Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his wife Laureen Harper and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou pay tribute at the Kalavryta Sacrifice Monument dedicated to war victims, at Kalavryta, about 200 km west of Athens, May 29, 2011. The monument marks the day when German occupation forces executed the male population of the village during World War II in December 1943.
Credits: (REUTERS/John Kolesidis)
KALAVRYTA, GREECE - On the final day of his official visit to Greece, Prime Minister Stephen Harper came face to face with one of the worst Nazi atrocities committed here during the Second World War.
He spent time in the town of Kalavryta where the Nazis took revenge on civilians for the executions of about 90 German soldiers by the Greek resistance movement.
On December 13, 1943 the Nazi occupiers rounded up Kalavryta's men and teenage boys and mowed them down in a hail of machine gun bullets, slaughtering 498 people and leaving only 13 survivors. Many more civilians were killed in surrounding villages.
The visit was personal for spokesman Dimitri Soudas whose grandfather was killed in that massacre.
At a ceremony at a memorial monument Sunday, Greek Orthodox priests sang and a student orchestra played the Canadian and Greek national anthems.
Then Harper and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou each laid a wreath at the monument and lit a candle inside the cenotaph there.
Harper called his visit "somber" and as if to underline the point, the sunny sky gave way to pouring rain, thunder, and lightning soon after he left.
London, Ontario's Sam Maginas, whose father was killed in the Kalavryta Massacre, attended the ceremony and called Harper's visit "very important."
That could indicate how 250,000 Canadians of Greek origin might also feel.
But here, people's responses were more measured.
"Yes, it is an honour for us, but we have so many problems we can't think about it (at) this moment," said unemployed teacher Constantina Tsiodra.
Kalavryta resident Despina Sarantidou noted the visit didn't pressure Germany to compensate families who suffered at Nazi hands.
"We want justice and justice is not wreaths," she explained. "Justice is people getting the money they deserve."
Harper's Kalavryta visit also included a stop at the monastery where priests blessed the start of Greece's War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821.