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© The Boston Globe 2001.  Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II

by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / August 26, 2001

Page 9 of 11

Continued from page 8

But the Greek resistance was also hopelessly split among various factions, from monarchists to communists to democrats to demagogues. Guerrillas operated out in the countryside, and the Nazis found it handier to carry out reprisals in the cities. The cause-and-effect between an attack on a supply train and a city full of dead people wasn't always clear, or cared about.

Dr. Christos Carvounis was a physician held in prison not as a criminal, but as collateral. A big German supply convoy was coming to town, and the Nazi invaders decided to lock up some locals. Word went out that the town doctor and 117 other detainees would be executed if the resistance dared launch an ambush. It did, and they were.

Carvounis's name is carved into a marble marker that stands in a square outside the Greek city of Sparta, where the reprisals were carried out. "They killed three German soldiers, and for that, 118 Spartans were killed," says Rigas Rigopoulos by phone from Athens, where he lives with his wife, Anny, Carvounis's daughter.

To Rigopoulos, the resistance was the British radio set that the Hellenic Patriotic Society used to transmit information about the 55 Axis vessels it helped the Allies sink during the war.

"Some of the people in my organization -- I was 27 -- we were just trying to do something," says Rigopoulos. "I became the leader because I found a way to come into touch with the Allies, and we received wireless."

The Nazis uncovered Rigopoulos' operation and killed some of his people. He escaped to Turkey.

"I wasn't for the sabotages because mainly [the Axis] punished the population," he says. "One of our sections was the harbor section. The harbormaster was Greek. And he was continually asking for sabotage in the harbor, but I refused. Finally, I gave consent to sabotage, so far as throwing the coal into the sea and not into the furnace of the ships."

General Draza Mihailovic also didn't believe in unduly subjecting a population to the sort of reprisals carried out by the Nazis, even though his piece of the Yugoslav Army gave the Axis the same sort of battle in the Serb part of the country that the Greeks put up. Mihailovic and his men took to the woods and formed a resistance group, the Chetniks, that was dedicated to driving the Nazis out, and restoring the Serb monarchy that ruled over the other Yugoslav lands.

But he wasn't willing to carry out full-scale attacks and terrorism that would trigger horrific reprisals among the populace in Yugoslavia, where the Nazi score-settling ratio was 100:1. Which is one of the reasons the United States and the other Allies threw their support to the Communist-led Partisans of Josip Broz Tito.

"Churchill made the statement that Tito had tied up 20 to 30 [Axis] divisions," says Franklin Lindsay, a former OSS liaison to Tito's army and a retired businessman living in Cambridge. "But that was an overstatement. He probably said it for political reasons, and it was important for the Partisans to hear that. It helped them recruit."

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