Thursday 5 April 2012

During the German Occupation of Greece: 37 Towns Pillaged and 17 Illegal Excavations

How Greek archaeological treasures found themselves in German museums, while the question of their return remains open, as D. Reppas stated in the National Assembly.

By Aggeliki Kotti, To Ethnos, 04.04.2012 (Translated from the Greek Original)

Greece paid is own price from the German Occupation as far as its antiquities are concerned. And that price would have been greatly heavier if the archaeologists, dedicated to their science, had not had the forsight to hide our antiquities before the German inasion. And also if they had not protected them, even risking their own lives.

Members of the Archaeological Service hid cultural treasures, in order to save them, in caves, ancient tombs, hidden underground spaces of the museums, even under the stands of statues.

Dimitris Reppas mentioned in the Assembly that Greece will not abandon its claims against the German authorities concerning all that passed during the Occupation. These claims include the antiquities. In 37 towns and regions of the countries antiquities were stolen by the German conquerors. During the Occupation German archaeologists carried out illegal excavations in 17 areas of Greece. The various finds were sent to Germany. During the departure of the Germans from Athens they caused great harm to antiquities. By shooting and using their bayonets they destroyed statues and vases on the Acropolis and in the Kerameikos [Ancient Cemetery]. All of this is described in a report issued in 1946 by the [Greek] ministry of Education.

Just months before the fall of the front and the German invasion of Greece, foresighted workers of the Archaeological Service decided to hide the cultural treasures of the country. In caves (Acropolis), in ancient tombs (Delphoi), in hidden underground parts of the museums (National Archaeological Museum, Athens), even under the stands of statues (the Hermes of Praxiteles in the Archaeological Museum of Olympia) or in the vaults of banks (gold objects and ancient coins), these wise and humble people of the Archaeological Service secured as many as they could. In good order and with every solemnity. The Academic Vasileios Petrakos describes all of this in his book “The Antiquities of Greece during the War 1940-1944”.

He also describes how even from the first months of the Occupation, the Nazis created a special military “service for the protection of art”, supposedly to protect the antiquities. At its head was the archaeologist Hans Ulrich von Seneberg, who held the military rank of  Lieutenant Colonel. The “protection” lasted very little and was soon succeeded by the pillaging with illegal excavations and stealing.

Illegal excavations were carried out in many areas of Crete (even in Knossos itself), on Aigina, Chalkida, in a cave of the Kopais lake, in Laconia, in Hagia Theodora of Arta, in Nea Anchialos of Magnesia, in Larissa, in Volos, in Thessalonike, in Vergina.

In the report of the Ministry of Education characteristic examples of thefts are mentioned:

An ancient head of a woman of the 4th century B.C. was given as a gift to the Marshal List. From the Museum of the Kerameikos a black-figure plate was stolen. From the museum of Chaironeia a gold leaf-shaped ear-ring and five clay vases. The German military commander of Larissa Coller asked for and received from the prefect a statue of Athena of the 3rd century B.C.

In Thessalonike, armed German soldiers removed a marble statue of the Herakleiotissa (which was returned in 1947), a geometric vase, a statue of a woman and a late antiquity portrait.

From the Gortyna Museum a statue of a nymphe or Aphrodite of the roman period was stolen, as well as a statue of a sitting woman and a funerary marker of the Hellenistic period. The archaeological collection of Potidea, stored in a school, was pillaged in its entirety by the Germans.

The Occupiers tried using pressure to discover the hidden antiquities, but met with the stubborn resistance of Greek archaeologists. In a characteristic manner Keramopoulos answers to the argument that the antiquities are in danger because of the humidity, that the Greek government has other priorities, as for example to save the people from starvation. And that the interest of the People in antiquities is limited, “as long as the People is starving”.


  1. Wondering about the book you referenced, "The Antiquities of Greece during the War 1940-1944" by Vasileios Petrakos. Do you have a link for where I can find that book? Been searching with no luck. Presently doing research on a small Minoan pottery pitcher, or perhaps an aryballos that I was told came from the German seller's grandfather who was a German Wehrmacht soldier stationed on Crete in 1941. He said his grandfather brought it back with him to Germany. It's a lovely little thing (about 2 in. wide by about 3.5 in. tall) but I'm very disturbed by its potential provenance. Not sure if it was a tourist souvenir of the time or an antiquity. If the latter, it needs to go home to Crete. It looks very old. Was hoping Vasileios Petrakos' book might help me figure it out but that seems to have also gone missing from the internet. Any help you could give me to finding the book or other resources listing WW2 looted Crete antiquities would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Re the Book, its original title is: Βασίλειος Πετράκος, Τα Αρχαία της Ελλάδος κατά τον πόλεμο 1940-1944, 2012. Online, I found it here (no affiliation to me!):