“We’re launching a campaign to support the tourist industry in Greece this summer” tweeted the Pappas Post, a Greek American media outlet on May 20th of this year. And Greece’s publicity to keep interest in visiting Greece alive during the campaign #greecefromhome is publicized on a number of other Greek American websites, most notably the Chicago-based HALC organization. More recently, the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) announced a $30,000 donation to an Athens-based research center working to support the public health in response to the coronavirus pandemic. These are some of the very few Greek American offers of help to Greece during the current pandemic crisis. The reason is that conditions in the United States do not permit Greek Americans to do as they have done in the past.

Earlier crises of global proportions, such as the world wars of the twentieth century and the economic crisis of the early twenty-first century were moments when Greek Americans expressed their solidarity with their homeland in words and in deeds. Most who did so were either American citizens by choice or by birth but with strong feelings of allegiance towards Greece.

The Greek diaspora’s interaction with their homeland has a long pedigree but its terms have always relied on conditions in Greece and/or in the host society. There are examples such as the Greek American lobby’s role in the imposition of the U.S. arms embargo on Turkey between 1975 and 1978 that can be fully understood only if we take into account the domestic circumstances in the United States. In that case it was a weakened presidency and a resurgent Congress willing to play a role in foreign policy formulation [1].

The same can be said of Greek American mobilisation in support of Greece during WWII, which stands out as a prime example of diaspora engagement with the homeland during a crisis that affected both Greece and the United States. Immediately after Greece entered WWII a group of Greek Americans formed the Greek War Relief Association (GWRA). The GWRA’s purpose was to raise funds to provide much needed clothing, food and medical supplies to the population in Greece [2].

The GWRA had the support of Archbishop Athenagoras, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, of Kimon Diamantopoulos, Greece’s ambassador to the United States, of the Greek ethnic press and many organisations. But its success came because it also had the support of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), the largest Greek American organisation with over 160 chapters (local branches) throughout the United States. AHEPA President Van A. Nomikos decided that rather than embark on its own aid for Greece campaign AHEPA should subsume its efforts under the auspices of the GWRA and its chapters became the main fundraisers for the effort.

In the 5-month period between the Italian attack in October 1940 which brought Greece into the war and the Axis occupation of Greece in May 1941 the GWRA sent $ 3,766,000 to Greece. These funds were used to supply civilians with food, heating fuel, clothing, and medical attention as well as outfit ambulances, construct of bomb-proof shelters, create refugee workshops, and support distressed families of slain soldiers.

After Greece was occupied by the Axis the GWRA continued its relief work. The GWRA’s aid was especially critical during the awful winter of 1941-42 when famine swept throughout Greece. By March 1945, the GWRA had dispatched 101 individual fleet shipments to Greece which delivered 647,153 tons of wheat and other foodstuffs, 2,878 tons of clothing, and 19,601 tons of medicine and related supplies.

Enabling the Greek American efforts to support their homeland were three aspects of America in the early 1940s. The first was the widespread admiration afforded to Greece in the United States. In 1940 when Greece successfully repelled Italy’s attack it was generously praised in the American media with editorials and articles and a photograph of an Evzone sounding the bugle with the Acropolis as the background in the cover of Life Magazine [3].

Secondly, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 the United States entered the war. Immediately, Greek Americans mobilised not only to support Greece through the GWRA, but also the United States by participating in the sale and purchase of the U. S. War Bonds that were issued to raise funds for the war effort. By all accounts they combined contributions to the GWRA and buying war bonds seamlessly [4].

Thirdly, what also mattered were the different conditions in the two countries. While Greece suffered famine, deprivation and the brutality of foreign occupation, the Greeks living in the United States enjoyed the benefits of a society that had left the Great Depression of the 1930s behind it, thanks to the economic activity the war generated. That gave the need to support the homeland an additional impetus.

Presently things are different, with the exception of the admiration Greece has earned for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. American news outlets have praised Greece and its Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for the effective way the country handled the outbreak [5]. The major Greek American news outlets have reported extensively on the positive coverage of Greece internationally. Greece’s success has also been showcased on the webpages of AHEPA and the two lobbying organisations in Washington D.C., the American Hellenic Institute, the Manatos & Manatos firm, as well as the American Hellenic Council of California.

But here the parallels with the 1940s end. The situation in the United States is far worse than the one in Greece due to Washington’s chaotic response to the pandemic and the ineffectiveness of its measures. This has meant that the two major Greek American institutions, AHEPA (and its women’s organisation “The Daughters of Penelope”) and the Church have had to focus first on helping their own members and also participate in the nationwide initiatives to support the work of health workers and the growing number of persons in need [6].

Yet despite the absence of direct Greek American aid to Greece during the coronavirus pandemic, the diaspora-homeland connection remains strong. All the Greek American lobbying groups have continued to alert U.S. policy makers to Turkey’s actions on the Greco-Turkish border along the Evros river and over the migrant crisis in the Aegean more generally. The domestic pressures of the pandemic cannot deflect Greek American concerns from preserving the homeland’s security.


Alexander Kitroeff is professor of history at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. His latest book is The Greek Orthodox Church in America: a modern history (Cornell University Press, 2020)


[1] Alexander Kitroeff, “The Limits of Political Transnationalism: The Greek-American Lobby 1970s-1990s” in Dimitris Tziovas ed. Greek Diaspora and Migration since 1700 Society Politics & Culture Burlington: Ashgate, 2009 141-153.

[2] Alexandros K. Kyrou, “Greek Nationalism and Diaspora Politics in America, 1940-1945: Background and Analysis of Ethnic Responses to Wartime Crisis” Ph.D. Indiana University, 1993.

[3] Editorial, “The Hour of Greece” New York Times October 29, 1940; Life December 16, 1940.

[4] Theodore Saloutos, The Greeks in the United States Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964 350-353.

[5] Editorial, “In a Crisis True Leaders Stand Out” New York Times April 30, 2020; Matina Stevis-Gridneff, “Europe’s Battle-Hardened Nations Show Resilience in Virus Fight” New York Times May 10, 2020; Billy Perigo and Joseph Hinks, “Greece Has an Elderly Population and a Fragile Economy. How Has It Escaped the Worst of the Coronavirus So Far?” Time Magazine April 23, 2020; Elinda Labropoulou, “Greece has been a coronavirus success, but it will be hit economically anyway” Washington Post April 22, 2020.

[6] “Ahepa Family in Action” AHEPA Civic Responsibility News Release, April 14, 2020;  https://www.goarch.org/-/covid-19-relief-fund ; “Elpidophoros Urges Faithful to Donate Blood” National Herald April 11-17 2020.