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“No one has ever worked with them before”

The Greek historians Stratos Dordanas and Vaios Kalogrias visited the International Tracing Service (ITS) together to research Nazi concentration camps in Greece. They found a lot of material they were not expecting.

In 1943 and 1944 there were two large concentration camps in Greece: Chaidari near Athens and Pavlos Melas in northwestern Thessaloniki. There was a smaller camp in Larisa. The history of these camps is the focus of a research project being carried out through Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and sponsored by the German Federal Foreign Office. Various historians are working together on the project led by assistant professor Giorgos Antoniou, including Stratos Dordanas, an assistant professor at the University of Macedonia, and Vaios Kalogrias, a lecturer and project member from the Department of History (in the field of contemporary history field) at the University of Mainz. At the end of September 2017 they spent a week at the ITS, where they looked through the archival documents relating to their topic of research. “Our task on the project is to research German sources,” Vaios Kalogrias said. “The relevant information and documents will be published on a website later.”

The two scholars believe an exploration of this topic is long overdue. Memoirs of former concentration camp prisoners have been published in Greek, as have a few scholarly essays, but there has not yet been a monograph. “In my opinion, Greece is the only country where so little systematic research has been done on concentration camps,” Stratos Dordanas said. “This comes down to the political situation in Greece after the liberation from German occupying forces. Until 1974, no contemporary historical research was carried out in Greece. There was absolutely no access to Greek sources. The situation didn’t improve until the 1990s, when the archives of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs was opened, for example.”

The two historians found much more than they were expecting at the ITS. The preserved court-martial files from the time of the German occupation were one of the biggest surprises. They included judgments passed on communist rebels. The ITS archive primarily holds documents about the victims of the Nazi regime, but American and British military records also included information about collaborators who had fled from Greece in 1944 together with the occupiers. “We didn’t know these documents existed. No one has ever worked with them before,” Stratos Dordanas explained. Although this information is not directly connected to the Greek concentration camps, references to these documents will be published on the planned website to emphasize the need for further research.

For the current project, biographical documents about people persecuted by the Nazi regime hold a lot of interesting information. Vaios Kalogrias believes this, too, will open doors to future research: “We're astonished by how many Greeks lived as hostages, concentration camp prisoners, forced laborers or even voluntary civilian workers in the Reich. We're going to record a few specific biographies. Documents such as IDs and death records provide clues about these people’s fates. This is also important for documenting the deportations. But naturally we can’t look at all of the biographical material held in the ITS archive in the few days we have here.” 

The period after the liberation of Greece has not been excluded from the research project, but it is not a focal point. The two historians believe their visit to the ITS has revealed major gaps in research. “There has never been any research into Greek displaced persons. This is an entirely new topic. What happened to these people after 1945? How many stayed in Germany, how many emigrated? No one has looked into this yet. The website will offer a lot of material that people in Greece will be seeing for the first time.”