Copyright ©2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Throughout the seemingly endless bailout negotiations, political cartoons in Greece have often portrayed Germany in jackboots.

Joanna Kakissis traveled to a small town in Greece trying to reconcile painful memories of a Nazi massacre and the current financial tie Greeks have to Germany.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Panagiotis Sfountouris is 74. He runs a gas station in Distomo, a scenic mountain village in central Greece. He pumps gas, rings up customers and checks inventory. That last task actually bothers him. Nearly every product in his gas station is made in Germany - the country he still blames for a bloody Nazi rampage on June 10, 1944. Nazi soldiers killed 218 people. He says he and his younger sister escaped death by hiding in a relative's basement. When he went home, they found their parents shot dead and their two-year-old brother gutted by a bayonet.

PANAGIOTIS SFOUNTOURIS: (Through translator) I ran to the balcony and screamed: They've killed my father and my mother and our little Niko. Nothing moved in Distomo, nothing at all. We saw dead people everywhere. When it started getting dark, we got scared all over again. My uncle came to get us and we spent the night hiding in the mountains.

KAKISSIS: He and his sister were raised by that uncle, but Sfountouris still cries when he talks about the parents he lost. He says he'll never trust the Germans.

SFOUNTOURIS: (Through translator) They're not going to change. I mean, can someone put on different clothes and expect to be someone else? I just hope these people don't end up being worse.

KAKISSIS: Until the crisis, Greece and Germany actually had good relations. Greeks studied and worked in Germany while Germans spent summer holidays in Greece. But as austerity crippled the Greek economy and Germans wanted more belt-tightening, Greeks felt besieged. Many residents of Distomo are open to Europe and even to Germany, but the town is still defined by the Nazi massacre. It even took Germany to court over war reparations - though it lost. There's a monument for the dead atop its highest hill. There's also a new museum.

Nikos Bouras works at town hall. He often unlocks the museum for visitors. It's chilly inside and voices echo. Inside there's a portrait of a distraught young woman whose family was murdered.

NIKOS BOURAS: (Through translator) Here's the characteristic image of the time. It was called the Distomo Mother, and her name was Maria Pandiska. This picture has gone all over the world and has been part of our activism here.

KAKISSIS: Bouras, who's 37, is aware this history molds his opinions of Germans. He says he's concerned the European Union led by Germany is robbing Greeks of their sovereignty in exchange for billions in bailout loans. This has caused him to lose faith in the euro, the European Union's common currency.

BOURAS: (Through translator) I personally don't think it would be such a disaster to go back to the drachma. I'm sure it's better than abdicating our national dignity.

KAKISSIS: Austerity measures in exchange for bailout loans have hit Distomo residents, like all Greeks, hard. Bouras's salary has been cut and so has been Panagiotis Sfountouris's pension. With the youth unemployment almost 50 percent in Greece, Ioanna Gamvrili is worried she will never get a job. She's 17 and she wants to be a civil engineer. But Iwana doesn't blame Germany for the debt crisis. She says Greek politicians got the country into debt. She likes the Germans she has met, including a good friend named Sophie. The girls met when a church group from Nuremberg came to honor the dead of Distomo a few years ago. Iwana says the past should not strangle Europe.

IOANNA GAMVRILI: (Greek spoken)

KAKISSIS: We can forgive, of course, she says. Everybody should be able to forgive. We can't forget, because the past is engraved in our memory. But I want to believe we're mature enough as Europeans to manage that past. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Distomo, Greece.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.