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Thursday, 10 August, 2000, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
Greek bailiffs size up German property
A Distomo victim identifies his family's bones in a mausoleum
A Distomo victim identifies his family's bones
By Paul Wood in Athens

Germany and Greece are embroiled in a furious diplomatic row following a court decision to seize German property in Athens to compensate victims of the country's most notorious World War Two Nazi massacre at the village of Distomo, where 218 people were killed.

The Greek Supreme Court sent bailiffs into the Goethe cultural centre, the German archaeological institute and the German school in Athens, to obtain $30 million in reparations for the village.

Germans today aren't the same people but this pain will never heal.

George Koutriaris, survivor
The German government has won an emergency review of the ruling in a hearing which will take place next month.

At every church service in Distomo, they remember the 218 victims of the wartime massacre.

It sometimes seems as if the whole village has been in mourning for the past 55 years.

Village traumatised

There is barely a single family untouched by what is regarded as the worst German war crime in Greece.

Soldiers of the Waffen SS entered Distomo in June 1944 to take reprisals for attacks by Greek partisans.

They went on a two-hour frenzy of killing, looting and rape, shooting and bayoneting babies, massacring whole families.

To 71-year-old George Koutriaris, it is as if it all happened yesterday.

His front door still has the bullet holes left behind by the German troops.

Mr Koutriarislost his mother, three sisters and two brothers in the massacre
Mr Koutriaris lost his mother, three sisters and two brothers in the massacre
As a 13-year-old boy, he came home to find his mother and baby sister disembowelled.

The bodies of two more sisters and two brothers were nearby.

"I found my mother at top of stairs, my baby sister in her arms," he says.

"The walls were red with their blood.

"Germans today aren't the same people but this pain will never heal."

He explains how a swastika had been cut into each cheek on the face of his 7-month-old sister.

Tears as George Koutriaris remembers the swastikas carved into his 7 month old sisters cheeks.
George Koutriaris cries as he recalls the swastikas carved into his sisters' cheeks.
Almost six decades after the event, Mr Koutriaris is only now able to face going to the village war memorial.

The place holds too many terrors. The most difficult part of the visit is to the mausoleum where the bones of all the massacre victims, including his own family, are displayed.

Danger for European Union

There have been unprecedented scenes in Athens as Court bailiffs go into German-owned buildings, appraising them for sale to pay the people of Distomo.

The German government says that this is illegal.

German ambassador: Distomo is a Pandora's box
German ambassador: Distomo is a Pandora's box
Dr Karl Heinz Kuhna, the German Ambassador to Greece, says that the German Government has already paid war reparations.

"If we start such actions, Europe will be in great danger," he says.

"This will also probably give claims to Germans - let's say out of the disaster, the heavy-bombing attack against Dresden."

"If we open this Pandora's box again this might even be the end of a United Europe."

The people of Distomo say that they will take their case to the European Court of Human Rights to continue what they call their struggle for justice.

New generation of Germans visit memorial honouring the Distomo massacre victims
A new generation of Germans visits the Distomo massacre memorial
On a recent goodwill tour, a German youth orchestra visited the war memorial at Distomo.

They were welcomed by the local people, who hold no bitterness.

However, German visitors are also told that their government must do more and that the bills of the Third Reich are still to be paid in full.

The BBC's Paul Wood
"The bills of the third reich are still to be paid in full"
See also:

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