A testimony about the guerilla atrocity in Arachnaio Argolida

John KarkalatosAugust 2, 2022

Every Saint Panteleimon feast day, the old men remember the atrocities of the guerillas in the mountain village Arachnaio, or Heli in Arvanitika language, in Argolida. Read below how my wife's grandmother, 9 years old at the time, Konstantina nee Vardaka, described it to me. She was throughout the events hiding in the house with her mother and sister and they survived after many coincidences.

Arachnaio village

Arachnaio village

The reason for the massacre were the sheepfolds, there was no other reason

With this phrase the grandmother began the story. The rebels who invaded the village came mainly from the neighbouring villages Limnes and Gerbesi (Midea) and thought the idea of destroying Arachnaio as an opportunity to occupy the sheepfolds and pastures of its inhabitants. It seemed logical to me at first hearing because Limnes is a village without any vegetation just bare rocks and even today the main occupation of the inhabitants is animal husbandry.

The priest and the president whom the guerillas were looking for may have supported the Tagmatasphalites (that's how they called the friendly to the nazis security battalions) but this was their own choice that had nothing to do with the villagers. In any case Arachnaio had experienced less destruction a few months earlier by the Germans.

Guerrillas invaded on the morning of July 29, 1944, the previous night there was a divine liturgy in the church where a lot of villagers had attended. They placed outposts in the mountain passes so that no inhabitant could escape. The guerillas searched in vain for the president and the priest. It is unknown whether the president was in the village and he escaped or he was away at the time. As soon as was heard in the village "Guerillas, guerillas" my grandmother's mother saw the priest passing by on the street. She asked him what we are going to do and he answered her:

Get your children, go inside and don't come out at all

So the rage of the guerillas fell on the inhabitants.

They gathered them in the school yard. They formed a circle placing a resident in the center for all to see. They gave him a non-lethal stabbing and each time he regained his senses they gave him another. This continued until he died out. His child was put by his mother under her long dress so that he would not see his father's torture.

The inhabitants expected that they would be interrogated and set free for this they did not escape.

They were later tied up to the site of the village with the wells with wires and ropes. About 65 residents were forced to march to be thrown into a cistern outside of Epidaurus. They also took with them the shepherds they found on their way. The cistern was closed with a large stone. For three days voices were heard from the cistern because several people had been half slaughtered and thrown into the cistern alive.

A mother had the opportunity to let her child run away but she didn't, hoping for a happy ending. They took her to school and in the end the child was found on top of the pile of corpses.

Among the victims was my grandmother's father's brother. He was, as he told me, sick and could not move away from his house. His wife asked him to hide him under branches but he thought that he was not in danger due to his health. He didn't make it. My grandmother's father also went to the cistern to retrieve the dead body of his brother. From what he told me, he was the last to be killed because he was found on top of the pile of corpses.

Two days the corpses were getting buried after the events in the cemetery. The village was set on fire, many houses were burnt. The smoke was seen from far away.

If they would find the priest they would pull out his beard hair by hair. The guerillas said that if they found the priest's godchild they would slaughter it.

They burned the house of the aunt of the grandmother with 4 children inside.

They jumped from the balcony to escape. The aunt jumped with her baby in her arms.

The houses were getting burned easily because, in addition to wooden floors and roofs, they had straw in the basement for the animals. There were also bushes in the village that were easy to catch fire.

Another brother of the grandmother's mother came out of the house fearing the fire.

He went outside the village but the outpost saw him and shot him in the heart from a distance.

The next day the news of his whereabouts reached the family but they were not told that he was dead. The grandmother of the family rushed.

His eyes were open from the sun that hit him all day they had turned white, the pupil of the eye could not be seen. Grandma thought he was alive and covered him with her woolen apron. Finally the men went with a sheet to take him home.

Another aunt's house was burned and the guerillas asked her to drink some water. Fearing for her children, she sent one child to the well to draw water but the outpost shot him. She told the rebels to go themselves.

There the youngest child suddenly jumped out of his hiding place, scaring the guerillas, and in their terror they disemboweled him badly. Eventually they took the aunt and her daughters to the school.

11 - 12 people died in the basement from suffocation in a burning house, among them the priest's daughter. One of the priest's daughters, he had three daughters, was spotted by the guerillas. She was taken out of the village and she was gang-raped. The shepherds who were on the mountain heard the voices.

Tagmatasphalites arrived in the neighbouring village Metohi. The Metochians urged them to set up an ambush on the mountain trail that led to Epidaurus, anyway the rebels mainly had knives for weaponry. Tagmatasphalites hesitated and in the end nothing happened.

My grandmother's father had left his son at the animals outside the village the night before and early in the morning he went to see if he was okay. That's how he was saved. The guerillas invaded early in the morning.The night before there was a divine liturgy that's why he left him there. The grandmother's father had hung his good trousers on the loom.

The grandmother with her sister and mother were at the time of the Holocaust at home hiding. They were lucky because their house didn't burn down. The mother was terrified and wanted them to leave the village. She wanted them to go to the neighboring village Metohi. They went out and were informed about the school. A guerilla went to take them to school. Her sister, three years older, told him:

my mother can't see, we can't go there

Which was indeed true. At the same time, another guerilla grabs the mother's hand to lead her down the stone steps of the house and tells her:

Go home, take your girls go home, those who are to be killed and their houses to get burned will burn, it's not you

So they stayed at home but at some point a bullet fell from the tiles. The mother was horrified and they set off. The situation had calmed down by then because those in the school had been taken to the wells to be tied up with wires and ropes. At the last house, as they were leaving the village, a villager warned them that the outposts were watching and that they would kill them. The grandmother praised God at that moment because if they had not found out in time they would have all been killed.

Then my grandmother described what life was like in Arachnaio after the Holocaust. All the women were dressed in black with black scarfs even the little girls. They would rise in the mornings and grieve loudly, and the lament echoed in the village and you were terrified.

The first nights the grandmother and her family slept in a field outside the village out of fear.

These events gave the villagers post-war right-wing ideas. A villager described to me a scene from the junta period when someone asked him about his political views:

The guerillas burned down my village, what political party do you suppose I support?