubert, a paramilitary terrorist group affiliation to the Nazi Wermhacht. He commanded the infamous «Σουμπερίτες» an armed group of pro-Nazi Cretans mainly from the Tzoulias family in the village of Krousonas and used them in order to capture local resistance fighters and those who assisted them.
The Somarakis family in particular was responsible for the deaths of thirty-five resistance fighters, who they betrayed to Schubert. They were apprehended after the war and were tried as collaborationists in Herakleion. When the court pronounced sentence, it was not considered commensurate to the crime by the populace who broke into the courtroom and hacked them to pieces.
Another collaborator, Nikos Magiasis was responsible for the deaths of three hundred resistance fighters. Educated in Athens, he was originally in the resistance before he was captured and turned as an interpreter for the Nazis. He soon evolved into a sadistic killer. Capturing the nineteen year old Stavros Andreadakis from Sokara, he crucified him, cut off his legs and then ran over him with a tank. While awaiting trial in the Collaborationist Court after the war, the brother of another of his victims, the shepherd Mikhail Vrentzos from Anogeia, broke in and stabbed him to death.
Village lore abounds in Crete as to the just desserts meted out to collaborators and I remember having a conversation with the late Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis about the mantinades composed by the Cretans about their revenge killings, suggesting that the phenomenon was more widespread than is commonly thought. Whether from conviction, ambition, opportunism or local feud, Cretan collaborators compounded the fear and misery visited upon their compatriots by the inhuman Nazi occupation. The fact that the Cretan people managed to mount such an uncompromising resistance not only in the face of a sadistic and better equipped regular army while being betrayed by the traitors among them renders their achievement all the more significant.