Red Cross Humanitarianism In Greece, 1940-45
R. CLARENCE LANG
I. Points of Reference
In the summer of 1946, I volunteered for a student assignment with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to help war-devastated Europe. My hope was to see Germany and Austria; instead, after being shipped out of Houston with about 850 horses from Mexico on board, I ended up for a few days in Salonika, Greece, known in the New Testament as Thessalonika.
Some 15 years later, I casually mentioned this to Prof. D. Peter Meinhold at the University of Kiel, Germany, where I completed my doctorate in history. He in turn spoke of his wartime adventures in Greece. A chaplain in the German army, which occupied Greece, Dr. Meinhold served there as a liaison between the Axis occupation forces and the IRC (International Red Cross), which provided material aid for the starving Greek population during the war. Dr. Meinhold told me that this aid saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Greeks.
Newly aware of this episode of wartime humanitarism, I was interested to note its mention of it in a college textbook, A History of England, by Goldwyn Smith. Upon writing the author, I learned that Smith, a Canadian, had worked for British Intelligence during World War II. While on duty in Ottawa, Canada, he would now and then see Henry Wallace, the American vice president, walking through the Intelligence Office. After inquiring, Smith learned that Wallace was involved in implementing aid for occupied Greece. In his textbook Smith claims this aid saved the lives of "millions" of Greeks. 
Later, by chance, while paging through the Congressional Record for the House of Representatives for 1943 in a used bookstore in San Antonio, I discovered that the Minnesotan Harold Knutson, the Republican minority leader, had delivered a 20-minute humanitarian plea for the Allies to modify their blockade, as they did in the case of Greece, so that the IRC could alleviate the suffering and starvation of women and children in occupied Europe. Knutson used the IRC help in Greece as a model and formula which could be implemented elsewhere. Supported by some of his fellow Republicans, Knutson spoke of "those who cold-bloodedly tell us that human beings are replaceable." Knutson claimed that "the present relief work in Greece, initiated by Turkey, and now being carried on by the Swedish and Swiss Red Cross, prove that relief work can be extended to Poland, Norway, Denmark, and the Low Countries, where pestilence, famine, and death walk hand in hand [emphasis added]." He insisted that just one word from either Roosevelt and Churchill "would banish all the horror of famine and pestilence" and then named the afflicted countries once more. 
Knutson's passionate pleas were the tip of an iceberg. For throughout the war such influential persons as former president Herbert Hoover; the noted banker Harvey D. Gibson; the English bishop of Chichester, George Bell; the congressman and former executive secretary of the European Relief Council (1920-1), Christian A. Herter, who backed Knutson in the House; and the American Quaker John Rich and the English Quaker Roy Walker all called frequently for Allied humanitarian involvement in occupied Europe. 
Before America entered the war, and thus before war censorship, Herbert Hoover made an appeal to the American people on radio, terming the results of the British blockade "this holocaust." He questioned: "Can one point to one benefit that has been gained from this holocaust?" The Christian Century of October, 1941, devoted an article to Hoover, writing, "Out of the agony and bitterness of these days, one great humanitarian figure is emerging in America." 
Six months later, on April 22, 1942, the Famine Relief Committee was formed - one of several such groups -with some 20 members. Its goal was to persuade the Allies to modify their blockade of all foodstuffs to the Axis-occupied countries of Europe. When the committee decided to end its activities, and hand over the balance of its funds to the Friends Relief Service for use among young children in Poland shortly before the wars end. it stated in its final report:
It would have been obvious to all intelligent people that our food blockade of the continent of Europe would bring untold torture and sufferings to our friends and allies and would do little or no harm to our enemy … It has been possible to obtain proof Mat our food blockade did not shorten the war by a single hour … History will judge our government harshly for its futile persistence in a policy of total blockade of foodstuffs. 
Mindful of the historical challenge presented by the Famine Relief Committees and at the same time paying tribute to the all true humanitarians of World War II, let us look at the involvement of the International Red Cross in Greece.
II. The Wartime Humanitarian Aid to Greece
The Swiss, Marcel Junod, who initially played an important role in Red Cross work in wartime Greece, devoted a chapter of his book Warriors Without Weapons to Greece ("Unhappy Arcadia")  Although the book affords valuable insights into the work of the IRC, it is, nevertheless, short, and lacks a bibliography. On the other hand, the Greek Red Cross, using as its model the final report of the IRC on its aid to Belgium during World War I, in which Hoover played such an important part, in 1949 issued, in French, its final report. An extensive report of over 600 pages, the Red Cross report abounds with charts and graphs, making the IRC aid to Greece a well-documented aspect of World War II.  From these two principal sources, as well as others, emerges the following historical picture of the Greek famine in the winter of 1941-42.
In October 1940 the Italians invaded Greece and the British immediately extended their blockade to include Greece. The fighting disrupted the fall planting, and created an acute shortage of farm workers as well as of horses, tractors, gasoline, and insecticides. Railroads, highways and roads were disrupted, bridges destroyed, and irrigation systems damaged. The fall of 1940 was exceedingly dry, the summer of 1941 very hot, and the winter of 1941-42 exceedingly cold. In the spring of 1941 the Germans and Bulgarians invaded Greece to support the faltering Italians. The result was more privation and more refugees as the Bulgarians occupied a rich agricultural area, while the Germans used Greece as a supply base for Rommel's army in North Africa.
Nevertheless, the Red Cross was able "to distribute 800,000 bowls of soup" in the winter of 1941, and establish "450 feeding centers for 100,000 children over seven and 130 nursery centers for 74,000 infants."  The IRC report estimated that 250,000 Greek deaths were caused by the shortage of food and clothing - this out of a population of 7,300,000. Most of the deaths, however, occurred in the winter of 1941-42. 
According to Junod, much of this aid plan was initially worked out in the neutral Turkish capital of Ankara, in which the German ambassador, Franz von Papen, among others played an important role.
The IRC's humanitarian breakthrough was due to the success of the Swiss Red Cross and the Swedish Red Cross in gaining the intervention of the Swedish government, which conducted the complicated but necessary negotiations with the various belligerent capitals. Noteworthy, in this connection, is the work of the IRC representative, Carl Burckhardt, a Swiss, who was the chief IRC negotiator in Berlin and elsewhere.
On August 29, 1942, in the midst of World War II, humanitarianism triumphed when the Swedish ships Formosa, Carmelia and Eros, chartered by the IRC, docked in Piraeus, the harbor of Athens, with some 16,000 metric tons of Canadian wheat. In the ensuing months 91 other shiploads arrived, 84 from Canada and 7 from Argentina. Before the IRC role was taken over by UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) in the spring of 1945, 610,000 tons had been shipped across the Atlantic and an additional 102,100 tons provided for the IRC.  From August 1942 on, then, the famine was being mastered, so that 10 months later Congressman Knutson could cite Greece as a powerful example in his plea for relaxing the Allied "total" blockade elsewhere.
Since the opponents of relaxing the blockade, no matter how slightly, contended that any aid would help the Axis militarily and thus prolong the war, a statement of several working assumptions of the humanitarians is in order. It should be stressed that the advocates of relaxing the blockade constantly challenged their opponents to substantiate their objections. Supporters of humanitarian aid maintained that while this may have seemed impossible, nevertheless objective specialists could solve the complicated problems without conferring military advantages on any of the belligerents. Or, as the final report observed, despite the many intricate complications involved, "persistence won the day and Greece was fed."
The modus operandi that was agreed upon was essentially the same as the one Hoover and his team had worked out in Belgium in World War I. 
Since these humanitarians, whether from the Red Cross, whether Quakers, Unitarians, churchmen or others on both sides of the Atlantic, were convinced that such aid was possible elsewhere in occupied Europe, a historical look at factors favoring this is merited.
III. The Possibility of Implementing Similar Aid Elsewhere
Despite these favorable factors, the humanitarians were frustrated in their endeavors, with the exception of Greece. Their frustrations were rooted in the deliberate intransigence of the Allies.
IV. IRC Humanitarianism Versus the 'Cloak' of UNRRA Humanitarianism
Regarding aid to occupied Europe, two basic thrusts in American political leadership are to be distinguished. One, as noted, was associated with congressmen such as Knutson. The other was that of President Roosevelt’s "inner clique".
For men such as Knutson and Hoover, the overall American policy should have been one of minimizing the war's human losses without jeopardizing an Allied victory. In Knutson's approach one can also isolate a racial aspect, for in singling out Roosevelt and Churchill, he charged, "The future of white civilization in Europe rests in their hands." Knutson and his supporters, like the Red Cross, sought to provide, without much fanfare, as much aid as possible before the actual Allied military liberation. Thus the basic question was whether aid should be supplied before, or only after, the military liberation.
Evidently, there was a split within the Roosevelt Administration regarding such matters. Thus William C. Bullitt, although he does not mention humanitarian aid, wrote in 1946, "Few errors more disastrous have ever been made by a president of the United States and those citizens of the United States who bamboozled the President into acting as if Stalin were a cross between Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson, [these citizens] deserve a high place on the American roll of dishonor. A government of the United States would have begun in 1941 to declare as a peace aim the creation of a democratic European Federation and would have directed all its politics and policies in Europe toward the achievement of that aim."  Since Bullitt spoke of directing "all … economic policies" to outflank Stalin, it would seem that he did not stand in the way of IRC aid. A masterstroke for Roosevelt's "inner clique," which excluded Bullitt, was the formation of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitational Administration clique in late 1942. Its unexpressed aim was to undermine the effectiveness of the humanitarian work of such organizations as the Red Cross and the Christian churches. 
Factors favoring the humanitarians were deliberately sabotaged by the Allies. Thus Jan Ciechanowski, the Polish ambassador to the United States during the war years wrote, in his Defeat In Victory (1947), regarding the UNRRA: "It was known to only a few people in Washington - outside the secret inner sanctum of the Big Four Powers, the United States, Britain, Soviet Russia and China - that the pattern of Power dictatorship was first secretly introduced through the innocent looking greatest relief organization in the world - the UNRRA [emphasis added]." 
What made the IRC the IRC was its helping for the sake of helping, helping human beings because they were human beings, that is, humanizing without dehumanizing. The key was to help now and not later. The Swiss Max Huber, who repeatedly articulated the Red Cross version of humanitarianism, pointed out that the IRC must be above all national, political and racial ties, even regarding the Fascists and the National Socialists. His model, which served as well for such other humanitarians as the Quaker Hoover, was the good Samaritan of the New Testament (the Germans speak of the compassionate Samaritan). In the New Testament that parable was spoken by Jesus in response to the question: "Who is my neighbor?" Huber was of the opinion that this was not just a parable, but that Jesus had an actual episode in mind - perhaps somewhat embellished by tradition. Without having a clear-cut future ideal or vision, the Samaritan. overcome by compassion, saw the victims need, responded immediately, and accomplished his deed of helping. [26a]
Applying the response of the good Samaritan to Allied decision-making in World War II, undoubtedly the situation in the winters of 1944, '45 and '46 would have been quite different in Europe if the Allies had cooperated more fully with the IRC. Yet, according to Red Cross documentation, "The Allied blockade control of exports from Switzerland grew" even "stricter as the years passed."  For the real policy of Roosevelt and his advisors, those whom Bullitt termed bamboozlers, was one of undermining and countering the IRC approach. Their approach was based on the UNRRA version of humanitarianism: instead of giving aid while the war was in progress, the truly humanitarian approach was to amass it and wait until the war is over. Thus UNRRA, for example, made "mass purchases to build up stock" just to undercut the Red Cross.  The word "rehabilitation" was employed to justify this refusal to help during the war.
A strong element in this approach was the Morgenthau Plan for the Germans, a plan never officially adopted but nevertheless largely carried out. An American Lutheran churchman who was directly involved with church aid to Germany after the war called the Morgenthau Plan "vengeful."  In other words, the UNRRA approach was closely linked with the conviction that the world had to solve forever what was termed "the German problem." In so doing one could create a model for solving the world's racial problems and the problem of anti-Semitism everywhere. In a way, the same mentality that ordered the bombing of Dresden and Pforzheim weeks before the end of the war also worked against the Red Cross. By allowing the adoption of the UNRRA version of humanitarianism, Roosevelt and Churchill cold-bloodedly sacrificed millions of human beings on the altar of unconditional surrender, in the same way that Stalin had done with the Ukrainian kulaks in the 1930's.
Since Huber, Hoover and others found deep inspiration in the parable of the good Samaritan, a parable closely connected with the Christian tradition, there is also a churchly aspect to this. Some may say that war is war and that therefore Christian considerations were not relevant. Yet when Roosevelt and Churchill met on the American cruiser Augusta, in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland in August, 1941, they formulated the Atlantic Charter, and "Frank and Winnie" sang the Christian hymn that goes "Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus going on before," at a worship service. The American, Canadian and British armed forces all had Christian military chaplains, paid by their governments. How can one avoid the Christian dimension?
From a Christian standpoint, regarding the two versions of humanitarianism, there is indeed a difference between those who profess faith in God and those, who devoid of this faith, aim to realize their own future idea. The disparity is evident also in the difference between the so-called religious principles and the commandments of God. Principles lack, in some ways, the urgency of God's commandments. The good Samaritan could have waited and justified his refusal to help by saying, "I'll have to report this to the police," or, "I need to protect myself so I can help other victims in the future." For this Samaritan, however, the only thing that mattered was helping now. The IRC thought and acted likewise.
Clearly at odds with the Christian imperative was the conduct of the Provisional Committee of the World Council of Churches in actually adopting the un-Christian UNRRA policy of withholding material aid to Germany to further its preconceived postwar plan for the Germans. It was in accordance with this plan that a delegation of eight from the Professional Committee sought to establish postwar fellowship with representatives of the newly formed German Protestant Church at Stuttgart in October 1945. There, in the name of ecumenism, the PCWCC delegation, in cooperation with the British and American military, wielded the implied threat of withholding material assistance in feeding and clothing the German people unless the German churchmen complied with their demand: to formulate and sign a declaration of an all-German guilt for World War II. Thereby the Provisional Committee adopted an un-Christian unilateralism of guilt, out of step with true Christianity but quite in step with the inhuman unconditional surrender demands proclaimed by President Roosevelt at Casablanca in 1943." 
The World Council of Churches' action also had important theological ramifications. The notion of a unique, all-German guilt flew in the face of the universality of Christian baptism. It meant that the World Council was driven by a sectarian political obsession, thus making it a sect which pre-empted the term "church" for its sectarian purposes. This sectarian, theocratic (legalistic) spirit became further evident in the imposition of pre-conceived standards, regarding the leadership of the postwar German Protestant churches, on the Germans. That is, it was insisted on that only those who had publicly opposed National Socialism could qualify as church leaders. Such sectarianism, therefore, even set its own stipulations regarding discipleship and apostleship, preempting the twelve of the New Testament. A clergyman like Prof. D. Meinhold, who personally contributed in helping to save the lives of thousands of Greeks, would not have qualified as a church leader, simply because of his service as a chaplain in the German army. Thus the new sect known as the World Council of Churches prostituted not only baptism but also ordination. The World Council of Churches continues to discredit outstanding Christian theologians and church leaders of the past. This was somewhat foreseen by some at the time. In 1946 the Swiss Karl Alfons Meyer, in his article Rotes Kreuz in Bedrfängnis (The Red Cross in Distress), wrote of the IRC version of humanitarianism: "The Red Cross, in contrast to all churches and also every form of atheism, was in every way the living model of pure Christianity." 
It is high time that those associated with the World Council of Churches - which spoke so nobly in 1945 of the German need for repentance - recognize the error of their ways and follow President Ronald Reagan's lead at Bitburg in 1985, where he termed the German guilt that which is in reality, i.e. "imposed."
Clearly a key reason for the Allies' frustration of IRC and others' attempts to succor occupied Europe was that the resulting privation could be exploited for propaganda purposes. Wartime aid to the people of occupied Europe would have deprived the Allied liberation of a good deal of the impact it achieved through the flow of food, clothing, and medical supplies which followed in its wake. Furthermore, the terrible disease and hunger which afflicted occupied Europe at the war's end could be laid at the door of the "evil" Germans and their "evil" leaders.  The horrors caused in no small part by the Anglo-American refusal to relax the blockade would serve as much of the basis for a postwar propaganda which would slowly harden into "history." In turn this history would be harnessed to the task of "re-educating" the Germans and the rest of the world as to the virtues of certain nations and ideologies and the evils of others.
Unquestionably the IRC involvement in Greece, and other related topics, have been neglected in historical writing. One can hardly fault the IRC, the thrust of which is helping from humanitarian motives and not propagandizing for the sake of public relations. As Huber expressed it "The biblical words tell us that one does not light a lamp and put it under a bushel." Yet, for the IRC the spirit dies as soon as its workers put it above the bushel."  The IRC was concerned with helping, not with getting credit, quite unlike the propagandists and the politicians, whose priorities are often reversed. This explains the IRC's helplessness against UNRRA, and how its "living model of pure Christianity" could be successfully abused by the Provisional Committee of the World Council of Churches. Yet this cannot be the case for honest historians, for as the Famine Relief Committee wrote in its final report in 1945, "History will judge our government harshly for its futile persistence in a policy of total blockade of foodstuffs." 
From a humanitarian viewpoint, the decisive time for the English and American leadership in World War II was the summer of 1943, when Knutson and his fellow Republicans made their dramatic plea. Before that, especially before June 1941, the blockade was virtually England's only weapon. But by the summer of 1943 the situation was changing rapidly, and central Europe was in disruption. In the face of this, who would say, realistically speaking, that the IRC aid to the Allied prisoners of war in Germany prolonged the war? Or that the 751,000 parcels to those in the concentration camps or the 714,000 metric tons of food provided for the civilian population in Greece prolonged the war? In fact, it contributed heavily in keeping Greece from falling into the Communist orbit afterwards. Might not similar aid, even if less dramatic, have changed the course of history and prevented countries like Poland from falling into the hands of the Communists? In any case the fact remains that millions of Greeks are alive today because of aid. 
In closing, one. might ask how men such as Knutson, Hoover, Gibson, Rich, Walker, and the other members of the Famine Relief Committee felt when they read and heard of the horror scenes in the German concentration camps at the war's end. They knew that the Allies could have alleviated at least some of those horrors. But Roosevelt, Churchill, and the others who stymied humanitarian aid stood ready not merely to exploit, but to create the circumstances which led to such conditions. Whereas the humanitarians knew that Germans had no patent on man's inhumanity to man, the Allied leaders counterfeited a deceitful image of German brutality which has played a crucial role in the distortion of modern history.
The images from the camps of spring 1945 very much need to be reassessed. It is hoped that this paper is a contribution to that reassessment.
Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 71-88.
Published with permission of and courtesy to the Institute for Historical Review (IHR).
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