The Battle of Karalaka
How 242 German soldiers and officers were killed while
they attempted to capture five unarmed Greek Jewish families
by Dr. Michael Matsas
During the Holocaust, as a rule, the Germans and their
collaborators were able to arrest or kill Jews, without suffering any
losses. Karalaka, an obscure unknown location in Europe, is the ONLY place
where 12 times as many Germans were killed, as the number of the Jews
they wanted to capture.
All this thanks to the partisans of ELAS and the sacrifice of three Jewish
men. There were 650 Greek Jews who became partisans. There could have
been many thousands more! Who would have accepted to go alive to Auschwitz
in 1943 and 1944, if he or she knew what was taking place there? Yet,
thanks to German deceitful promises and incompetent Jewish leaders, the
Greek Jews went like lambs going to their slaughter. The only magnificent
exception, almost totally unknown to this day, was the Battle of Karalaka
near Mount Olympus.
On May 6, 1944, heroic partisans of ELAS, including Greek Jews like Lieutenant
Marco Alberto Carasso, my cousin Joseph Matsas and others, fought bravely
inflicting heavy and unprecedented losses to the cruel barbarians and
liberated the captives. This is the only time the Germans had to regret
their anti-Semitism. A marble monument stands on the site to honor the
14 Greeks who fell on that day!
I proposed to Yad Vashem that eleven of the men, who died while saving
Jews, should be honored as righteous gentiles. They regretted that soldiers
can not be so honored. The other three names on the monument are Abravam
Ovadias, Simon Levi and Jacob Magrizos all Greek Jews of Larissa who attempted
to escape and were killed. The last name Magrizos made me go back into
my book “The Illusion of Safety” to solve a riddle posed to
me by Dr. Paul Levi of the World Bank during a recent dinner party in
the home of Mrs. Nina Kaplanidi. Dr. Levi has a photograph, perforated
by a German bullet which killed a relative of his, by the name Magrizos.
He did not know his first name, how he was related to him or how and when
he died. The hostess had the book and soon we found that Jacob Magrizos
was his uncle and son of Dr. Levi’s grandfather Moissis Magrizos
of Larissa. I realize, how little is known about the Greek Jews. 87% of
them were killed by the Germans. Conditions in Greece were such in 1943-1944
that almost all the Jews could have saved themselves as my immediate family
did. The British and the Americans knew what “deportation to Poland”
meant and yet they shamefully never disclosed this German secret to the
Jewish victims. Their silence helped the Germans while it became a death
sentence for the Jews. Our only source of information was the BBC which
in its Greek Broadcasts, mentioned only victories in Russia, Africa and,
later, in Europe. Another GREAT INJUSTICE which is still unknown is that
in Greece, those who fought the Germans were PERSECUTED after the war
by the collaborators of the Germans who occupied important positions in
the Greek Government and they were never punished for their TREASON.
How each one of the 650 Greek Jews became a partisan is a thrilling story,
different from any other. Overcoming objections by family and community
leaders, disobeying German regulations plus deadly threats and facing
unique adventures, challenge the imagination of fiction writers.
The following is a description of the events of May 6, 1944, by a Greek
Jewish partisan who was wounded on that day. He published it in the Israelitico
Vima of Salonika on May 17, 1946 ANONYMOUSLY. It is obvious that he was
afraid of reprisals for his heroic act!
Excerpts from Dr. Matsas book “The Illusion of Safety” relating
to the battle at Karalaka:
May 6, 1944. At sunrise the night sentinels return to our little barn
to enjoy the warmth of a good fire. Slowly we get up and talk about the
unusually cold weather for this time of year. On May I snow fell and can
still be seen in places, where the sun did not yet melt it. We are at
an elevation of 600 meters, and we represent an advanced post of our ELAS
battalion on Mt. Olympus, which is stationed a few minutes march higher
I opened the door and the clean air rushed in to dispel
the humidity that comes out of the wet overcoats and boots of the guards.
Outside, I take a look and see only heavy fog, where I usually see the
Larissa plateau. Behind me, on the contrary, Mt. Olympus, white with snow,
is bathed in sunlight. The path that leads to the fields of Larissa is
carved on the side of a cliff, on top of which we located our post. In
the bottom of the canyon, some two kilometers from us, there is an opening
with some barns which shelter Jewish families from Larissa. They escaped
the fury of the Germans and live there hoping for a better tomorrow. We
often go down there and they are very happy to see and talk with us. They
feel that they are not alone in this corner of Olympus and have a sense
of security, thanks to our nearby presence. Their women often wash our
clothes and the young men organized a system of scouts which, night and
day, bring us information that arrives with couriers from Larissa.
Every day the first thing I see is their camp and, today,
fog covers the entire area; for some unknown reason I feel uneasy. I went
to the spring nearby and the guard there commented about the bad weather
down below. The cold water refreshed me and made me lose all bad thoughts
and laziness. As I passed again next to the guard, a funny noise was heard.
"Machinegun fire? Don't you think?" the guard says as he searches
with his eyes the canyon below. For a second the fog is reduced and the
guard looks with his binoculars and points out something. The fog retreated
like the curtain of a stage in which a drama is about to unfold. The Jewish
barns form the background of this first act.
In the square, at the opening of the canyon, I can see
a great number of people with helmets and military uniforms moving right
and left. They are Germans a whole battalion of them. I shiver with the
thought that my poor coreligionists, after all they suffered, fell again
into the hands of the German beasts.
But all hope is not lost. I lower the binoculars which the guard gave
me and I turned around to see him. Instead I see all my comrades, ready
with weapons in their hands. "Get your gun and kit fast," my
captain tells me, "and give this note to the battalion commander."
At the same time he took the binoculars from my hands.
After running for ten minutes I am in front of my major,
to whom I gave the note and explained what I saw. He looks deeply into
my eyes and, as if speaking to himself, says, "We have to save them."
I returned immediately to my guard post, where I see the men forming a
circle around a sweating and heart-poundingly tired civilian. I recognize
him right away as one of the young Jewish men of the valley.
He describes how the Germans arrived at their encampment
a little before sunrise, led by a civilian informer. They arrested the
Jews in the barns and, after looting their belongings, were about to burn
their shelter. A young man tried to inform us but the Germans fired and
wounded him. This was the gunfire we heard earlier. Finally this man managed
to escape and came to tell us what happened. Agony is depicted on his
face as he finishes his story while at the same time, feeling relief,
he realizes from what he sees that there is hope for the people he left
Three to four hours elapsed from the time we noticed the arrival of the
Germans. During this period the main body of enemy troops remained in
the encampment enjoying their victory. Three small groups of German soldiers
exchanged fire with our advanced patrols on a front of two to three kilometers.
During this time all our men from the battalion at Karyes arrived, around
150 men. Without wasting any time our forces were deployed on the cliffs
surrounding the area of the barns. We occupied the high ground so fast
that as soon as the order to open fire was given and the singing of our
machineguns commenced, dozens of Germans fell dead and wounded. All conditions,
from a military point of view, favored our ambush. Slowly and without
reducing our heavy fire, we started descending, surrounding the Germans
in a smaller circle. The Germans started to fire back, but we did not
stop. We knew that our success depended on our speed of action. Our accurate
fire brings down more Germans. Soon the enemy is seized by panic. They
try to escape by-running toward the opening of the canyon. I saw that
the barns were on fire, and the question came to me, "Did the bastards
kill the people?" This sad thought was in my mind when my captain
ordered our squad to cover the entrance to the canyon and prevent the
escape of any Germans. We ran, taking precautions, bent over; the German
fire weakens. Some surrender, others try to hide, others abandon their
guns and try to escape. We run, one behind the other, and fire our guns.
Suddenly I stop. Behind some bushes I see two or three
girls and other civilians. There are tears in their eyes, which express
gratitude as they see each partisan who passes in front of them . . .
I was sure that these few Jews had been saved, when something hit my left
leg and my eyes could not see anymore. I fell down, losing consciousness.
I was wounded.
Another partisan witness was Joseph Matsas:
Perhaps the greatest partisan victory of World War II took place in Karyes,
on the southern slope of Mt. Olympus. The battle is known as the battle
of Karalakou. Five Jewish families of Larissa established their campsite
in this location. They were betrayed, and an SS battalion surprised them
early one morning. Albert Ovadias, Simon Levi and Jacob Magrizos tried
to run and inform the partisans, but were gunned down and killed by the
Germans. A fourth man, Elias Cohen, succeeded.
Marco Carasso's platoon, together with other units,
comprised a force
of 150 who staged one of the most spectacular guerrilla operations of
World War II. The Germans were encircled and ambushed from the sides of
a canyon. German planes came to help, but the terrain of this gorge was
such that they were ineffective. Some Germans managed to escape, but those
who remained found a tragic end. One hundred and fifty Germans were killed,
78 were wounded and 14, including the German commander, became prisoners.
Ten of the prisoners were executed because they attempted to disarm their
guards. The remaining were also put to death. That is a total of 242 German
Partisan losses were eleven dead and ten wounded. Immediately
after the battle, a Jew named Ganis came and embraced us. "I have
a son Marko who is seventeen," he said. "Take him with you,
because you are the ones who saved our lives." Marko, a amall boy,
joined our unit and became our mascot. We all loved him and tried to protect
him in every battle. I loved him more than anyone else because for me
he somehow became the symbol of our oppressed people.
The personal historic archives of the president of the
community of Larissa, Moissis Ezras, contain these additional details
of the battle of Karalakou Ambelonos:
There were some twenty Jews camping in Karyes. They
belonged to the families of Marko Gani, Joseph Ovadias, Moissis Magrizos,
Moissi Levi and Yehudah Cohen. Three young Jewish men were killed, while
a fourth was wounded. The Germans were so sure of themselves that they
got undressed and went to bathe in a nearby stream. Antonis Angelousis
was the commander of the ELAS battalion which attacked the Germans. He
was known as Vratsaros. During the battle the Germans forced the remaining
young Jews to serve as stretcher bearers. Among the Germans who became
prisoners was the battalion commander who, naked and on horseback, was
led to the village of Karyes, where he was executed. Another German who
was captured and executed was the son of a German general who was the
Aegean commander. The Germans offered to free 200 hostages kept in German
prisons in exchange for his freedom. The message was received by ELAS
too late. By that time all German prisoners were executed. The following
day the Germans returned in force in the area to recover their dead.
|The monument in Karalaka. Photograph by Alberto
Levi, New York
Nobody believes that even in June 9 and July 20 of 1944,
when the Jews of Corfu, Cos, and Rhodes were deported, the law-abiding
Jews obeyed the Germans and their Greek collaborators and they peacefully
led their families to the trains that took them to Poland.
The following bitter example, affecting two first cousins
of my mother, Matathias and Menahem Cohen of Corfu, illustrates the ignorance
of the Greek Jews (page 195, “The Illusion of Safety”). The
two brothers married two beautiful sisters from Patras, Cleio and Finetta
Yohana. “Most of the Jews of Corfu were transferred by the Germans
to Patras. A Greek member of the security battalions recognized Cleio
and Finetta and remembered that they were daughters of the late Rafael
Yohana, who had been his benefactor. He told them that he would enable
them and their families to escape, although he could not help their elderly
mother-in-law. It was a magnanimous offer that should have been gladly
accepted.” They refused to abandon the old lady! In the death camp,
when the two brothers learned that they had lost their families, they
fell on the electrified fence.
The Greek Jewish world, which existed and thrived in
Greece for more than 2,000 years, is now almost extinct. There were 77,000
Jews in 1940. 10,000 remained alive but deeply traumatized in 1945. Today,
there are no more than 5,000 Jews in Greece. The German crime against
the Jews, was the greatest crime ever committed because, the first victims
that the Germans systematically killed, were the children. 1,500,000 Jewish
children. Who knows how many Nobel prize winners would have been among
them and their descendents who were never born!
Let this story of “The Battle of Karalaka”
be a haunting memorial for the victims and a merciless warning, to those
who would like to imitate the German “Final Solution” of the
Postscript: It is obvious that the Battle
of Karalaka and the stories of the Greek Jewish partisans who fought there,
would make an epic movie equal to Spartacus, The Bridge on the River Kwai,
or Ben Hur. I see into the future when a movie will be made about the
never honored Greek resistance against the Germans and the inexcusable
murder of the 67,000 Greek Jews. Let’s hope that somehow, someone
will realize the potential of this GREAT but IGNORED story and make it
known to the world of those who love justice and freedom.