I wrote the text below, for the exhibition “The Hour of Greece” that opened in Athens, Greece, on October 24, 2019 in the historic building of the the Hellenic American University.
The organizers asked me to share with them the “seeds” of the collection and how I began collecting the items that were being featured in Greece for the very first time that had already attracted so much media attention, including a front page story in the Greek and English editions of Greece’s most widely-circulated newspaper Kathimerini.
Curated by Louiza Karapidaki, the exhibition features more than 300 World War II-era items — most of which have never been on public display — including posters, photographs, magazines, pins and other archival materials that tell the story of the American response to Greece’s role during WWII.
Louisa, who is one of Greece’s most applauded art historians and curators, was able to take my words and apply them to the flow of the exhibition, transforming a hard topic– that of war– into something very personal.
The Hour of Greece Exhibition
This exhibition tells the story of the American response to Greece’s role during World War II, illustrating how the entire American nation came together in support of the people of Greece after they exemplified extraordinary resilience and heroism in defense of their nation from the invading Axis forces.
The collection of items was sparked by decades of family stories told by my father who was a teenager when the Germans invaded his native Crete with thousands of “umbrellas” falling from the sky in May 1941, as well as by my mother who, although born after the Germans capitulated, remembered growing up drinking “American milk” and receiving boxes with various food items.
It is noteworthy that this “American compassion” she experienced shaped her worldview at the time that “Americans were good people,” and this was why she later chose to marry my father who had already emigrated to the United States years earlier.
Through these stories I became interested in that particular piece of history in a dual capacity— both as a descendant of Greeks who lived the experiences of wartime and post-war Greece and as an American who was proud of how the United States had reacted and responded.
From the Italian invasion in 1940 and Greece’s resistance and throughout the German invasion and subsequent occupation, the media, business establishment, Hollywood and average Americans embraced the struggles of the Greek people.
Fox Films CEO Spyros Skouras, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Athenagoras and the AHEPA created the Greek War Relief Association, which was embraced mainstream Americans as fundraising campaigns, events, theatrical plays, exhibitions and radio telethons became commonplace, with names such as Bob Hope, Shirley Temple, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Clark Gable supporting the Greek cause.
The attitudes of Americans resulted from the media’s portrayal of the Greeks as heroic fighters defending freedom as Axis forces pushed through Europe.
References to Ancient Greek heroes and battles were commonplace, while newspapers wrote stunning editorials extolling the virtues of the Greek people and connecting their ideals to those of their ancient ancestors.
This influenced mainstream America’s perception of Greeks both at home and in Greece, and led to an entire nation embracing the Greek cause. In total, the American people sent hundreds of millions in today’s dollars to Greece for food, medicine, animals and other support both during the war and in the years that followed.
The massive relief effort to benefit the Greek nation has been called the largest-ever humanitarian response by Americans in history. It also shaped the philanthropic attitudes of the American people, transforming the nation into a global leader in international humanitarian relief efforts.
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