The Holocaust Historiography Project

Red Cross Humanitarianism In Greece, 1940-45


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. [1]

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. [2]

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. [3]

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.” [4]

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. [5]

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") [6] 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. [7] 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.” [8] 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. [9]

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. [10] 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. [11]

  1. A stipulation was that the Axis were the occupiers of Greece. This was an accepted fact, devoid of moral judgments for the IRC. Since the occupiers did and would have continued in their policy regardless, they were permitted to requisition local food necessary to the occupation. No foreign aid was to go to the occupying forces and these forces were not to be directly involved in the distribution. The occupying authorities promised not to take any more foodstuffs out of Greece than they had done before the IRC aid was initiated. Since the Germans had an acute manpower shortage everywhere, they, self-evidently, kept their occupational forces to a minimum. IRC representatives could monitor food shipments to spot any violations.
  2. Resistance came from the Allies, not the Axis. The Allies limited the aid to 15,000 metric tons a month. In fact, Eugene Lyons, in his biography of Herbert Hoover, went so far as to claim, “In June 1942, the Turkish government insisted on sending in food. The British and American governments regulated this Greek relief, since they could not stop the Turks in any case.” [12]
  3. The Swedish ships chartered by the IRC needed to have their voyages cleared in Berlin before leaving Canada or Argentina. The ships were clearly marked, sailed in pairs, and had to follow a strict, pre-arranged course. Any deviation could spell disaster, as German submarines were active. In the event, the Germans sank no IRC ships. However, ships hit mines in the Mediterranean and ships were sunk by erring American and Italian planes. It had been agreed that no restitution complaints could be filed.
  4. The ships were inspected by the British in Gibraltar and by the Germans in Piraeus.
  5. Upon arrival and inspection by the Germans, the cargo was taken over by a neutral High Administration, consisting of seven Swiss and eight Swedes, with the Swedish charge d'affaires playing an important part. [13] Any violation on the part of the occupying forces was reported to him. The aid was transported inland without charge and was custom- and tax-free. Thousands of persons, Greeks and non-Greeks, were involved.
  6. Local priests and churchemen played important roles in many places, especially outside the larger cities.

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

  1. Although the tendency is to speak and write of an all encompassing war in Europe, a glance at the map indicates that there were neutral countries strategically located to facilitate humanitarian-foreign aid.
    In the eastern Mediterranean there was, as seen above neutral Turkey, with a long coastline facing toward Greece, a European territory adjoining the Balkans, and a vast hinterland reaching far into Asia. This meant that what was achieved in Greece was possible in other Balkan countries. Neutral Portugal, Spain and Ireland offered way stations for aid from across the Atlantic; neutral Sweden straddled the North Sea and Baltic. Although landlocked, neutral Switzerland was in the heart of warring Europe. Switzerland had a strong humanitarian tradition; transportation of goods was free; and the cities of Basel and Zurich were close to Germany, while Geneva, the Red Cross Center, has also been the seat of the international League of Nations.
  2. As pointed out, the reluctance was not from the German side. Junod, who was not overly pro-German, claimed: “Germany had no interest in stopping the supply of foodstuffs to a famished continent.” [14] Similar claims were made by many others, including Congressman Knutson, the Famine Relief Committee, and the writer of the final report of the International Red Cross in Greece. [15] In the Red Cross report one even finds subdued praise for the Germans: as is pointed out, for the Germans it was no small matter that scores of foreign delegates roamed Greece carrying out their independent administrative activities on a grand scale. The Germans showed a great trust. [16] My personal knowledge of others like Prof. Dr. Meinhold leads me to agree. Meinhold told me proudly, “The Germans didn’t want nor did they get even one kernel.”
    Similarly, Philip E. Ryan, an American director of the Red Cross, writing about aid to Allied prisoners of war in Germany, claimed that the IRC handled over 300,000 tons of supplies for Allied prisoners. In 1947 he wrote that for the year 1943 “… the record of delivery of goods consigned to Americans in prison camps in Europe showed receipts of 99.93% of the goods shipped.” “Delivery,” he continues, “in 1944 and 45 was somewhat less effective,” but he hastens to add that this was “occasioned in part by losses resulting from Allied air attacks on transportation points in Germany and the general disruption in a country approaching military defeat.” [l7] In the final report of the IRC one reads that this neutral commission encountered a true understanding of its work and that difficulties were smoothed out, as easily as the circumstances of the war permitted.
    A similar German willingness is also apparent elsewhere, as in Poland (as long as such aid was possible, that is, before the American involvement in the war from December 1941. Thus Rabbi Abraham Shinedling, in his long article (ten pages) in the 1942 Collier’s Yearbook covering 1941, wrote that in January 1941, “the Joint Distribution Committee of America was assisting at least 600,000 destitute Polish Jews.” [18]
    Hoover, who kept up the humanitarian pressure throughout the war, in 1941 used Poland as an example that the German military could be trusted. Thus John Cudahy, former U.S. ambassador to Poland, called Hoover “the greatest expert of the world on saving famishing humanity,” and speaking of Hoover’s proposal to set up American soup kitchens in Belgium for the feeding of 1,000,000 adults and 2,000,000 children, claimed, “For a year and a half before the German-Russian phrase of the war, Hoover’s food relief functioned in Poland. There depots were set up in Cracow and Warsaw for distribution to Poles, Jews and Ukrainians, without interference by German military forces nor has there been any attempt to seize any supplies by the Germans [emphasis added].” “The former president,” wrote Cudahy, “points to this example as proof of what may be expected from the German Army in fulfillment of the undertaking in Belgium.” [19]
  3. Just as the prisoner-of-war camps were easily transformed into Red Cross distribution centers, the same could have been done with certain German concentration camps. (As will be shown, some of this was done.)
    In the 1948 Report of the Joint Relief Commission of the International Red Cross 1941-46 one finds, “The distribution of relief in camps was more easily controlled than distribution among the civilian population of a country.” [20]
    Simply formulated: What other wartime option did the Germans have, in the face of their massive manpower shortage, but to import large numbers of foreigners, men and women, for employment in German industry and agriculture? The problems in terms of work discipline and security were such that these millions of alien workers were housed in labor and even concentration camps, which were transformed into huge manufacturing complexes as the war progressed. The German manpower shortage, in the face of strong underground resistance which engaged in effective guerrilla operations and even more effective economic sabotage, further complicated things by encouraging resort to terror tactics in policing.
    In fact this massive reliance on foreign and captive labor afforded an opportunity to thwart the Anglo-American hunger blockade through centralized distribution to millions of workers in Central Europe. At the same time this use of foreign labor, as well as the concentration of the Jews in camps and ghettoes, gave Allied propagandists the opportunity to claim that these German policies were part of a grand plan to exterminate non-Germans.
    Had the Anglo-American Allies been willing to allow shipping additional food and clothing, some camps were strategically located and could have at times been useful for IRC aid. Thus Stutthof was on the Baltic Sea, convenient to Sweden. Mauthausen, Dachau, and Buchenwald were immune from much of the Allied bombing, and these camps, plus Bergen-Belsen, were fairly accessible by rail from Switzerland. That this was more than an option is shown by the fact that despite Allied sabotage and hindrance of aid to the camp deportees “… from the 12 November 1943 to the 8th of May 1945, some 751,000 parcels … were sent by the IRC to deportees in concentration camps.” [21] Beside the Allied restrictions there were also inner-camp problems in the distribution. This was so at least in Buchenwald. There much of the distribution was in the hands of the prisoners' committees. These committees were dominated by the Communists, since they had been in the camp the longest. [22]
    The prisoners' committees tended to give food to those who toed the mark for the Communists. To solve this the IRC and others insisted that parcels could be sent only to specific persons, so that reception could be acknowledged. But internees had often changed their names and were thus difficult to locate in the midst of chaotic conditions. The circumstances, and not German policy, were the problem.
  4. Across occupied Europe there was a network of churches, which was left intact by the Germans, and as the IRC final report pointed out, church connections were most helpful in Greece.
  5. The Americans, Canadians and others were willing to help. A bill to aid the peoples of the occupied countries was passed by the U.S. Congress as late in the war as the spring of 1944. [23] Despite Allied war demands there was no shortage of agricultural goods in Allied countries. Canada, for example, had its biggest crop in the summer of 1942. Neutral ships were available. Money was no problem, for various humanitarian organizations, in addition to the churches, were eager to help. (Also available were the financial assets and shipping properties of the occupied countries which had been seized by the Americans and Canadians.) The governments-in-exile advocated such aid. Pacifists were eager to volunteer despite the risks involved.

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.” [24] 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. [25]

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].” [26]

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.” [27] 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. [28] 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.” [29] 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.” [30]

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.” [31]

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. [32] 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.” [33] 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.” [34]

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. [35]

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.


  1. Goldwyn Smith, History of England (Third Edition), New York Charles Scribner & Sons, 1957, pp. 782- 3. Smith writes: “Without this aid, millions of Greeks would have perished.”
  2. Congressional Record (1943), pp. 6681-2.
  3. In Collier’s Yearbook (1940), covering 1939, p. 277, John F. Rich is designated a secretary of the Quaker Committee in Poland.
  4. Christian Century, Oct 29, 1941. pp. 1326 ff.
  5. Ronald C. D. Jasper, George Bell: Bishop of Chichester, Oxford Univ., New York-Toronto, 1967, p. 266. Bell also protested “against obliteration bombings [against Germany]” in the House of Lords, cf. Christian Century, March 22, 1944.
  6. Marcel Junod, Warriors without Weapons. New York Macmillan Co., 1951, pp. 164-184.
  7. Ravitaillement de la Grèce, pendant l'occupation 194144 et pendant les premiers cinq mois après la liberation. Rapport final de la Commission de Gestion pour les Secours en Grèce sous les auspices du Comité International de la Croix-Rouge. Imprimerie de la “Société Hellenique d'Editions,” S. A. Athènes 1949. The report was edited by Bengt Helger, who was president when the commission was liquidated Nov. 1945 to Sept. 1946. Cf p. 73 (Evidently this report was never translated into another language.)
  8. Junod, Warriors, p. 178.
  9. Ravitaillement, p. 625.
  10. Ravitaillement, p. 19. Of the 610,000 tons, 470,000 were wheat and wheat product and 140,000 tons dry milk, canned products, vitamins and medicines. Of the 102,100 tons, 3,600 came from Sweden, 2,100 from Turkey, 31,000 fr'om the Axis Powers, 4,400 Greek products, 55,000 from the Military Liaison, and 6,000 was left for the Red Cross by the Germans before they departed. Not included in this total is the tonnage of the ship Hallaren which was allowed to operate between Italy and Greece. This ship brought in 55,000 tons of foodstuffs. Ravitaillement, p. 97.
  11. Ravitaillement, p. 58 ff.
  12. Eugene Lyons, Herbert Hoover: A Biography, Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1964, p. 361.
  13. Ravitaillement. The final report lists the Swiss and Swedish delegates. On this list are about 40 Swedes and 20 Swiss. The Swedish list includes 9 professors, a council of the Swedish Supreme Court, naval officers, pastors and bankers.
  14. Junod, Warriors, p. 157.
  15. Although general in nature, the Report of the Joint Relief Commission of the International Red Cross, 1941-46, Geneva, 1948, shows that the Red Cross was indeed active throughout the war. Chapter II, entitled “The Blockade,” tells of aid to practically all occupied countries. Thus on p. 298 one finds that 644,900 tons of foodstuffs and clothing were shipped to Poland, and 27,885 tons of pharmaceutical products. This aid was provided, primarily, from within the Third Reich, despite the Allied blockade and deliberate Allied hindrances.
  16. Ravitaillement, p. 81 and 87.
  17. “10 Eventful Years,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, VoL III, 1947, p.644, under the heading “Prisoners of War.”
  18. Collier’s Year Book, P.F. Collier & Son, 1942. P.340 under Jews. “Early in January, the new Warsaw ghetto for Jews began to be administered by a Jewish Community Council with 1,000 Jewish policemen guarding the section, which was enclosed by an eight-foot walL Entrance of 'Aryans' into the Warsaw ghetto was discouraged. That same month, the Joint Distribution Committee of America was assisting at least 600,000 destitute Polish Jews.” [Non-Jewish Poles like Germans were termed Aryans.] Walter N. Sanning, The Dissolution of Eastem European Jewry, Costa Mesa, CA: Institute for Historical Review, p. 44, claims that in the areas in Poland under German controL there were 757,000 Jews.
  19. John Cudahy, The Armies March, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941, p.224 ff.
  20. The Report of the Joint Relief Commission of the Intemational Red Cross 1941-46, Geneva, 1948, p.14.
  21. International Committee of the Red Cross, The Work of the ICRC for Civilian Detainees in the German Concentration Camps (1939-1945), Geneva, 1975, p.24.
  22. Noel F. Busch, Lost Continent?, Harper, New York and London 1945. Busch was a well-known writer. On pp. 73 and 74 he tells of his visit to Buchenwald ten days after the liberation. The one-time inmate, Robert Robertin, whose father was fairly well-known in the Czech government, showed him around “Robertin … told me something about the internal organization of the camp and especially of the prisoners' committees, which, according to him, did most of the governing of the camp with the approval of the official Gestapo authorities … According to him, they [the committees] were … almost wholly Communist-controlled, since the Communists had been the first internees and thus had priority on the best jobs … Many of the horrors attributed to the Gestapo authorities were, according to Robertin, not only encouraged by the committees but instigated by them.”
  23. Lutheran Companion, Augustana Book Concern, Rock Island, IL: May 17, 1944. “On Feb. 15 the Senate passed a resolution, surging the Administration to send food to the Nazi dominated countries in western and northern Europe, as has already been done so successfully in Greece. The House passed it unanimously on April 17,'” pp.34.
  24. William C. Bullitt, The Great Globe Itself, New York Charles Scribner & Sons, 1946, p.193.
  25. Sigrid Arne, United Nations Primer, New York, Toronto: Farrar & Rinehart, 1945, p. 41. “It [UNNRA] would help Allied nationals, wherever they were found, and needed help. It would not help the ex- enemy. It would spend money in Germany to repatriate the French, for instance, but it would not spend money in Germany to help hungry Germans.”
  26. Jan Ciechanowski, Defeat In Victory, Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y., 1947, p. 251. He speaks of the forming of UNRRA in these words: “the veto sneaks in.”
  27. 26a Fritz Wartenweiler, Max Huber, Zurich Rotapfel Verlag, 1953, p. 342 ff. (Huber also wrote the foreword for Warriors without Weapons).
  28. Report of the Joint Relief Commission of the Intemational Red Cross 1941-46, Geneva League of Red Cross Societies, 1948, p. 65.
  29. Op. cit., p. 67.
  30. Richard W. Solberg, As Between Brothers, Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1957, p. 27 and 57. New York: Helen Lombard, While They Fought: Behind the Scenes in Washington, 1941-46, Charles Scribner & Sons, 1947. This highly informed correspondent gives us a keen insight into this reeducation on page 313: “Shortly after the occupation of Germany by American troops, the education and orientation branch of the Army started producing moving pictures for the guidance of the G.I. in Germany. They were not for release within the Untied States but one of them was privately shown after a Washington dinner party in honor of Undersecretary of War and Mrs. Patterson. The movie portrayed the German people preparing for World Wars I and II. The 'sound' accompanying the film was a man’s voice. It exhorted the American soldier to hate all Germans — from the smallest child to the very aged. Of course, someday the German people will have to be reeducated. They will have to be taught the ways of democracy. But that will be done by one of our Allies!'” — was the ending message. The company, largely composed of War Department and administration officials, applauded vigorously.”
  31. Cf. also R. Clarance Lang, “Imposed German Guilt: The Stuttgart Declaration of 1945,” The Journal of Historical Review, Costa Mesa, CA Vol. 8, No. 1, Spring 1988.
  32. Karl Alfons Meyer, "Rotes Kreuz in Bedrängnis," a special reprint from the Schweizer Monatshefte (June 1946). Meyer further stressed “We must battle and salvage the International Red Cross.” In 1943, a special edition article appeared entitled Reconstruction Supplement, The Red Cross, “The Future of the Red Cross” by Lieut-CoL L.E. Gielguid, MBD, which is most critical of the neutrality of the Red Cross. He speaks of “meaningless neutrality.” This was an attempt, like others, to politicize the organization, integrating it into the UNRRA concept of humanitarianism.
  33. Regarding the “evil” of the Germans, one can easily overlook the strong Allied psychological impetus promoting the idea of “evil” that is, the Allied need for exoneration. In 1933 Jewish leaders called for an economic and financial boycott against Germans and German goods. During the war the Allies whitewashed the crimes of Josef Stalin. Late in the war the Allies needlessly bombed Gertnan cities, such as Dresden and Pforzheim, and, through UNRRA, sabotaged the work of humanitarian organizations such as the International Red Cross. Even the World Council of Churches used and is still using the idea of German “evil” for its selfish organizational purposes.
  34. Wartenweiler, Max Huber, p.343.
  35. Jasper, George Bell, p.343.
  36. Sumner Welles, Where Are We Heading? New York Harper,1945. p. 171. Welles, after the war, deplored the “lack of organized force of trained personnel” He claimed, “… it can be asserted that for lack of effective organization to meet a situation which should have been foreseen, many thousands of innocent persons experienced a degree of tragedy and suffering which was altogether unnecessary.” Welles might have added, that if UNRRA had not undermined the work of such organizations as the Red Cross, much could have been alleviated. But the leaders of America, many of them emigres from the Third Reich, had reeducation on their minds. And although this was quite un-American, they were prepared to use, and did use, the chaotic conditions of the war and an imposed starvation for that purpose.

Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 71-88.