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New Online Video Archive with Memories of Witnesses of the German Occupation in Greece from 1941 to 1944

90 biographical video interviews publicly accessible / Cooperation between Freie Universität Berlin and National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

№ 073/2018 from Apr 23, 2018

A new digital archive with memories of eyewitnesses of the occupation of Greece by National Socialist Germany from 1941 to 1944 was presented on Monday in Berlin. The archive contains 90 biographical video interviews. The interviewees talk about the time of the occupation from 1941 to 1944 but also about their respective life circumstances in the years before and after. The video interviews were conducted with people from different backgrounds in Greece, Germany, and Israel: they include Greek resistance fighters, survivors of the German massacres, people arrested in raids and deported to Germany, forced laborers, persecuted Jews, and witnesses to bombing raids. They also include well-known personalities such as the former President of Greece Karolos Papoulias and the resistance fighter Manolis Glezos.

Freie Universität Berlin and the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens worked together on the project. The online archive is located at the Center for Digital Systems (CeDiS) of Freie Universität. The project is headed by Prof. Dr. Nicolas Apostolopoulos (CeDiS); the academic project manager in Greece is Prof. Dr. Hagen Fleischer at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. Funding for the project was provided by the German Federal Foreign Office through funds from the German-Greek Future Fund as well as funds from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility, and Future.

Greece was occupied by Germany between 1941 and 1944. More than 100,000 people starved to death, another 60,000 Jewish Greeks were deported and murdered, and nearly 50,000 civilians fell victim to so-called retaliatory measures. In both countries very little is known about Germany’s occupation of Greece. The interview archive was set up to make a contribution toward increasing awareness among the widest possible public about the war crimes committed on Greek soil.

Two witnesses, Argyris Sfountouris and Efstathios Chaitidis (see biographies below), were present for the official opening at the Topography of Terror Documentation Center. Both of them were children when they survived massacres in their villages. Their memories and those of other witnesses were processed for the Internet; they were translated into German, given subtitles, and supplemented with extensive research options. In addition to the biographical interviews, the online archive contains photos, historical documents, and other accompanying materials. The collection is now available to teachers and researchers as well as the interested public.

As Theodoros Daskarolis, German Ambassador to Greece, explained, “The consequences of years of German occupation in Greece had a huge impact and can still be felt today. This is why it is essential that a culture which remembers the past be promoted in Greek-German relations. The online archive contributes to this by providing a platform to those who witnessed German occupation personally and whose entire lives have been affected by their experiences. This platform gives those people – and all of the Greeks they represent – a voice. It is an important milestone on the road to coming to terms with the past.”

The Minister of State for Europe of the German Federal Foreign Office, Michael Roth, said, “The preservation of memories of contemporary witnesses in the new online archive makes an important contribution to research into the crimes committed during the German occupation of Greece. At the same time, the archive enables a broad public to gain an authentic impression of this dark period. By telling the stories of ordinary people, the inconceivable is made tangible and also serves as a warning for future generations.

Prof. Dr. Nicolas Apostolopoulos, the project director at Freie Universität Berlin, emphasized: “With this archive we want to make the life stories of contemporary Greek witnesses accessible to later generations via the Internet. The archive provides valuable assistance for the preservation and dissemination of the historical, cultural, and political culture of remembrance both countries. The fact that the material has been systematically researched and digitalized means that it serves as a further valuable source which is constantly available and regularly updated with comments and other additions.”

The academic director of the project, Professor Hagen Fleischer from the National Kapodistrian University of Athens, explained, “Most television viewers were surprised when Germany’s former President, Joachim Gauck – who was clearly very moved – asked for forgiveness from one of the many communities of victims of German occupation during his state visit to Greece in March 2014. Not only did he ask for forgiveness for a concrete massacre of elderly people, women and children in 1943, but also for a “second offence”: for the fact that Germany had ignored its first wrongdoing for decades. It was also as a result of Gauck’s urging that the German-Greek Future Fund began its reconciliation work on Germany’s role in Greece during the occupation. Since 2016, this has been the context for an ambitious research project. Over 80 Greek witnesses of German occupation have already been interviewed, and the recordings of these interviews are currently being evaluated by our researchers. This material will be integrated in school lessons in both countries in the future.”

“The Stavros Niarchos Foundation is proud to support this invaluable oral history digital archive,” said Panos Papoulias, Deputy Director of Programs and Strategic Initiatives at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF). “The archive’s digitization will make the collection easily accessible to many, a critical component of the broad and lasting impact of this work to reach beyond today’s society and benefit generations to come.”

Two of the roughly 90 interviewed witnesses in the online archive spoke at the event:

Efstathios Chaitidis (born in 1935) survived the Pyrgoi massacre in Kozani in northern Greece that was perpetrated on April 23, 1944, by Germans in cooperation with Greek collaborators (soldiers in the “National Greek Army”). Men, women, and children were murdered. Most of the women and children were driven into barns of the village and burned alive. The village was completely destroyed. Records from the villages of Vermio and Pyrgoi indicate that 563 people died that day. The Pyrgoi massacre was part of the “Unternehmen Maigewitter” (Enterprise May Thunderstorm), a large-scale extermination action by the Germans against the Partisan Army of the Communist Party of Greece. Efstathios Chaitidis escaped the massacre together with his father. All the other members of the Chaitidis family were murdered by the Germans. His mother, grandmother, and four siblings were burned with others in the barns of the village. After the Second World War, his father was executed in 1947 during the Civil War by a People’s Court of the Democratic Army of Greece. Efstathios Chaitidis was raised by his uncle and aunt. In 1959, following his military service in Greece, he migrated as a guest worker to Germany. From 1960 to 1966 he studied dentistry in Munich. From Germany he engaged against the military dictatorship in Greece (1967-1974). He participated in demonstrations and other political actions. He was a member of the Movement of Greek Scientists against the Dictatorship in Munich and founded the Panhellenic Anti-Dictatorship Committee. As a result, the junta of Greece canceled his passport and Greek citizenship. He applied for and received political asylum in Germany. In 1969 Efstathios Chaitidis graduated, and five years later he got married. Efstathios Chaitidis is the father of five children. In 2015 a documentary movie based on his life, Paradoxe Heimat (Paradox Homeland) directed by Nikos Aslanoglou was released; it won the Audience Choice Prize at the Thessaloniki Film Festival.

Link to the Online Interview with Efstathios Chaitidis:


Argyris Sfountouris (born in 1940) grew up in Distomo (Boeotia). At the age of four, he experienced and survived the massacre of Distomo along with his three older sisters. In the process, 34 members of his family were murdered: men, women, and children. The victims included his parents. He saw his father shot dead in the temple after he had left the family's house to talk to the Germans. His mother, along with some neighbors, was robbed and shot by the Germans on the way to Distomo. Her four-year-old son saw her body. The massacre of Distomo is one of the worst war crimes in occupied Greece: After a company of the regiment of an SS police tank grenadier division was ambushed during an anti-Greek partisan destruction operation, it had to withdraw. Three soldiers were killed and 18 wounded; four others later succumbed to their wounds. In retaliation, the SS officer Hauptsturmführer Fritz Lautenbach indiscriminately murdered villagers. After the massacre, Argyris Sfountouris first lived with his sisters with his grandparents. He refused to eat. In September 1946, the siblings were sent to different orphanages. Argyris Sfountouris was initially sent to the heavily overcrowded war orphanage for boys in Athens. There, his already existing life-threatening eating disorder continued. He then came to Ekali, where there was a branch for children who needed special care. In March 1949, Argyris Sfountouris was sent with another eight children to the Pestalozzi Children’s Village in the Swiss canton of Trogen, an international educational institution for war orphans from Europe. There he lived together with other children from Greece in the house called “Argonauts.” Ten years later, he finished high school in Trogen with a diploma qualifying him to enroll at a university. He began studying mathematics and physics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH). In 1964 he worked as a physics teacher at various high schools in Zurich. At the same time he continued his studies in physics and devoted himself to translating important Greek writers and poets into German, including Nikos Kazantzakis, Konstantinos Kavafis, Georgios Seferis, Giannis Ritsos, and Mikis Theodorakis. Part of his translation work was published in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. After the military coup in Greece, he was involved against the resulting dictatorship. As a result, his passport was not renewed by the consulate. After a waiting period of 52 months, his naturalization application in Switzerland was granted. Between 1980 and 1989 Argyris Sfountouris wrote his dissertation at the Technical University of Zurich. After completing his graduate studies, he worked for the Swiss organization Humanitarian Aid of the Confederation (SHA) and then for the United Nations Refugee Agency, the UNHCR. Argyris Sfountouris gave a speech on the 50th anniversary of the Distomo massacre. His aim was to anchor the events in public consciousness at local, national, and international levels. He objected to the attitude of the German embassy, which at that time played down the events of Distomo as a “measure within the framework of warfare.” In 1994, he was instrumental in organizing a Peace Conference at the European Cultural Center in Delphi, attended by nineteen historians, journalists, resistance fighters, educators, and lawyers from Greece and Switzerland as speakers. However, official representatives of the German government stayed away from the event. In 1995, Argyris Sfountouris and his three sisters filed a lawsuit against the Federal Republic of Germany. Almost at the same time the lawyer, politician, and then prefect of Boeotia, Giannis Stamoulis, sued the German state for compensation payments. For a class action 258 plaintiffs came forward; Argyris Sfountouris was one of them. Both lawsuits were dismissed. The German film Ein Lied für Argyris by Stefan Haupt from 2007 dealt with the life and work of Argyris Sfountouris. The film takes particular note of the massacre of Distomo and its impact on the lives of the bereaved. In his books Trauer um Deutschland (Mourning for Germany, 2015) and Schweigen ist meine Muttersprache (Silence Is My Mother Tongue, 2017), which are based on his life, Argyris Sfountouris deals with the German war crimes in Greece and with the fight for recognition and compensation. A biography written by the journalist Patric Seibel, Ich bleibe immer der vierjährige Junge von damals. Das SS-Massaker von Distomo und der Kampf eines Überlebenden für Gerechtigkeit (I’ll always remain the four-year-old boy of that time. The SS Massacre of Distomo and the Battle of a Survivor for Justice) was released in 2016.

Link to the Online Interview with Argyris Sfountouris:


Link to the Online Archive: www.occupation-memories.org/de

Website with material to download (documents, photos, and videos) for journalists (content in German):


The photos are free of charge for journalists, provided due credit is given: „Erinnerungen an die Okkupation in Griechenland“, Freie Universität Berlin.

Website with material to download (documents, photos and videos) for journalists (content in Greek):


The photos are free of charge for journalists, provided due credit is given:  „Erinnerungen an die Okkupation in Griechenland“, Freie Universität Berlin.


  • Prof. Dr. Nicolas Apostolopoulos, Freie Universität Berlin, Tel.: +49 30 838 52050, Email: napo@cedis.fu-berlin.de
  • Prof. Dr. Hagen Fleischer, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Email: hagenfl@arch.uoa.gr