Distomo massacre

Deaths 228 civilians
Location Distomo, Kingdom of Greece (under German-occupation)
Died Unknown
Date 10 June 1944
Criminal penalty Unknown


The Distomo massacre (Greek: Σφαγή του Διστόμου; German: Massaker von Distomo or Distomo-Massaker) was a Nazi war crime perpetrated by members of the Waffen-SS in the village of Distomo, Greece, in 1944, during the German occupation of Greece during World War II.

The massacre

On 10 June 1944, for over two hours, Waffen-SS troops of the 2nd company, I/7 battalion, 4th SS Polizei Panzergrenadier Division under the command of the 26-year-old SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritz Lautenbach went door to door and massacred Greek civilians as part of "savage reprisals" for a partisan attack upon the unit's convoy. A total of 228 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." However, another source ("Life, The First Decade", Time Inc., 1979, page 138. Library of Congress catalog card number 79-88091) refers to "the 1,000 citizens slaughtered by the Germans".

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.

Legal proceedings

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 Supreme Civil and Criminal Court of Greece, 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 judgements 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 filed a claim at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. The German claim was that the Italian courts should have dismissed the case under the international law of sovereign immunity.

In January 2011, the Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou, announced that the Greek Government would be represented at the International Court of Justice in relation to the claim for reparations by relatives of victims. In its 2012 final judgement, the court ruled that Italy had violated Germany's state immunity, and directed that the judgment by the Italian courts be retracted. In 2014 the Italian Constitutional Court ruled that sovereign immunity for crimes such as Distomo violated the core rights guaranteed by the Italian constitution. Sovereign immunity would therefore no longer be applicable law in Italy for the war crimes cases in question. New claims for compensation for the Distomo massacre could therefore be brought before Italian courts.

In film

A Song for Argyris is a 2006 documentary film that details the life story of Argyris Sfountouris, a survivor of the massacre.

The massacre is described in Peter Nestler's experimental documentary Von Griechenland (1966).