Is Greece Fudging The Figures . . . On World War II Casualties?

As Greece continue to careen toward the financial abyss, European leaders are preparing for the departure of Greece from the European Union. However, I was struck by a recent interview with Greek Deputy Prime Minister, Theodoros Pangalos, who not only raised concerns of the rise of “fascists” in Greece but added the following factoid: Greece “after the Soviet Union and Germany itself, [had] the biggest percentage of [Second World War] casualties in its population.” As many of you know, I am a military history nut and was surprised by the statement, which (like the Greek economic recovery plan) appears to be based on more rhetoric than reality.


The deputy prime minister also warned about the rise of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, noting that “in the places where the police voted, the fascists got 25 per cent.” He added:

“You know how it happened in Germany – it started with the Jews, then the Communists, then everybody – it could happen here. This is the country, after the Soviet Union and Germany itself, with the biggest percentage of [Second World War] casualties in its population.”

That was a bit of a surprise, so I did some checking. First the use of “casualties” versus “deaths” makes the calculus more difficult. Second, the Greek numbers have varied widely among researchers.

Let’s start with deaths. Greek has somewhere between 320,000
to 805,100 deaths of civilians and military alike, according to some sources. That puts the percentage at between 4.44 to 11.15. That is quite high but it is not the third highest even assuming the top figure. For example, Lithuania lost 14.33 percent or 350,000 people. Latvia lost 11.78 or 230,000 people. A small country like Nauru (Australian) can claim that it lost 14.7 percent in its 500 deaths. Likewise, Portuguese Timor can claim as high as 14 percent of its population. Even if he dropped the percentage calculus for raw numbers, Greece still does not get the bronze on deaths. For example, the Philippines lost as many as 1,057,000 and Poland as many as 5,580,000. India lost between 1,587,000 and 2,587,000. French Indonesia between 1,000,000
and 1,500,000. The Dutch East Indies lost as many as 4,000,000.

The use of “casualties” make the ranking almost impossible since few records credibly establish the numbers for people who were able to walk away or survive the war. However, if those casualties tracked deaths (as they often do with a multiplier), Greece would not take the third spot.

Of course, it is really the other number crunching that has Europe worried about Greece, but this one appears to have been inflated for effect.

However, the statement does remind us of how costly the war was for Greece and these other countries. These are truly staggering numbers.

Does anyone have an alternative source supporting the claim?

Source: Telegraph

19 thoughts on “Is Greece Fudging The Figures . . . On World War II Casualties?

  1. Maybe he meant 3rd highest of countries that matter (I’d put a wink there but the icons for it are kind of inappropriate for this thread)

    It may be he believes this, I know some Greeks and they take WWII very hard, particularly the starvation at the hands of Nazi invaders. But it is just as likely it was a bit of hyperbola designed to highlight the danger of fascist politics.

    The economic turmoil is causing Europe to become undone much faster than I thought it would. I have assumed that the US would be the first to elect some tinpot demagog who would use the worlds largest military to the worlds disadvantage.

  2. Greece is unstable in several ways at the moment, so they can’t be expected to be academically perfect. They are in dire straits. I doubt if they are fully attached to reality on very many fronts at the moment.

  3. Frankly,

    “I have assumed that the US would be the first to elect some tinpot demagog who would use the worlds largest military to the worlds disadvantage.”

    Tongue firmly planted in cheek?

  4. No matter who had the 3rd or 4th most deaths by percentage, it was a hell of a lot of souls who were killed in Greece and in all of the other countries mentioned. Sad statistics.

  5. I think he is just trying to remind people where these fascist ideologies have lead in the past. They are getting more and more fascist votes and ill bet theres corporate “non profits” funding just like here. They just love sowing chaos along with deregulation.

  6. bettykath – I wish, but no. I see all the ground work for a populist ‘savior’ to arise from the political mess we are creating in the US. Someone who offers simple solutions to all of our problems – perhaps wrapped in anti-other rhetoric perhaps in in anti-banker already laid. A large portion of the voting public is ripe for this type of exploitation and once elected the last administration put the capstone on the edifice built over the last 35 years to give them all the power they need to take control of the country.

    We no longer have a press that is the least bit interested in speaking truth to power or in enlightening viewers/readers as to the world around them. We seem to be a nation of adolescences and too many are not really paying attention, not interested in learning and focused on easy answers that appear to not take any time, money or effort on their part. Ripe for a smooth talking huckster, probably a third party guy who has baggage from neither party (but could be endorsed by one or the other if they see a benefit) who can dazzle & entertain just long enough to win.

  7. as to the casualty issue in WWI – Soviet forces were responsible for 3 out of every 4 German casualties. the rest of the allies only hit 25% of the total. No point to that fact I just find it interesting given the focus on Western actions and particularly on American participation.

    I am not sure I have ever seen reliable numbers on the civilian deaths in the Soviet Union either, Old Joe was not about to share that information.

  8. That Papagoupolous guy (sp) that is quoted had just gotten up from his afternoon siesta and knew not the facts. Greece produces just 2% of the Euro GDP. Get them out of the Euro Zone now. Dont bail. Dont give them a bail bucket. When they get through snozzing they wont know the difference and the Drachma is just fine. The fact that they retire at age 50 is not so bad when you consider the other fact that they all smoke like fiends and suicide off quite young.

  9. I’m sorry but the question is not worthy of you, Thousands of civilians died in Greece as a result of being starved to death. Questioning how many were killed or died as a result of starvation smacks of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioning how many Jews were killed.

  10. Given the seriosity of the subject, the irony of the title is really annoying. If this is an attempt at some kind of joke, it is quite dry, to say the least.
    If this is another attempt to blackwash a struggling nation like the Greeks, it is not noble at all.
    As for the subject itself, the author first has to prove that figures quoted for Lithuania (not even an independent state back then) or the Dutch East Indies are reliable, or, in this case, more reliable than the Greek ones. Wikipedia certainly cannot serve as the only source, and especially not as an “academic” source. As for the occupation of Greece, it is generally accepted in academic circles that it was one of the harshest occupation regimes imposed on a European country by the nazis.
    Greece was subjected to a triple occupation, and chunks of the country were given also to Italy and Bulgaria. The latter’s occupation zone in Thrace is documented as one of the first examples of ethnic cleansing in WWII Europe (see R. Crampton “Concise History of Bulgaria). A huge percentage of civilians’ casualties was due to starvation. In fact, the number of 300,000 quoted above is ONLY for the starvation/malnutrition/epidemics casualties (see Baranowski, Shelley “Nazi empire : German colonialism and imperialism from Bismarck to Hitler” and Robert; Wieviorka, Olivier, Warring, Anette “Surviving Hitler and Mussolini : daily life in occupied Europe”).
    Moreover, as resistance in Greece started almost immediatelly after the occupation, there was also a high frequency of executions, which by 1944 had taken the form of mass holocausts against villages, as retaliation measure against the partizans (i.e. Crete, Calavryta and Distomo).
    As for the sources that you ask for, well, Mark Mazower’s “Inside Hitler’s Greece” would be a good start and infinitely better than Wikipedia.
    Finally, any war is a tragedy. WWII has inflicted huge traumas and casualties among nations around the world. Moreover, the aggresivity of the Axis against populations, the Greeks included, was also fuelled by “ideas” of “better” and “lesser” nations, something we should never forget.

  11. Even if Greece doesn’t place third in casualties during WW2, Greece was still the first country to willingly resist the Axis powers, the first Allied country to gain a victory in WW2, and also the deciding factor in the Allied victory.
    If Greece didn’t defeat Italy, Albania, and Bulgaria at the same time, Germany would of never had to invade Greece and Germany would invade the USSR before winter.
    The invasion of Greece delayed the invasion of the USSR, which gave time for the Soviets to prepare and for harsh winters to arrive.
    If Italy would have defeated Greece, Germany wouldn’t invade Greece, and would invade the USSR as planned and would of caught them off guard and most likely defeated them. Therefore the Nazis would be able to defend their west flank from the US and the world would be a very different place today.
    Stalin admitted that Greece was responsible for the Soviet victory, and Hitler claimed that the Greek soldier fought the most bravely out of all his adversaries.
    Greece is the straw that broke the camel’s back, and if Greece exits the Euro, the camel’s back will break once again.
    And let’s not forget that Greece had the chance to stay neutral like Spain but instead said “NO” when Hitler asked to pass through Greece peacefully. The day Greece said “NO” to Hitler is a national holiday in Greece.

  12. You need a history lesson Partisan. Greece did not say “NO ” to the Germans. The Dictator Metaxas said it to the Italian request to annex the country.

    1)Marita (German invasion of Greece) was concieved before Barbarossa

    2)Barbarossa was not delayed because of Marita,or the attack on Yougoslavia,but because of the weather. Any in depth historian knows this.

    3) There is no proof (only speculation) that without the delaying of Barbarossa the Germans could have taken Moscow before the Winter. in fact, the Germans were already defeated BEFORE the winter.

    4)Last but not least, there is no proof that the fall of Moscow would have meant the end of the war in the East. Russia had all her industry east of the Ural mountains and an endless supply of manpower from it’s Eastern regions. As soon as the Japanese were involved in a war with the U.S. these troops were free to fight. Hitler never stood a chance and if you had half a brain, you would know there is no one single factor that caused the Germans to lose WW2. Where do you people learn history. You are really dumb!

  13. John;

    Your response is debatable. References, please.

    Here is a reference for you.

    Bradley and Buell conclude that “although no single segment of the Balkan campaign forced the Germans to delay Barbarossa, obviously the entire campaign did prompt them to wait.”

    Bradley, John N.; Buell, Thomas B. (2002). “Why Was Barbarossa Delayed”. The Second World War: Europe and the Mediterranean. The West Point Military History Series. Square One Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-7570-0160-2.

    With regard to the “dictator” Metaxas saying “Oxi” you would be hard-pressed to say the Germans or Italians were welcomed with open arms in Greece by civilians.

    Finally, to state in such an ordinary way “you are really dumb” to the previous post nullifies anything you have to say and speaks to your character.

  14. John;

    Here is something else I found from wikipedia that me be of interest to you.

    In a speech made at the Reichstag in 1941, Hitler expressed his admiration for the Greek resistance, saying of the campaign:
    “For the sake of historical truth I must verify that only the Greeks, of all the adversaries who confronted us, fought with bold courage and highest disregard of death”

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