1218 – Athos and the Second World War

Karyes easter 1941
Athos: Easter 1941

In blog no. 1119 and 1176  I reviewed the book “Wege am Athos” from Reinhold Zwerger.
A chapter about the 2nd World War (page 237 and further) is of special interest, because we can show you some pictures that illustrate this text. I found some pictures in the book of the fellow traveler of mr. Zwerger, Erich Feigl, who collected an enormous amount of historical pictures from Athos in his book “Athos Vorhölle zum Paradies- 1980”. I also found a few photos in the book of Dölger, “Mönchsland Athos 1941”.

Stavronikita Gerrman soldier 2nd WW
Two Germans soldiers in front of Stavronikita – date unknown

First a brief history lesson: Hitler invaded Greece on the 6th of April 1941, after the fiasco of the attempted Italian invasion through Albania. Three days later Thessaloniki and Chalkidiki was under German power. At first there were a few German military on Mt. Athos, but more then the picture I showed you from Easter 1941, I did not find.

The Epistasia, the four-member executive committee appointed annually by the Holy Community, asked Hitler on 13th of April 1941 to place Mount Athos under his personal protection and care, and he seems that he agreed. So, the German conquerors did not interfere with Mount Athos.

Copy of letter to Hitler 26 4 1941
A copy of the letter that the Holy Epistatia sent to Hitler – from the Feigl-book

Soon after writing the letter to Hitler, in the summer of 1941, the Holy Mountain was visited by a German scientific expedition led by Dölger, who was treated friendly by the Athos monks.

Dolger - Diamoniterion 1941
Diamoniterion of mr Dölger, July 21, 1941

Dolger - Dafni
Mr Dölger in Dafni – date unknown

dolger 1
The scientific expedition (with a dog!), three German soldiers and seven monks – date unknown

In his book Dölger says: “Upon our arrival at several monasteries and, upon our departure from one (Dionisiou), when we sailed out onto the sea in our little ship, we were greeted by the swastika flag”.

Dolger - Tsipouri
The scientific group drinking water, coffee and Tsipourou

Dolger - Karyes the photografer
The photographer in Karyes

Dolger Tragos wo2
The Tragos (the “Magna Carta” of Athos), opened for Dölger.

Dolger - Tragos 1
Tragos 1941- detail

Dolger - Tragos 2
Tragos – made by Athanasius himself, with a signature of Emperor John Tsimiskes

In June 1943 a group of eight Germans soldiers arrived in Karyes. Totally unprepared, not knowing what to expect and unaware of the existence of 20 Orthodox monasteries, they thought they were dropped in the Middle Ages.

1943: German soldiers seated under a portrait of Hitler – place and date unknown

The group took their residence in the Konaki of Simonos Petras, later the house of the Greek Governor. The eight soldiers carried two pistols and six rifles. They had no radio-contact, only a telephone line, which was out of order lots of times, especially when it rained. Because some of them had to go back to Thessaloniki every now and then – which took four days – , the group mostly existed of one or three men.

Easter on Athos 16 4 1944
Easter 1944 – April 16th

The Athos monks more of less accepted the presence of the Germans and they knew to keep a low profile, to prevent reprisals. The relation with the Greek border police was reserved.

Father Panteleimon with picture 2nd WWFather Panteleimon from kellion Ravdouchou near Karyes, showing a picture from a friendship between a German soldier and a monk during the Second World War

Father Panteleimon
The monk and the soldier shaking hands

Zwerger tells about a friendship between a monk and a German soldier. After the war Zwerger met this soldier, mr Hans Nageler (Oberfeldwebel), who was stationed on Athos from June 1943 till May 1944. He became good friends with Father Joachim Sirbu, a Rumanian monk, who lived in a kellion near Karyes.

Monk Joachim 1982 friend of Nageler
Father Joachim Sirbu, the Rumanian monk in 1982,with a map of Great Rumenia and Greece, and a photo of Majesty King Michael (the last king of the country before becoming a republic). Thanks Dragos for you expert comment/September 2019.

After the war mr Nageler visited Athos a couple of times, starting in 1968.Nageler 1982
Mr Nageler 1982

Nageler and Lorbecher 2nd WWMr Nageler and Lorbecher as soldiers on Athos – date unknown

During the war was no real threat of fighting or violence. Mr. Nageler was almost caught by partisans while traveling to Thessaloniki, but he was saved, because he told them was not from Germany but from Austria (which was true).

There are stories of partisans who raided Chilandariou, stealing food and mules, but otherwise it was relatively quiet. Only after this incident the Germans soldiers got a M42 machinegun. After the war mr Hans Nageler said that he thankful that “faith” brought him to Mt. Athos. He died on the 9th of January 2004, 100 years old.
Pay book Nageler 2nd WW
Notebook of mr Nageler 1943-1945. Not much happened: in October 1994 evacuation (Absetzbewegung) of Athos (SE part) was already planned!

But there were a few small incidents, that are worth to mention: in the summer of 1943 there was this German pilot who’s plane ran out of gas and he landed with his parachute somewhere in the chesnutt trees above Karyes. He planned that his plane would crash in the sea, but he miscalculated and it crashed on the Greek mainland (“This means court-martial”, was the dry comment of the Lieutenant, when he heard the bad news).

And then there is a story of the Germans trying to find deserters, but they soon realized that Athos-monks all look the same in their black clothes and with their long beards (all attending long services in dark churches……). Soon the search was cancelled.

Dolger - Konstamonitou Portret Hitler
Portrait of Hitler in Konstamonitou

One of the things the Germans did achieve was a census: it showed out that 5500 monks were living on Mt. Athos at that time. In May 1943 the Germans confiscated some illegal radios in monasteries.  The German marine had a small observation post somewhere above the Skiti Prodromou, overlooking the cape. Soon after the war it was demolished.
Ouranopolis 23 4 1944 Germans and greek police
Greek police and German soldiers in Ouranopolis/Phosphori, April 23 1944

One of the most exciting stories is the emergency landing of a German water plane, a Junckers 54, who landed safely in sea, near the beach of Agiou Pavlou.

Ag. Pavlou JunckerA German warplane on the beach of Ag. Pavlou – date unknown

There was only one small problem: there was a woman on board! A “Luftwaffe-helferin” could not set a foot on land, because this is strictly forbidden. With ‘Athonite’ wisdom the problem was solved: the woman was transferred to a small fisherman hut on poles (she didn’t touch the ground!), along the coastline, and this little hut for a short term was declared not to be associated with Athos!

Ag. Pavlou beach JunckerFour German soldiers waiting to be “rescued”, with one female Luftwaffe-helferin somewhere in the neighbourhood….

One or two days later another warplane landed and after the motor problem was solved, both planes took off again.

21 5 1943 German text from a guestbookA text from a German soldier in an Athos guestbook with a prophetic wish: “that the Community of the Holy Mountain may once will be an example for a community for all people of Europe……” 

Mr Zweger writes that the Germans stationed on Athos were happy with their cook and that they loved the Greek food. During Christmas they were asked to deliver Christmas trees from Mt. Athos to their fellow soldiers somewhere in Greece.
Just before leaving Mt. Athos in may 1944 the Greece police left and the Germans also to check visitors coming to Athos.

Leaving Athos Stamp 7 5 1944
Stamp from German soldiers leaving Athos, April 20, 1944

Iviron beach farewell 29 5 1944May 29 1944: a farewell on the beach of Iviron

Iviron boat 29 5 1944May 29 1944; German soldiers on a boat leaving Athos

After the Germans withdrew on May 29 1944, Athos was briefly under the sway of the partisans, before the Greek authorities took over.

Wim Voogd, April 27, 2011

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2 Responses to 1218 – Athos and the Second World War

  1. Vasílis says:

    Recently, Alan Nothnagle also payed attention to Dölgers book: http://open.salon.com/blog/lost_in_berlin/2010/10/27/the_hitler_icon_how_mount_athos_honored_the_fhrer. Read also ‘Comments’. Interesting.

  2. Hi, and thank you for this great blog! I am a Romanian and I just wanted to kindly draw your attention to a possible misspelling of the Romanian monk’s name: I guess, his name should be Father Ioachim Sirbu (rather than Sibru). This should make sense in Romanian language and is a quite common family name.
    As for the map on his wall, that is the map of Great Romania (with what is now the Republic of Moldavia to the East). The photos above are: his Majesty King Michael (the last king of the country before becoming a republic) and, in the second photo, I guess there are Mihai’s parents (the photo is not very clear).
    God bless you for everything!

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