Twenty kilometres north of Kalamata lies the town of Meligalas, a dusty rural settlement like a hundred others in Greece. The name Meligalas translates roughly as milk and honey, but in truth it’s a melancholy place. A mile outside the town stands a big concrete cross erected in the early 1970s, when Greece was being run by a military junta.
Across the road from the monument, tall slabs are inscribed with the names of hundreds of Greeks who died at the hands of fellow Greeks in mid September 1944, only weeks after the withdrawal of German occupying forces.It’s a tragic, complex story, but the bones of it are as follows…
During the German occupation (1941-44), when members of the legitimate Athens government had fled to Egypt, much of rural Greece, though ostensibly under Nazi domination, came to be administered by a communist resistance movement, EAM (the National Liberation Front)and its military wing (ELAS)
At the same time, the quisling prime minister, Rallis, recruited Greeks to form collaborationist ‘security battalions’ whose remit was to root out communists and communist sympathisers.
Following the German withdrawal from Greece in the summer of 1944 came the inevitable clash between these opposing elements. ELAS succeeded in disbanding some of the security battalions, but during early September, in southern Peloponnesos, the local battalions and their sympathisers began to gather in the town of Meligalas and to prepare to defend it against an expected ELAS attack.
The assault came on September 14 and lasted three days, but finally the town was overrun, though losses were heavy among the attackers. Anyone not routinely resident in the town was rounded up and over the next few days, executed. Estimates of the numbers killed vary, maybe as many as fifteen hundred. The big concrete cross stands over what used to be a dry well, into which many of the bodies were thrown.
There are old people in Meligalas today who remember these events, and those that followed as the country slid into civil war.
Bitter memories and resentments are still handed down.