Dr. Aris Michopoulos, Special to the Hellenic News of America
October 28, 1940, holds a special place in the annals of modern Greek history, akin to the legendary battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis, which shaped not only Greece but also the course of European and world history. This protracted battle in 1940 altered the trajectory of World War II and ushered in a glimmer of hope amidst the darkness shrouding Europe.
It served as a harbinger of a brighter future, a sentiment echoed by both friends and foes. Even Adolf Hitler himself acknowledged the Greek soldiers’ unparalleled valor, stating, “Of all our opponents, the Greek soldier, above all, fought with the utmost courage.” His Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel further recognized, “The Greeks delayed the German attack against Russia by two vital months; without that delay, the outcome of the war would have been different.”
Winston Churchill immortalized their bravery in the British Parliament with the famous words, “People will not say anymore that the Greeks fight like heroes, but heroes fight like Greeks.” President Roosevelt added, “When the entire world had lost all hope, the Greek people dared to question the invincibility of the German monster, raising against it the proud spirit of freedom.” Even the Russians expressed their gratitude to the Greeks for providing them with crucial time to prepare against the German onslaught, making a significant difference in their battle against the German army.
This monumental effort and achievement by the Greek Army filled all Greeks, both at home and abroad, with immense pride. Greek communities worldwide, including those in America, Canada, and Australia, celebrated the extraordinary feats of the Greek evzones. So remarkable was their enthusiasm that LIFE magazine featured a Greek evzone on its cover in its December 16, 1940 issue. This recognition was a significant milestone, considering that only a few years earlier, the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 had drastically reduced immigration from Southern Europe, including Greece, due to perceived challenges in assimilation. This shift in American public opinion toward Greece not only held importance for international relations but also greatly boosted the morale of Greek-Americans.
During this pivotal period, the Greek Orthodox Church played a crucial role in supporting Greece, which was under brutal German and Italian occupation. Under the leadership of Archbishop Athenagoras, the Church rallied both clergy and laity to establish the renowned Greek War Relief Association (GWRA). This association swiftly collected an astounding 10 million dollars in donations to purchase essential supplies, such as food and medication, for the starving Greek population. To transport these supplies by sea, the GWRA negotiated safe passage agreements with both the British and the Germans. The association also collaborated with Turkish companies to procure and transport food to Greece. This humanitarian effort received the blessings of both President Roosevelt and his successor, President Truman. The strong friendship that blossomed between Archbishop Athenagoras and President Truman led to the promulgation of the historic Truman Doctrine, which played a pivotal role in countering the Communist uprising in Greece (1946-49) and provided significant economic assistance in the post-war era.
Today, Greek Americans have made remarkable progress in various fields, realizing their American dream. They have held prominent positions in the U.S. government, excelled in business, contributed to scientific and artistic endeavors, and achieved top rankings in education and earnings. Forbes Magazine’s recent listing of the 400 Wealthiest Americans (October 6, 2023) features six Greek Americans with a combined wealth exceeding $60 billion. The top 50 wealthiest Greek Americans boast a collective wealth of nearly $100 billion.
This substantial wealth and intellectual prowess remain untapped reservoirs of potential. If these influential figures were to invest just ten percent of their wealth in Greece, they could catalyze a renaissance in the country. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation serves as a prime example of how a visionary foundation can significantly contribute to Greece’s recovery following its economic crisis. The Greek-American community can draw inspiration from the Jewish diaspora, which, in 75 years, transformed a desert into the Promised Land. Despite recent challenges, the global Jewish community continues to support Israel in its patriotic duty.
Today’s Greece faces natural disasters, from fires and floods to earthquakes. This presents a unique opportunity for us to support a nation that has made unparalleled contributions to world civilization, championed freedom, and nurtured the foundations of science. It is our duty, as inheritors of this legacy, to contribute to the greatness of the heroes of 1940 and make them proud of our enduring commitment. Genoito!