|Location||Most of Greece (urban, rural areas, islands)|
|Total deaths||Est. 300,000 (mortality rate reached a peak in the winter of 1941–42)|
|Consequences||Destruction of the infrastructure and economy|
The Great Famine (Greek : Μεγάλος Λιμός) was a period of mass starvation during the Axis occupation of Greece, during World War II (1941–1944). The local population suffered greatly during this period, while the Axis Powers initiated a policy of large scale plunder. Moreover, requisitions, together with the Allied blockade of Greece, the ruined state of the country's infrastructure, 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 pressure of the Greek diaspora eventually forced the British to lift the blockade partially, and from the summer of 1942, the International Red Cross was able to distribute supplies in sufficient quantities; however, the situation remained grim until the end of the occupation.
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning at least 3500 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.
The occupation of Greece by the Axis Powers began in April 1941 after Nazi Germany invaded Greece to assist its ally, Fascist Italy, which had been at war with Allied Greece since October 1940. Following the conquest of Crete, all of Greece was occupied by June 1941. The occupation in the mainland lasted until Germany and its ally Bulgaria were forced to withdraw under Allied pressure in early October 1944. However, German garrisons remained in control of Crete and some other Aegean islands until after the end of World War II in Europe, surrendering these islands in May and June 1945.
The Allies of World War II, called the United Nations from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.
Fascist Italy invaded Greece from Albania on 28 October 1940. However, the invasion was quickly turned into a humiliating defeat for the Italians and the Greek forces managed to penetrate deep into Albanian territory. On 6 April 1941, Germany attacked Greece and the Greek forces fell back quickly under the astonishing firepower of the Blitzkrieg. Immediately following their victory, the occupation powers divided the country into 3 zones between which any movement of goods and people was strictly prohibited.The Germans occupied parts of Athens, the region around Thessaloniki, a few strategic outposts in the Aegean and the island of Crete, the Bulgarians held the northern regions of Thrace and Eastern Macedonia, while the Italians controlled most of the mainland and the Ionian Islands.
The Greco-Italian War took place between the kingdoms of Italy and Greece from 28 October 1940 to 23 April 1941. This local war began the Balkans Campaign of World War II between the Axis powers and the Allies. It turned into the Battle of Greece when British and German ground forces intervened early in 1941.
Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the government. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.
The Battle of Greece is the common name for the invasion of Allied Greece by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in April 1941 during World War II. The Italian invasion in October 1940, which is usually known as the Greco-Italian War, was followed by the German invasion in April 1941. German landings on the island of Crete came after Allied forces had been defeated in mainland Greece. These battles were part of the greater Balkan Campaign of Germany.
In general, the Axis powers viewed conquered nations as sources of raw materials, food and labor. As a matter of policy, subjugated nations were to provide material support to Germany and Italy. According to this principle, already from the outset of the occupation, German and Italian troops initiated a policy of wide-scale plunder of everything of value. Moreover, pillage, torture, executions, and civilian massacres throughout Greece were also part of the Axis agenda during the years of occupation. The German attitude toward occupied peoples was expressed succinctly in the words of Hermann Göring in a letter to the Reich commissioners and military commanders of the occupied territories on 6 August 1942:
Hermann Wilhelm Göring was a German political and military leader as well as one of the most powerful figures in the Nazi Party (NSDAP), which ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945. A veteran World War I fighter pilot ace, he was a recipient of the Pour le Mérite. He was the last commander of Jagdgeschwader 1, the fighter wing once led by Manfred von Richthofen.
...This continual concern for the aliens must come to an end once and for all... I could not care less when you say that people under your administration are dying of hunger. Let them perish so long as no German starves.
Within the occupation zones, the confiscation of fuel and all means of transportation, including fishing boats and pack animals, prevented any transfer of food and other supplies and reduced mobility to a minimum. The occupiers seized strategic industries and appropriated or bought them at low prices, paying with occupation marks they circulated all stocks of commodities like tobacco, olive oil, cotton, and leather and transferred them to their home countries.
Laird Archer, who worked for an American aid agency and was in Athens when the Germans entered the city on 27 April 1941, noted in his Journal:
April 28 … The wholesale looting of Athens has begun.
Remaining food and fuel reserves have been taken first. … [A staff member] found the entire market sealed under the swastika. The Germans have emptied all public [fuel] tanks].… A Marathon farmer, who made his way in today to report that our nurses were safe in the hills, said that his flocks of poultry, even the pigeons, had been machine-gunned and the swastika planted at the four corners of the field. He had been warned to take nothing from the fields on pain of death.
The invaders have been taking meat, cattle and sheep north of the city for some days and now have reserved the dairy herds in the environs of Athens for their own use. … My friends in the Ministry of Agriculture estimate that the 200,000-ton domestic supply may be cut to a third by the slaughtering.
Modern transport has been seized simultaneously with food supplies. Syntagma square is already filled with seized cars. … Buses likewise are being taken. And especially trucks… Orders posted and radioed require all bicycles to be delivered to a given location, More than five thousand have been taken.
Wholesale and retail shops are being systematically cleared out. This is done by the polite method of "purchase" with freshly printed Occupation Marks, of no value outside of Greece. Early this morning, all troops in Athens not on detail were issued with 100 of such marks each. … They were sent into the shops to buy anything from women's stockings to electrical equipment. They took their "purchases" to the parcel post office or to the reailway express and promptly shipped them home to the Reich… I saw a squad of soldiers, who had cleaned out a small leathergoods shop, carry their new suitcases to a clothing store to be filled. The Eastman Kodak store has been emptied of cameras. … Principal Greek industries are being taken over. This is done by the same polite system of "purchasing" 60 percent of the issued stock and installing a German director.
Raw materials, metal, leather and so on are being confiscated. Scores of little factories, turned back to their owners by the sneering Germans as not of any importance, are without materials for processing. … Carpenters can't get nails with which to get on with the few construction jobs that are still in progress. Even cement… can no longer be had.
Finally, hospital and drugstore supplies are being taken…
The incredible speed and efficiency of this leaves us dazed, not knowing where to turn for the most ordinary supplies.
Unemployment rose to extreme levels, while extraordinary levies were extorted from the Greek collaborationist government to sustain the occupying forces.Occupied Greece was not only burdened with the occupation costs of the German and Italian armies but also with the expenses of Axis military projects in the Eastern Mediterranean. Unlike the rest of the occupied countries, whose costs were limited to their actual defense appropriations prior to the Axis invasion, the size of Greece's levy in 1941–1942 reached 113.7% of the local national income.
The Hellenic State was the collaborationist government of Greece during the country's occupation by the Axis powers in the Second World War.
On the other hand, the Allied forces responded with a full naval blockade in order to weaken the Axis in its military efforts. This cut off all imports to Greece, including foods.
Farmers in Greece had to pay a 10% in kind tax on their produce and to sell to the collaborationist government at fixed prices all production above the subsistence level. The food price controls and rationing that had been in place before the Greek defeat were now tightened. With the low government prices and newly imposed taxes, farmers went to great lengths to hide their produce from the officials and traders pulled their merchandise from the shelves, a factor that added to the severing of the foreign trade routes on which Greece traditionally dependeded for food imports.Thus, the scarcity of food supplies resulted in the increase of their prices, while the circulation of the German Occupation Reichsmark and the Italian Casa Mediterranea Drachma led soon to inflation. Under these circumstances, black market and rationing became the only means of food supply in the urban areas of Greece. Fishing was also prohibited, at least during the early period of occupation. Moreover, the Bulgarians forbade any transportation of grain from their zone, where 30% of the Greek pre-war production took place, to the rest of the country.
In mid-September 1941, when the famine was imminent, Berlin responded to enquiries of German officials in Greece:
Supplying Belgium and probably Holland and Norway as well, will be more urgent from the standpoint of military economy than supplying Greece.
Under these conditions, and contrary to the rational exploitation of the national resources applied to the occupied countries in Western and Northern Europe, the Germans in Greece resorted to a policy of plunder.Although the collaborationist government under Georgios Tsolakoglou requested from the Axis to import grain before the winter this didn't have any serious impact: Germany and Italy sent a very low amount of grain while Bulgaria sent nothing at all. The few organized efforts by the Orthodox Church and Red Cross were unable to meet the needs of the population.
Determining factors of the food crisis were low food availability and curtailment of communications, partly due to the severe lack of transport facilities but especially because it was imposed on both goods and persons. Other factors were the attempt of the local government and the occupying forces to regulate the market and its prices.
The nutritional situation became critical in the summer of 1941 and in the fall turned into a full-blown famine.Especially in the first winter of occupation (1941–42) food shortage was acute and famine struck especially in the urban centers of the country. Food shortage reached a climax and a famine was unavoidable. During that winter the mortality rate reached a peak, while according to British historian, Mark Mazower, this was the worst famine the Greeks experienced from ancient times. Bodies of dead persons were secretly abandoned in cemeteries or at the streets (possibly so their ration cards could continue to be used by surviving relatives). In other cases, bodies were found days after the death had taken place. The sight of emaciated dead bodies was commonplace in the streets of Athens.
The situation in Athens and the wider area with its port, Piraeus, was out of control, the 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 in 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. 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.
Britain was initially reluctant to lift the blockade; however, a compromise was reached to allow shipments of grain to come from the neutral Turkey. The first ship with food supplies that was permitted to reach Greece was the SS Kurtuluş from Turkey, at September 1941. Foodstuffs were collected by a nationwide campaign of Kızılay (Turkish Red Crescent) and the operation was mainly funded by the American Greek War Relief Association and the Hellenic Union of Constantinopolitans.Initially a total of 50,000 tons of food supplies were planned to be shipped from Turkey; however 17,500 tons were able to deliver. This assistance remained symbolic since one ship was unable to alleviate such an extreme situation.
Because of the efforts of the Greek Diaspora in the United States and Great Britain, the situation of the starving civilian population in Greece soon became a public issue in the Allied countries. The increasing public pressure finally led to the lifting of the naval blockade in February 1942.The plan carried under the auspices of the International Red Cross, while Sweden offered for the transportation of 15,000 tons of Canadian wheat. Wheat shipments soon began and together with the rising temperatures of springtime, resulted in the reduction of the mortality rates. At the end of 1942 with the steady supply of sufficient quantities to the country's greatest ports, the mortality rate fell, however the food situation remained grim until the end of the occupation (1944).
The international relief was focused mainly on children. In Athens the Red Cross started to provide daily milk rations, medical services and clothing to children younger than two years. In following March the occupiers and Allied forces agreed to the establishment of the Swedish-run Joint Relief Commission to reorganize the public food supply system. On the other hand, the occupiers moreover committed to replace all appropriated agricultural products with food imports of equal calorific value and relaxed the harshest mobility restrictions and price regulations.
As the collapse of the Greek monetary system was imminent, the Germans were alarmed that such a possibility would render worthless the flow of drachmas to their troops. In order to deal with this situation, Hermann Neubacher, was appointed Reich's special commissioner in Greece. Neubacher's objective was to sustain Axis operation in Greece without destroying the Greek economy. His initiative was eased by the supplies provided by the International Red Cross.
From 1943, large areas of the countryside witnessed reprisal operations, burning of settlements and massive executions by the Germans, like in Epirus and Thessaly.The military operations of the Germans against rural areas, from the rising guerrilla activity, sent large numbers of people into the towns or into the mountains, emptying part of the countryside of its labour force. Famine conditions appeared again during the winter of 1943–44 in Aetolia and some islands. Moreover, the rural population did not receive Red Cross supplies like the cities, either because the Germans retaliated against villages suspected of supporting guerrillas or because they feared that the supplies would fall into the hands of the resistance. On the other hand, the largest Greek resistance organization, the National Liberation Front (EAM), took the initiative and distributed food and clothing to the regions it controlled at that time.
In the everyday Greek language the word "occupation" indicates famine and hunger due to the harsh situation the Greek population faced during these years.Moreover, various works mention the severe situation faced by the Greek population during the years of occupation. One of these is the novel Zorba the Greek , by Nikos Kazantzakis, which reflected the general danger and starvation of that time.
The Axis powers, also known as "Rome–Berlin–Tokyo Axis", were the nations that fought in World War II against the Allies. The Axis powers agreed on their opposition to the Allies, but did not completely coordinate their activity.
The Dutch famine of 1944–45, known in the Netherlands as the Hongerwinter, was a famine that took place in the German-occupied Netherlands, especially in the densely populated western provinces north of the great rivers, during the winter of 1944–45, near the end of World War II.
The Bengal famine of 1943 was a major famine in the Bengal province of British India during World War II. An estimated 2.1–3 million, out of a population of 60.3 million, died of starvation, malaria, or other diseases aggravated by malnutrition, population displacement, unsanitary conditions and lack of health care. Millions were impoverished as the crisis overwhelmed large segments of the economy and catastrophically disrupted the social fabric. Eventually, families disintegrated; men sold their small farms and left home to look for work or to join the army, and women and children became homeless migrants, often travelling to Calcutta or another large city in search of organised relief. Historians have frequently characterised the famine as "man-made", asserting that wartime colonial policies created and then exacerbated the crisis. A minority view holds that the famine arose instead from natural causes.
The Mediterranean and Middle East Theatre was a major theatre of operations during the Second World War. The vast size of the Mediterranean and Middle East theatre saw interconnected naval, land, and air campaigns fought for control of the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and Southern Europe. The fighting in this theatre lasted from 10 June 1940, when Italy entered the war on the side of Germany, until 2 May 1945 when all Axis forces in Italy surrendered. However, fighting would continue in Greece – where British troops had been dispatched to aid the Greek government – during the early stages of the Greek Civil War.
The Greek Resistance is the blanket term for a number of armed and unarmed groups from across the political spectrum that resisted the Axis occupation of Greece in the period 1941–1944, during World War II. It is considered as one of the strongest resistance movements in Nazi-occupied Europe.
The military history of Greece during World War II began on 28 October 1940, when the Italian Army invaded from Albania, beginning the Greco-Italian War. The Greek Army was able to halt the invasion temporarily and was able to push the Italians back into Albania. The Greek successes forced Nazi Germany to intervene. The Germans invaded Greece and Yugoslavia on 6 April 1941, and overran both countries within a month, despite British aid to Greece in the form of an expeditionary corps. The conquest of Greece was completed in May with the capture of Crete from the air, although the Fallschirmjäger suffered such extensive casualties in this operation that the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht abandoned large-scale airborne operations for the remainder of the war. The German diversion of resources in the Balkans is also considered by some historians to have delayed the launch of the invasion of the Soviet Union by a critical month, which proved disastrous when the German Army failed to take Moscow.
SS Kurtuluş was a Turkish cargo ship which became famous for her humanitarian role in carrying food aid during the famine Greece suffered under the Axis occupation in World War II. She sank on 20 February 1942 in the Sea of Marmara during her fifth voyage from İstanbul, Turkey to Piraeus, Greece. In Turkish kurtuluş means "liberation".
Georgios Tsolakoglou was a Greek military officer who became the first Prime Minister of the Greek collaborationist government during the Axis occupation in 1941–1942.
Andon Kalchev was a Bulgarian army officer, one of the leaders of the Bulgarian-backed Ohrana, a paramilitary formation of Bulgarians in Greek Macedonia during World War II Axis occupation. He was active outside the Bulgarian occupied area of Macedonia, under the tolerance of the Italian and German authorities which used him in their fights with rival Greek EAM-ELAS and Yugoslav Communist resistance groups. Because of his activity, he was sentenced to death by Greek military tribunal, and was executed by firing squad on 27 August 1948.
Ohrana were armed collaborationist detachments organized by the former Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) structures, composed of Bulgarians in Nazi-occupied Greek Macedonia during World War II and led by officers of the Bulgarian Army. Bulgaria was interested in acquiring Thessalonica and Western Macedonia, under Italian and German occupation and hoped to sway the allegiance of the 80,000 Slavs who lived there at the time. The appearance of Greek partisans in those areas persuaded the Axis to allow the formation of these collaborationst detachments. However, during late 1944, when the Axis appeared to be losing the war, many Slavophone Nazi collaborators, Ohrana members and VMRO regiment volunteers fled to the opposite camp by joining the newly founded communist SNOF. The organization managed to recruit initially 1,000 up to 3,000 armed men from the Slavophone community that lived in the western part of Greek Macedonia.
The Hunger Plan was a plan developed by Nazi Germany during World War II to seize food from the Soviet Union and give it to German soldiers and civilians; the plan entailed the death by starvation of millions of "racially inferior" Slavs following Operation Barbarossa, the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. The premise behind the Hunger Plan was that Germany was not self-sufficient in food supplies, and to sustain the war and keep up the domestic morale it needed to obtain the food from conquered lands at any cost. It was an engineered famine, planned and implemented as an act of policy. This plan was developed during the planning phase for the Wehrmacht invasion and provided for diverting of the Ukrainian food stuffs away from central and northern Russia and redirecting them for the benefit of the invading army and the population in Germany. The plan resulted in the deaths of millions of people. The plan as a means of mass murder was outlined in several documents, including one that became known as Göring's Green Folder, which quoted a number of "20 to 30 million" expected Russian deaths from "military actions and crises of food supply."
The Commission for Polish Relief (CPR), also known unofficially as Comporel or Hoover Commission, was initiated in late 1939 by former US President Herbert Hoover, following the German and Soviet occupation of Poland. The Commission provided relief to Nazi occupied territories of Poland until December 1941.
The 13th Light Bomber Squadron, was one of the three World War II aircraft squadrons in service with the Royal Hellenic Air Force, exiled in the Middle East, that fought under the auspices of the British Royal Air Force. It was the first Greek military unit founded after the German invasion and conquest of Greece in April–May 1941.
The Drama uprising was an uprising of the population of the northern Greek city of Drama and the surrounding villages on 28–29 September 1941 against the Bulgarian occupation regime. The revolt lacked organization or military resources and was swiftly suppressed by the Bulgarian Army with massive reprisals. The revolt had guidance from the Macedonian politburo of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE).
The Battle of Fardykambos, also known as the Battle of Bougazi, was fought between the National Liberation Front (EAM-ELAS) of the Greek Resistance against the Italian troops during the Axis Occupation of Greece. The battle was notable for the large-scale and spontaneous participation of the local populace, and of officers from other groups and organizations, including right-wing rivals to ELAS.
The 22 July 1943 Athens protest was a massive protest that took place in Axis-occupied Athens, Greece on July 22, 1943 against the German plans to expand the Bulgarian occupation zone in Greek Macedonia.
The Battle of Kilkis was an armed conflict between communist resistance organisation ELAS and a coalition of collaborationist Security Battalions, nationalist resistance organisations EDES and the National Greek Army (EES). On 4 November 1944, ELAS captured Kilkis after nine hours of fighting. The nationalists suffered many casualties during the battle and in prisoner killings afterwards.