By Pierre Kosmidis
The winter of 1941-42, the first under the triple Axis occupation of Greece, became known as “The Great Famine”, a period of mass starvation, during which the local population suffered greatly, while the Axis Powers initiated a policy of large-scale plunder.
Requisitions, together with the Allied blockade of Greece, the ruined state of the country’s infrastructure after the German invasion of Greece, and the emergence of a powerful and well-connected black market, resulted in the Great Famine, with the mortality rate reaching a peak during the winter of 1941–42.
The great suffering, and the resulting pressure from the Greek diaspora, eventually forced the Royal Navy to lift the blockade partially.
Through the end of 1941, Kızılay (the Turkish Red Crescent), and from the summer of 1942 the International Red Cross, were able to distribute supplies in sufficient quantities with the help of several foreign and Greece-based humanitarian organizations helping with financial aid and support.
The situation remained grim until the end of the Nazi occupation, and continued on a small scale until the end of the war.
The situation in Athens and the wider area with its port, Piraeus, was out of control, hyperinflation was in full swing and the price of bread was increased 89-fold from April 1941 to June 1942.
According to the records of the German army, the mortality rate in Athens alone reached 300 deaths per day during December 1941, while the estimates of the Red Cross were much higher, at 400 deaths while on some days the death toll reached 1,000.
Apart from the urban areas, the population of the islands was also affected by the famine, especially those living in Mykonos, Syros and Chios.
There are no accurate numbers of the famine deaths because civil registration records did not function during the occupation.
In general, it is estimated that Greece suffered approximately 300,000 deaths during the Axis occupation as a result of famine and malnutrition, with children bearing the suffering of the German and their allies occupation of Greece.
However, not all parts of Greece experienced equal levels of food scarcity.
Although comprehensive data on regional famine severity does not exist, the available evidence indicates that the severe movement restrictions, the proximity to agricultural production, and the level of urbanization were crucial factors of famine mortality.
The Greek War Relief Association (sometimes Greek Relief Association or abbreviated GWRA) was a relief organization for Greek civilians created during World War II.
Founded by prominent Greek-American businessmen, along with railroad tycoon Harold Vanderbilt and film industry executive Spyros Skouras, a Greek-American motion picture pioneer and film executive who was the president of 20th Century-Fox from 1942 to 1962.
Skouras resigned June 27, 1962, but served as chairman of the company for several more years. He also had numerous ships, owning Prudential Lines.
The association provided economic relief to Greeks following Italian and German invasions. Aid was especially focused on food and medicine to mitigate the severe famine of the winter of 1941/42.
Films such as Fantasia and Gone with the Wind opened with gala premieres with proceeds benefiting the Greek War Relief Association.
In a multinational agreement which included Nazi Germany, the GWRA continued to deliver supplies to Greece following occupation in 1942.
Three neutral Swedish-flagged ships were chartered, along with Swedish and International Red Cross workers to distribute the cargos.
Between 1942 and 1944, roughly 75-million USD in aid was sent to Greece from abroad (according to Skouras).