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General News

Identification of WWII Victims in Crete through DNA Analysis: A First for Greece

CRETE – Two-time Grammy-nominated musician Eric Alexandrakis shared his family’s remarkable World War II story with The National Herald ahead of a commemoration and the reveal of DNA results for victims buried in a mass grave in Crete following a civilian massacre by the Nazis.

On June 2, 1941, just one day after remaining Cretan fighters surrendered to the Nazi invaders, who after 13 days of the Battle of Crete, realized that Hitler’s estimates of taking the island in a matter of hours was a gross and grave miscalculation, invading forces took on a new initiative: civilian executions as repercussions. One village that endured these executions was a small village in the Cretan mountains called Adele, located 20 minutes away from the famed Arkadi Monastery, where just 75 years prior, freedom fighter Kostas Giaboudakis (also a relative of Alexandrakis), along with civilians and fellow freedom fighters, blew himself up in a storage facility converted to a gunpowder room, choosing to die free rather than be captured, whilst also taking with him in the blast Turkish soldiers engaging in civilian massacre.

The young Dr. George Alexandrakis on his father’s knee. Photo: Courtesy of Eric Alexandrakis

Eighteen males ranging from age 16 to 67, were rounded up in the town of Adele on June 2, 1941, marched to a secluded area amongst the olive groves, ordered to start digging, were shot on site, and buried in a mass grave, only to be found two weeks later. Four of those individuals are relatives of two-time Grammy-nominated musician Eric Alexandrakis, whose grandfather, great-grandfather, and two uncles were among the victims.

“I’ve been working on a family project for several years now, and hoped that one part of the project would be matching the massacre remains to surviving family members through DNA analysis, but the whole process was beyond me. Two years later my father had the idea to make it happen, and here we are. It’s been an interesting journey watching the progress, holding the bullets, watching my father unknowingly looking at his grandfather’s wallet and the money in it, and even helping one of the scientists handle the remains,” Eric Alexandrakis said.

The wallet that belonged to Dr. George Alexandrakis’ grandfather found at the World War II-era mass grave site in Crete. Photo: Courtesy of Eric Alexandrakis

There has never been DNA analysis matching remains of World War II victims in Greece to surviving family members, until now. The effort led and sponsored by the Alexandrakis family, is a collaboration between Dr. George Alexandrakis, the University of Crete, and the Foundation of Technology and Research (HTE). The effort not only hopes to bring closure to an 83-year-old wound, but to also create awareness of many forgotten injustices that have taken place, not only in Greece, but worldwide.

“My grandfather was the town’s mayor, and loved by all. He was the type of person who famously shared his one pair of good clothes with a farmer’s rags, so that the farmer could feel presentable while going to the bank for a loan. My great-grandfather was tough. He was seen in a field next to the town’s school firing at the Luftwaffe as it passed overhead bombing the school, which had been turned into a hospital.”

The Memorial in Crete inscribed with the names of the victims of the June 2, 1941 massacre. Photo: Courtesy of Eric Alexandrakis

Dr. George Alexandrakis, who after losing his father to the executions, managed to not only survive the occupation, but ended up becoming a Physics professor at the University of Miami, after attending graduate school at Princeton University. While at Princeton, Dr. Alexandrakis studied under famed professor Eric Rogers (his son Eric’s godfather), who was also Albert Einstein’s neighbor and colleague, and became acquainted with the likes of Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr, and other great minds. In the 1970’s, George, his Philosopher wife Dr. Aphrodite Alexandrakis, and two sons at the time, moved to Crete while George acted as one of the main organizers of the University of Crete, and founder of its Physics department, the top Physics department in Greece. Amazingly enough, the scientists who have done the DNA analysis on all victims of the Adele massacre, including the Alexandrakis family relatives’ remains, are all employees of the University of Crete, the school Dr. Alexandrakis was instrumental in helping to set into motion.

On leading, and sponsoring this effort, Dr. Alexandrakis said: “Our most sacred oath in Crete is taken on the bonds of our ancestors. I object fundamentally to the inhumanity of mass executions, an act which denies people their identity.”

The ceremonial commemoration and reveal of the DNA results takes place in Adele, Crete, on Sunday, June 2.

Dr. George Alexandrakis at the memorial site in Crete. Photo: Courtesy of Eric Alexandrakis
The memorial to the victims of the June 2, 1941 massacre in Adele, Crete, at the site of the mass grave. Photo: Courtesy of Eric Alexandrakis

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