** Greece World War II occupation famine








German Word War II Occupation of Greece: The Famine


Figure 1.--Children here are waiting to be served in a soup kitchen set up in 1941, presumably in Athens. I am not sure who set up the soup kitchen are who was eligible to get food.

Greece was not self sufficent in food production. Before the War, the Greeks imported food. After the occupation, this was no longer possible. Food could be usedto control the population. The NAZI program of plundering the occupied countries, made the situation in Greece even more difficult for the Greek people. Large quantities of food were shipped from Greece to Germany. The result was a mass famine in Greece. The famine in Greece reached Athens in the winter of 1941. The famine was a man-made event resulting from the German ability to contol distribution of food. The Germans viewed Greece and other occupied countries as a source of food and resources that could be used to support the War effort. It should be stressed that not all Germans involved in the occupation behaved crudely. German Occupation officials reported to Berlin that more food was needed for the Greek people. These requests were ignored by NAZI officials in Berlin. NAZI officials in some occupied countries were interested in remaking those societies on the basis of the National Socialist principles implemented in Germany. This seems not to have been a major factor in Greece. The German priorities in Greece were clearly obtaining food, raw material, and laborers to support the German War economy. [Mazower] The Occupation was a very difficult period for the Greek people. Actual starvation claimed the most lives. Thousands of adults and children starved in Greece as a result of famine. This was not plananned by the NAZIs in the same way that Jews were starved in the gettoes and concentration camps or that Stalin enginered the Ukranian famine. The Greek famine was the result of the fact that Greece imported food and after the occupation this was no longer possible. The condition was wornsened by shipments of food to Germany to support the NAZI war economy. The Germans engineered the famine, but more out of indiference than malovenence. No exact accounting exists of the death toll, but seems to have exceed 0.3 million people.

Food Production

Greece was not self sufficent in food production. Before the War, the Greeks imported food. After the occupation, this was no longer possible. Here an important factor was that Greece was a maritime country. As a result of the occupation and war, the country lost the bulk of the merchant fleet upon which it depended. The Mediterrean was a hotly contested battle zone, meaning that food shipments could not get through. Other occupied countries and regions like Poland were major agricultural exporters. Thus even with NAZI plundering, the wide-scale starvation as occurred in Greece did not occur elsewhere in occupied Europe. A good example was neighboring Yugoslavia which was a grain-producing country that before the War exported food to Greece and much of southern Europe. As a result of the War, Yugoslavia could no longer adequantely feed its own population. A country like Freece that was not self suffient in food production was in an even more precarious situation.

Soup Lines

We notice soup lines beginning after the German occuoation in 1941. Children here are waiting to be served in a soup kitchen set up in 1941, presumably in Athens (figure 1). I am not sure who set up the soup kitchen are who was eligible to get food. A Greek reader tells us that in 1941 a lot of soup kitchens were organized by university students and syndicates (trade uniins). (This is interesting because in most occupied countries the Germans suppressed trade unions.) Later the Red Cross also participated. The food was supposed to be for the whole family. Parents prefered to send their children with a small can to get the soup home. We wondered about Jewish families. Our Greek reader tells us, "There were few Jews in Athens. In Thessaloniki where the biggest part of the community lived (over 50,000 people) Jews were moved to Ghettos. There were, however, some Jewish children hiding in Athens and other cities, in the houses of Christians. I suppose that these families would not send the Jewish children out for soup, but if a Jewish child was in the line, I am pretty sure that no one would pay attention and it would be served." Presumably only such children who did not look Jewish would be sent.

Rationing

A ratiining system was established in Greece, but we have few details. A Greek reader tells us, "Ration books were issued by the government but they were not effective at all. The black market flourished.

Occupation Policy

The NAZIs in Poland and other occuipied countries persused a policy of Germinization. Poles, Czechs, and others were dported so that German colonists from the Baltics and other areas could settle an area. The NAZIs were also intent in reducing the population of Slavs and other peoples as part of their Eastern Policy. This does not appear to have been the situation in Greece as the Greeks were held in higher regard than the Slavs. The famine that occurred in Greece appears to have been more a ,atter of indofference. NAZI occupation policy was another factor. The Germans needed gold and convertable currency to finance the war effort. Thus such funds were not to be used to feed the civilian population. Thus the foundation of the problem in Greece was that the country was cut off from its sources of food imports. It should be stressed that not all Germans involved in the occupation behaved crudely. German Occupation officials reported to Berlin that more food was needed for the Greek people. These requests were ignored by NAZI officials in Berlin.

Population Control

Food could be used to control the population. People had to register with the authorities in able to get ration cards. This was one way, for examole, of finding Jews.

German Plundering

The NAZI program of plundering the occupied countries, made the situation in Greece even more difficult for the Greek people. Large quantities of food were shipped from Greece to Germany. The Germans viewed Greece and other occupied countries as a source of food and resources that could be used to support the War effort. As in other occupied countries, German authorities plunderdd the economy. The Germans simply requisitioned raw materials and food. In addition, the German occupation authorities forced the Greek coolaborationist government they installed to pay the cost of the occupying the country as well to finance a war loan, essentially a forced patment to the Reich. The combined impact of the German policies was to start an inflationary spiral which sharply devalued the drachma.

Famine (winter 1941-42)

Greece suffered greatly during the Axis occupation. Unlike many countries, the worst was the first year and the winter of 1941-42. Greece was never strong economically and fighting the Italians (October 1940-April 1941), severely strained the economy. Conscription reduced the agricultural work force and tghe resulting harvest. And the war damaged the country's transportation instrastructure. The economy was further undermined by German occupation policies which plundered the economy. The British naval blockade which came into force after the country fell to the Germans made it impossible to import food. And unlike many countries occupied by the Germans, Greece was a net food importer. All this mean was that a severe shortage of food began to develop soon after the Germans occupied the country. The famine was a man-made event resulting from the German ability to contol distribution of food. The Occupation was a very difficult period for the Greek people. There were many execultions of partisans and even more innocent civilian hostages. As a result, a black market began to develop with ties to the collaborationist government and occupation authorities. The collaborationist authorities proved both incompetent and corrupt. Neutral governments, especially Sweden and Turkey, attempted to aid the Greeks. Much of the emergency food shipments were poorly used by the Greek Government. Officials sold large quantities to black market traders rather than distribute it to the neddy. Black market traders also bribed Axis occupation officials. Thus much of the aid delivered was not distributed to the most desperate, but sold had extremely high prices. The result was what the the Greeks now call, the Great Famine which occurred during the winter of 1941-42. The famine in Greece reached Athens in the winter of 1941. While the poorin Athens and other cities starve, those with resources are able to obtain food due to the thriving black market. Greeks in farm areas were able to survive. Assessments vary as to the actual number of Greeks who perished in the famine. There is no exact account. It is known that the number of deaths were a disaster for the Greek people. Some accounts estimate that about 0.6 million people perished during the occupation, which would have been about 10 percent of the Greek population. The popular imagination focuseds on the Resistance and German attrocities to supress it. The famine made the Jews particularly vulneravle. Most of the Greeks who perished during the occupation, died during the famine. The BBC repoted at the time reported 0.5 million deaths due to famine. The Red Cross estimated a number of 250,000 deaths due to famine. One historian writes, "In the first year alone, over 40,000 people starved to death." [Manzower, p. xiii.] Mazower is very careful of not accepting the exaggerated numbers reported by the BBC in its war-time radio broadcasts. According to Mazower's careful estimations, the number of deaths seem to have been about 300,000 people. [Manzower, pp. 37-41] To those we can add another 25,000 deaths due to resistance and reprisals. The population of Greece at that time was about 7 million people. If you take that into account as well you can see the dimensions of the tragedy.

American Aid

The United States provived some aid to Greece, but we do not have much detail. We do not have any information at this time on U.S. Government policy toward Greece after Italy invaded (October 1940). We know President Roosevelt wrote King George, " All free peoples are deeply impressed by the courage and steadfastness of the Greek nation." (December 5, 1940). We know that private groups in America collected money for the Greeks. Just how aid was delivered we do not yet know. We think some aid reached Greece before the German invasion. After the German invasion, delivering aid was more complicated. Greece fell to the Germans, just as Congress passed Lend Lease. America was, however, neutral until Hitler declared war (December 1941). The Greek War Relief Association in the United Startes sent funds and a Turkish ship the SS Kurtulus makes five voyages, delivering food to Athens where it was distributed by the International Red Cross. King George went to America to meet with leaders and help secure aid for Greece. While in America, he addressed both houses of congress (June 15, 1942). There was Lend Lease aid the the Greek Government in exile. And the United States supported the International Red Cross which did play a major role in preventing another famine in Greece after the Great Famine of winter 1941-42. After the Germans withdrew (October 1944), American food aid began to reach Greece directly.

Turkish Aid

The Turkish Government leased the SS Kurtuluş, a cargo ship (1941). It was used to deliver food to Greece during the famine created by the NAZIs during their occupation of Greece. Turkish president İsmet İnönü signed a degree assist the starving Greek people. He had personally fought the Greeks 19 years earlier. The Turks collected food in a nationwide campaign conducted by Kızılay (the Turkish Red Crescent). The food was shipped to Istmbul from all over Turkey. The SS Kurtuluş was used to ship the food. Large symbols of the Red Crescent were painted on both sides. The Turkish Government obtained permission from the British to pass through the Roya; Navy blockade to deliver the food to Athens. The vessel sank in heavy seas in the Sea of Marmara on its fifth voyage (February 20, 1942). The Turkish Government continued food deliveries through 1946.

National Socialism in Greece

NAZI officials in some occupied countries were interested in remaking those societies on the basis of the National Socialist principles implemented in Germany. This seems not to have been a major factor in Greece. Racial factors were the primary reason that the NAZIs were not particularly interested in finding Fascist collaborators. The German priorities in Greece were clearly to obtain food, raw material, and laborers to support the German War economy. [Mazower] They werecessentially indifferent as to the affect oftheir plunderingon the Greeks.

Other Occupied Countries

There were of course food shortages in other occupied European countries as well, France, Belgium and the Netherlands to name just a few. The situation in Greece, however, was far worse than those countries mentioned. A Greek reader writes, "Its one thing to say that the Dutch were near starvation in 1945 and another to have a mass famine from 1941-1944.

Easing the Blockade

The Greek Government it Exile managed to convince the British to partially lift the naval blockade. They permit shipments of grain from Turkey which is within the blockade zone. As a result, the International Red Cross was able to get food into Greece and destribute it to the population.

Sources

Mazower, Mark. Inside Hitler's Greece: The Experience of Occupation, 1941-1944 (Yale University Press, 1993), 437p.







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Created: March 17, 2003
Last updated: 4:49 AM 8/15/2010