By Prof. Aris Michopoulos, HCHC
In a few days, Hellenism around the world will celebrate the “OXI DAY.” It is a day that makes us all proud and brings to our mind other important dates from our long history; dates connected with the battle of Marathon and Salamis and March 25th. October 28, 1940, was our new Marathon. Our forefathers rose to the occasion and confronted two formidable opponents. Each of them boasted of an army larger than the total population of Greece! This, however, did not deter our people to ignore the intimidation of both El Duce and Der Fuhrer. Both were in for a big surprise! First, the Duce realized that the big numbers of soldiers and army materiel are not enough to face someone who fights for his country, his family, and faith and is on the right side of morality and history. And when the Duce failed, he was saved by the Fuhrer but at an extremely heavy price, since “more of his troops died in one day on Crete that in any single day in the 15 months prior in 11 other countries.” Indeed, there he lost two-thirds of his elite paratrooper force and his general Kurt Student said “Crete became the graveyard of the German paratroopers.” And the valuable time that Hitler lost fighting Greece (April 6-June1, 1941) was a great gift to the Russians who had more time to prepare against the Germans. And the Fuhrer was so impressed by the Greeks that he said in the Reichstag that of all our opponents, “the Greek soldier, above all fought with the utmost courage.” And the confirmation came from his Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, who said: “The Greeks delayed by two or more vital months the German attack against Russia; if we did not have that delay, the outcome of the war would have been different.” Another confirmation of the Greek bravery came from Winston Churchill who said in the British Parliament: “People will not say anymore that the Greeks fight like heroes but heroes fight like Greeks.” And President Roosevelt would add: “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.”
How was the “OXI” received by our Omogeneia and America in general? The Omogeneia was pleasantly surprised by the heroic achievements on the front. Indeed, very soon the successes of the Greek army filled with pride all the Greek Americans from coast to coast. When in a couple of months the Greek army not only had repelled the Italian attack, but had also started a counteroffensive that forced the Italians to retreat, the Greeks around the world became ecstatic. And when the spring of 1941 came with an Italian counterattack that was a dismal failure, the world could not believe that a new battle of David and Goliath was taking place on the mountains of Pindus and Albania. Fearing an utter Italian rout, Hitler stepped in with his famous Luftwaffe and its dive bombers and saved the Italians from an utter defeat. Despite repeated attempts, however, the Germans never managed to take the Roupel, Echinos and others forts better known as “Oxyra Metaxa,” on the Bulgarian border.
The reaction of the American Government and media was extremely enthusiastic. Nobody actually could anticipate such a great Greek feat and an Italian defeat in this encounter. An encounter of a highly developed country versus a poor agricultural country that was still recovering from her deep wounds of the Asia Minor Catastrophe (1922). So the entire country was so elated with the Greek victories that all the press and media were giving generous coverage of the war. And the ultimate recognition of the Greek achievements came from LIFE magazine itself, which on December 16, 1940 put a Greek evzone on its cover! That was perhaps the “peak moment” of this titanic struggle.
Both the Greeks and the Americans were following closely the war, but for the Greek Americans this was something deeper and personal. It was the validation not only of their ancestral land, but also of their own achievements in America. We should not forget that the Johnson-Read Act of 1924 was against new immigration from Southeastern Europe, including Greece. The daily successes of the Greek army, which was on the same side with the Americans during the war, changed this picture. Government officials and the average American changed their views on the Greeks and Greek Americans. And that was the beginning of a new era in Greek American relations.
In the meantime our Church here undertook many initiatives on many fronts. First and foremost it called all the organizations (Philoptochos, AHEPA, GAPA, etc.) and famous Greek Americans to a general Assembly in New York that reached some important decisions. Among others it decided to form an organization called Greek War Relief Association or GWRA, whose aim was to raise $10 million to aid Greece. Spyros Skouras, a wealthy businessman and President of the National Theaters Co. was elected national chairman and Archbishop Athenagoras was proclaimed its honorary Chairman. GWRA undertook a Pan American drive for clothing, foodstuff, medical contributions and money to support Greece. The organizations utilized the resources of all important Greeks and their companies and held several drives around the nation, so that by April 1941 they had raised $3.3 million and another $2.2 million of clothing, food and medical supplies through the efforts of the American Red Cross. Thus, from October 1941 to August 1942, more than 19,000 tons of food had reached Greece. And that was only the beginning, since with additional fundraisings, encyclicals and other petitions for humanitarian aid additional assistance was sent to Greece.
In addition to the many acts of philanthropy and care during this period another important one was the success of the GWRA to arrange for the safe crossing of the Atlantic by the ships carrying assistance to Greece. They had to get approval both from the British and the Germans, since the German subs were a menace in the Atlantic and the British had an embargo on many countries in Europe. Last but not least, the GWRA paid Turkish companies to sell foodstuff to Greece and transport it there with their ships.
This wonderful cooperation between Greece, the Greek Americans and the American Government continued after the liberation of Greece (1944). As a matter of fact it grew stronger after the War when the Greek communist party attempted a violent takeover of the country. It was then that President Truman promulgated his famous Truman Doctrine that became the standard of the American Foreign Policy for several decades. And the extremely friendly relations between our Church and the American government took a special “twist,” when Archbishop Athenagoras was elected Ecumenical Patriarch (1948) and went to Constantinople on the Presidential plane! That was then the period that made everybody happy and proud either being a Greek, or an American or a Philhellene! So let us all raise our voice and cry out “long Live the OXI Day!”