The German occupation of Greece began in 1941 and lasted until well into 1945. After the failed Italian invasion of Greece, Germany had assisted its Italian and Bulgarian allies in their expansionist aspirations. Crete was attacked by the Germans in May 1941 in a major airborne campaign. The three main cities, Hania, Rethymnon and Heraklion, were badly bombed. The Axis Powers were met by fierce resistance from the local population but eventually prevailed in the Battle of Crete. The British troops on the island, which at some point had included a Jewish Logistics Brigade from Palestine, were forced to retreat as the Axis Powers established their occupation regime by June 1941.
The particular singling out of Jews by the German Military Command is illustrated in the various repressive measures implemented on German orders early during the occupation. Equally, the Jewish community had to supply lists of all its members to the Occupation Forces.
In Heraklion, several Jews were shot by the German Occupation Forces as part of so-called reprisals: in June 1942, two non-Cretan Jews were shot; in July 1943, all six Jewish males still resident in Heraklion were shot along with a group of Greek Christians for alleged damage to German army installations.
In Hania, Rabbi Ilias Osmos, who was invited to an official function as late as in March 1944, certainly could not have foreseen the fate of the Jewish community, whose members were arrested on the morning of 21 May 1944. They were eventually transported to Heraklion and from there sent by ship towards Piraeus. Soon after leaving Heraklion as part of a convoy of German vessels, the ship was sunk by torpedoes fired from a British submarine. The entire community perished, which effectively spelled the end of almost 2,500 years of Jewish history on Crete.
Photo 1: © Yad Vashem
Photo 2: © The Jewish Museum of Greece