Island of Kos (Greece)

Kos, 70 years ago 'forgotten' slaughter of Italian officers

103 killed by Germans on Greek isle have no state memorial stone

Kos, 70 years ago 'forgotten' slaughter of Italian officers

(by Patrizio Nissirio) Island of Kos (Greece), July 1 - The plain of Linopoti on the island of Kos burns under the hot son of a Greek summer. A little bit further towards the sea is Tingaki, one of the most touristic sites on this side of the Dodecanese with its taverns and noisy bars. It is hard to imagine that 70 years ago in this field German machine guns of the Wehrmacht killed 103 Italian officers who were considered traitors after September 8, 1943. The tragic history of the Second World War has passed, like the slaughter of Coo (the name of the island during the Italian rule of the Dodecanese in 1912-1947), but no monument or memorial stone has yet been set by the Italian state to commemorate the massacre. There is only a marble tag placed in 1992 by the municipality of Kos inside the island's Catholic cemetery and a memorial bell donated by the province of Latina, in the central Lazio region, to remember the officers. After the armistice on September 8 between Italy and the Allies, British troops landed on the island to help Italian soldiers - two battalions with the 10th 'Regina' infantry regiment led by Colonel Felice Leggio - fearing a German invasion. But when on October 3 the 22nd airborne division of the Wehrmacht attacked the island, the lack of coordination between Italian and British troops enabled the quick victory of the Germans led by General Friedrich-Wilhelm Mueller. The Italian officers taken prisoners were questioned inside barracks previously used by the Italian army, which are today in a state of ruin outside the city of Kos. The officers were told they would board a ship and then be detained as prisoners of war. There were 148 officers and only seven sided with the Germans. Others fled to Turkey. The remaining 103 were gunned down on October 6 on the plain of Linopoti as they were walking with their suitcases towards a ship that wasn't there. They were buried in mass graves. Only 66 were later identified and their remains were transferred, thanks to two priests in 1944, to the island's cemetery and then to a military cemetery in the southern Italian city of Bari. The others are still there, somewhere in the sun-drenched field of Linopoti where nobody has ever decided to search for them. Mueller was tried on war crimes charges in Athens after the war and for that massacre he was sentenced to death and executed in 1947. "My father, an officer with the Regina regiment, saved himself from that slaughter by pure coincidence", said Nicola Forenza, an Italian-Greek lawyer born in Kos. "He was in Italy on leave to visit my mother and us, his children, as proven by his state of service, when September 8 occurred and he never returned to Kos". The owner of the land where the massacre occurred has always refused to allow excavations or to enable private citizens to build a small chapel with the names of victims which would have occupied only a few square meters, even though a compensation was offered. In 1958, then-president Gronchi gave the victims a gold medal of military valour. In 2006, Forenza wrote in an article, a group of parliamentarians requested a mission of Italian authorities to the island to evaluate the possibility of lacing a commemorative stone but the inquiry led to nothing as parliament's two houses were subsequently dissolved. "What is really missing is a state memorial stone", said the attorney who stressed how a similar massacre - although much bigger in terms of victims - in Cephalonia is solemnly and justly commemorated. "A long time has gone by but such initiatives, which are so worthy, don't ever have a statute of limitations".

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