How did ancient Greece collapse

Memories of the occupation in Greece

The famine during the occupation hit the people of Greece particularly hard. A few months after the German invasion of Athens (April 27, 1941), the food supply had collapsed, which had noticeable and threatening effects on the majority of the population - and especially the lowest strata of society, children and the elderly. Diaries from this time document the cityscape: “There are ghosts on the streets,” remembers Eleni Vlachou. “People with dull eyes, drooping shoulders, marked by the cold and hunger. Sometimes you can see them lying on the sidewalk. Are they dead or alive? ”“ Hunger is taking them away, ”reports Roger Millaix, then head of the Institut Francais, appalled. “From Panepistimiou Street to the institute, I saw two children collapse from exhaustion. One 14-15 years old, the other seven or eight. There are hardly any coffins left for the dead. "

According to the historian Polymeris Voglis, the famine was a complex phenomenon. “The war and the sea blockade made it impossible to import food and thus the available quantities became scarce.” From September 1939, Greece lost important grain imports. This situation worsened with the outbreak of the Greco-Italian War at the end of October 1941. The drafts into the military led to a further decline in agricultural production in 1940. "Large quantities of agricultural products, including olive oil, fruit and tobacco, were confiscated by the Italian and German soldiers after the capitulation or were exported to the German Empire at ridiculous prices." In addition, there were poor harvests and the cession of the northern parts of Greece to Bulgaria in the course of the German conquest of Greece in spring 1941 and the division of the country into three zones of occupation (German, Bulgarian and Italian zones of occupation), with "borders" and their own currencies, which resulted in massive restrictions on the movement of goods. In addition, the transport of food from rural regions to the cities became more difficult because the existing "underdeveloped transport and communication network was severely impaired by the requisition of vehicles and fuel and the destruction of the road and rail network".

The ruthless looting and economic exploitation of the country by the German occupiers led to the final collapse of the food supply and the economy. The German authorities in Berlin, the Reich Ministry of Food and Agriculture, knew the extent of the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Greece. She cared little, however. You spoke out resolutely against aid for Greece. "According to the officials (...) any food deliveries to Greece would endanger the supply of Germany," as M. Mazower writes. The mass deaths were accepted.

The famine of the winter of 1941-1942 had dramatic effects in the big cities, especially in Athens and Piraeus, but also on the small, barren islands. On June 9, 1941, the Athenians were able to get food with food stamps. At the same time, the black market began to flourish. Sources show that the majority of the harvest did not end up on the market, but ended up with speculators and middlemen. The illegal trade almost entirely replaced the regular market and within just a few months there was hardly any food available. Churches, charities and the Red Cross organized soup kitchens, but were only able to alleviate the misery to a limited extent.

In Athens, around 45,000 people died as a result of malnutrition in the winter of 1941-1942. In Thessaloniki there were around 5,000 in the period 1942-1943 - in combination with a malaria outbreak.

In the collective memory of the Greeks, the horror of famine remains one of the darkest chapters of the German occupation. As Roger Millaix reported: “How can we forget those little tragic faces, emaciated and joyless, who no longer knew how to smile, who had their skin clinging to their ribs, their spine protruding in the movement of their skeleton, their shins that looked like reeds and were so fragile that children as young as eight had to be propped up with sticks like old men or held in their arms like infants ”.

(last update: 04/28/2021)