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One of the untold stories of WWII is the successful efforts of the Greek American diaspora uniting together to help Greece.
In October of 1940, as Mussolini entered Greece, Greek Americans throughout America joined together in an attempt save their homeland. The formation of the Greek War Relief Association (GWRA) was spearheaded by the late Archbishop of North and South America Athenagoras to consolidate the various Greek American organizational relief efforts. Spyros Skouras, a successful businessman, served as the chairman of the newly founded organization. It was not long before the organization was formalized and granted permission by the United States Department of State to begin raising funds and collect aid for Greece. As momentum increased, the organization spread throughout the country, and by early November the GWRA had over 960 chapters.
As the community in America united, the Greek military remained a strong force in Europe against the Axis powers. In November of 1940, the Greek heroes shocked the world when they successfully forced the Italians back across the Albanian border. Shortly thereafter, on April 6th of 1941, Hitler invaded Greece. The invasion triggered disaster across Greece and widespread famine arose. By the winter of 1941, Greeks were dying in mass numbers from disease and starvation.
It was this catastrophe which sparked the GWRA’s remarkable campaign. Grassroots lobbying and the passion of the diaspora influenced the United States to send humanitarian aid to Greece. In November of 1941 the US State Department reported, “3,000,000 pounds of food had been sent to, and distributed in, occupied Greece without Axis interference.” This success was the first of a series of regular food and medical supplies shipments to Greece. As reports of the famine continued, so did the aid. Medical clinics were set up throughout Greece. By the end of the war, over 150 medical clinics were established.
The GWRA’s efforts were not limited in food and medical care. The GWRA also ran a massive clothing drive, collecting over a million articles of clothing and shoes. Additionally, they set up orphan support programs, educational grant programs, and relief for refugees.
By the end of the war, the Greek War Relief Association had saved one third of Greece’s starving population. According to Associate Professor and researcher Alexandros Kyrou, “Greek Americans during the war years could not have imagined the enormous impact that their relief efforts on behalf of their brethren in Greece would have on populations throughout Europe.”
The pride, determination and devotion of the Greek-American community exemplifies the power that the diaspora has to make a difference for their homeland. The unknown story of the GWRA serves as a reminder that we as a community do have the capability to positively affect what is going on in Greece. In the words of Ambassador Nicholas Burns, “The strongest link between the US and Greece is the Greek American community.”
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