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”.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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 Sibru, a Rumanian monk, who lived in a kellion near Karyes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
One or two days later another warplane landed and after the motor problem was solved, both planes took off again.
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.
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