The Distomo Slaughter: Memory, Politics and the Struggle for Closure
Disasters and Social Conflicts former director of Emergencies Research Center Athens, Greece
Disasters ( "acts of God") and humanitarian crisis attendant to conflict situations ("acts of man") are often accompanied by extensive loss of human life. Besides constituting traumatic events for the survivors and their relatives, they also become critical events in the collective memory of the impacted community, dividing their history, experiences, policies and practices into their lives before the event (B.E.) and after the event (A.E.). Some well known examples from the past and recent history include the WWII holocaust against the Jews, the bombing of Hiroshima, the 2004 Indonesian Tsounami, the 9/11 terrorist attacks. These events have more or less localized/globalized impacts on collective memories, with some of them extending beyond the impacted community, across borders and generations. During WWII, and especially as the war was coming to an end, there were a number of "mini-holocausts" in various cities, towns and villages of Greece, perpetrated by the Nazi occupation forces. In one of these, known as the "Distomo Slaughter", 218 civilians of all ages (men, women, children) were massacred by German SS troops as a reprisal for an ambush by the partisans. Although quantitatively the DS was not the most devastating event during the occupation of Greece, certain qualities of the mass execution made it stand out in the memories of the survivors and the broader Greek community. The paper, using historical, narrative, documentary, and court materials, describes (1) the events surrounding the massacre that have made it stand out in the collective memories and consciousness of the impacted community, (2) the ways of commemorating the event, (3) the struggle of the survivors for justice, compensation and closure via litigation in national and international courts, (4) the organizations/scholars in Greece and Germany that have supported the struggle of the survivors/descendants of the survivors and (5) the role of international law and geopolitics as obstacles in the process of psychological closure on the level of individuals and families. The paper concludes with recommendations for expediting closure in post-disaster and post- conflict situations.