The Greeks of Goerlitz 1916-1919

This video deals with the content of the book with the same title.
The IV Army Corps was established by Royal Decree on 23 December 1913 (O.S.) at Kavala, East Macedonia, during the reorganization of the Hellenic Army following the Balkan Wars. When East Macedonia was occupied by Bulgarian and German forces during World War I, the entire Corps, under its commander Col. Ioannis Hatzopoulos, demobilized and forbidden to offer resistance by the government in Athens, was carried by rail to Görlitz, Germany, as “guests” of the German Government, where they remained for almost three years.

In the summer of 1916, the First World War reached the northern Greek border. August 18, 1916, the Bulgarian Army escorted by German officers suddenly invaded in Eastern Macedonia. On the same day the ambassadors of Germany and Bulgaria in Athens gave official notes of their governments about the goals of the attackers. It was assured the invasion was motivated only militarily and directed against the Entente forces in the region alone. Simultaneously it was intended to provide safeguards for the territorial integrity of the country and preservation of local authorities in their posts. Their invading armies were not intended to occupy the cities of Serres, Drama and Kavalla, as it was stated, and their occupation forces would pull-out when no longer any military reasons to remain whatsoever exist. The guarantees given by the Germans to King Constantine of Greece reassured him, so he instructed the HQ of IV Corps to withdraw to the main cities and to remain there waiting for further orders (never to be issued). It is worth mentioning, that a short time before by claim of the Entente, the Greek General Staff had demobilized all the reservists and the Greek Army was segmented. Back in Kavalla, the commanders of the -abandoned to its fate- IV Corp, had chosen voluntarily to surrender his troops to the Germans (as a place euphemistically “hospitality”) at the very last minute, thus avoiding a rather painful Bulgarian captivity. Commander Dimitrios Hatzopoulos, an officer loyal to King Constantine, thought best leading his troops in captivity rather than joining the pro-venizelist “National Defence” troops that followed the Entente. The surrender of the IV Corp to the Germans was the result of intense pressure between the two belligerent sides.The German and Bulgarians from one side and the Entente, with the latter having intervened armed in “neutral” Greece. Greece was dragged with a gun pointed to her head, so part of the pro-royalist military and the Royal Court entourage directed that there would be no armed resistance of any kind. The German town Görlitz was selected by the Staff of the IV Corp and the Germans as the hosting location for the Greek POWs. The population of Görlitz in the German state of Saxony, was 90000 then. The transport from Kavalla to the German town of the 6400 Greek soldiers and officers was held by a series of rail transports. Documents from the Görlitz Council archive, record the special conditions existed in the camp. Among the 170 prison camps of the German Reich at the time, Görlitz has been and still remains unique. It featured an extra-territorial status, his own Greek police patrols with the soldiers permission to move freely in the town. In fact it was a peculiar captivity. Absolutely no one of those Greek POWs had the right to leave the German territory throughout the War. Save for the privileged portion of royalist and pro-German Greek officers, the pro-venizelist officers, a minority in the camp, suffered brutal persecution. By the beginning of 1918, 25 Greek officers were taken to the concentration camp of Verlan in Westphalia, while other 17 in KL Königksberg accused as Venizelist propagandists, the soldiers suffered a long martyrdom of hardship, poor diet and the unbearable cold in the camp barracks, which resulted to the death of approximately 270 soldiers, most of tuberculosis. In April 1918 Colonel Hatzopoulos him self died leaving his soldiers and officers to immense suffering. A representative of Emperor (Kaizer) Wilhelm II attended the colonel’s funeral. After the abtication of the Kaiser in November 1918, German soldiers arriving in Dresden revolutionized the people with massive demonstrations. The Greek royalist officers, fearing that there would be retaliation on their return to Greece, refused to ‘repatriate the Corp to what had become a “Venizelist” Greece. The Greek soldiers in Görlitz along with German workers, sailors and soldiers, revolted joining ranks with the Spartacus movement of Rosa Luxemburg. The Greek commander, Colonel Karakalos, called for the protection of the German Administration. The soldiers chafe by the action of Karakalos, shifted command by electing the popular veteran Colonel Lambros Sinaniotis as their new commander. The Germans trying to protect Karakalos surrounded the camp of the Greeks with machine gun troops and issued an arrest warrant for Sinaniotis but he managed to flee towards Berlin. With Karakalos reinstated to his former position, thousands of soldiers panicked and several even attempted by any means to flee to the border of Bohemia and from there to Greece. The Germans were upset by the disobedience of the Greeks. In their attempt to prevent any more incidents from happening, opened fire, killing five Greek soldiers and injuring others. The frustration of Greeks from the behavior of the Germans was evident. After negotiations with the German Administration, the Greeks were deported and the last 600 soldiers, escorted by American officers, transferred in February 1919 from Görlitz to Rijeka by rail and then by ship to Greece. Their reception in the pro-venizelist Greece was not so friendly. Privates and NCOs were free to return to their homes, but the officers were to be court-martialed as anti-Venizelists. Eight of those were sentenced to death (among them Karakalos) but the sentence was not carried out, while others were imprisoned in Crete and other islands. Venizelos was defeated in the elections of 1920 and when King Constantine was restored, the officers of Görlitz got promoted and were transferred to the front of Asia Minor (experienced of the Balkan Wars but lacking any WW I combat experience defeat was eminent with the well known results…).

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