Refugee Aid Drive Has Roots in Philanthropic Efforts of the Past
January 9, 2016
This article is a continuation of the Winter 2015 newsletter article reporting on the current refugee aid drive organized by ASCSA staff in Athens. Staff and member contributions to the effort have already resulted in multiple shipments of critical supplies to displaced groups of people on the island of Lesvos.
This spirit of charity and outreach has been present at the American School since its earliest days, perhaps making the greatest impact during and between the two world wars. In fact, the American School was the only foreign archaeological school to provide organized relief to those suffering in Greece in the early 20th century. While the School as an institution has done much to make a positive difference in its host country, what is special about the philanthropic efforts chronicled here is that many of them came about as the result of individual inspiration, personal relationships, and a collective desire (or moral obligation) to give back to a community and to a country…and to help those in need in a manner that surpasses professional context.
Philanthropy and volunteerism played huge roles during the First World War in general, with private organizations taking on wartime responsibilities for governments, ranging from the provision of food to medical assistance. The first American Red Cross (ARC) Commission to Greece was sent in 1918. The American School – the main building, grounds, and staff – served as headquarters, with Edward Capps (Chair of the Managing Committee 1918-1938) serving as commissioner and lieutenant colonel, and Henry B. Dewing serving at the rank of captain.
During the war years archaeologists and School leaders
like Edward Capps (3rd from right), Carl Blegen and Bert Hodge Hill
had key positions in the American Red Cross.
Bert Hodge Hill (ASCSA Director 1906-1926) accompanied the ARC unit dispatched to eastern Macedonia, where he assisted with the repatriation and rehabilitation of Greek refugees who had been held prisoners in Bulgaria during the war. Afterward, Hill served on an ARC mission of inquiry in the Peloponnese to report on the state of refugees who had been transferred there from Thrace and Asia Minor. He then headed back to Macedonia to engage in relief work created by a typhus epidemic and to serve as a negotiator and liaison officer. Then-Assistant Director Carl Blegen (ASCSA Director 1948-1949) served on the mission in Macedonia for a year, as well.
After the war and the 1922 Greek military debacle in Asia Minor, the Greek population previously living in Smyrna and eastern Thrace began arriving in Athens as part of the population exchange agreed to by the Greek and Turkish governments. The American School was at the forefront of the relief and resettlement efforts, no small task considering Greece had to absorb 1,400,000 people, or about 26% of its former population. Indeed, most of the relief efforts were American-led, leading historian Louis Cassimatis to declare those critical years “one of the brightest chapters in the history of Greek-American relations in the twentieth century.”
Hill was recruited to chair the Athens American Relief Committee (AARC), which nearly every day to organize help from American expats in Athens; send appeals to the U.S., Europe, and Red Cross missions abroad; handle all monetary aid received; and run one of the first refugee camps, in Piraeus, which numbered 1653 people.
This was demanding work to be sure, and the contributions made by the AARC, the Red Cross, other philanthropic agencies, as well as the Greek government, carried Greece through the first nine months of the crisis before a more permanent solution was established in the form of the Refugee Settlement Commission (RSC). The RSC took over orchestrating refugee settlement, with full legal authority, in 1923. After his directorship with the ASCSA, Hill served as a member on the Commission, working on negotiations to compensate and settle rural refugees, as well as on compiling an urban refugee census.
The same year, Capps founded American Friends of Greece to raise awareness about the Asia Minor refugees and to solicit help from contacts in the U.S. The School also began construction on the Gennadius Library, a project whose vast majority of hired workers, including specialty personnel, were refugees.
The interwar period found more time for archaeology and educational pursuits among the administration, scholars, and students. Yet even when excavation and academics were the focus, opportunities for philanthropy arose in unexpected ways.
Although notorious rivals at the ASCSA and in the academic community, Capps and Hill worked together to help establish the private Athens College through the Hellenic-American Educational Foundation in 1925. The school sought to fill a gap in national education system, combining Greek needs and classical spirit with American educational philosophy and teaching methodologies. The College began with 15 students, including eight refugees from Turkey, and stands today (still in the Psychiko neighborhood) as one of the most selective and esteemed preparatory schools in Greece.
In 1898, archaeologists at Corinth made the breakthrough discovery of the Peirene fountain – and also made the chronic water-contamination problems of the area worse by exposing the structure and tunnel system underneath. Flooding and mosquitoes plagued the village. The American Red Cross began sanitation work there in 1919, then teamed with Hill and the ASCSA, local leaders, the Athens School of Hygiene, and the Greek government (with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation) in the early 1930s. The coalition, led by Hill, engaged in more proactive measures to control and clean the water source, and to ensure proper flow, drainage, and hygiene. They finally succeeded after decades of analysis and physical labor, and the comprehensive sanitation program undertaken not only allows the water to run clear for the residents of Corinth today, but provides an important and positive case study in rural groundwater management for communities with similar problems to face.
Once WWII began, the ASCSA reacted quickly to the ensuing humanitarian needs. The School again turned over its facilities and members to the Allied effort. The main building of the School was occupied by the Swedish Commission of the Red Cross (this is why the stretch of Spefsippou Street in front of the School was renamed Souidias or “Sweden,” in their honor), and the West House of Loring Hall by the Swiss Red Cross. The Greek War Relief Association was formed two weeks after the invasion of Greece, in October 1940, to procure foodstuffs, medical supplies, and clothing. School Trustee (1947-1971) Spyros P. Skouras served as co-chair and Oscar Broneer (ASCSA Director 1947-1948) served as Vice President.
The School donating an ambulance to the Greek Red Cross in 1941
Given their intimate knowledge of the land, language, and culture, many American archaeologists from the ASCSA were recruited for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the first American intelligence agency. Their work in the Department of Research and Analysis, as Secret Intelligence officers, in Counterintelligence, and in the Special Operations Branch informed public policy and helped shape military strategy.
A fitting job for ASCSA affiliates who knew the broader region well was to manage the desks of the Greek Secret Intelligence offices abroad. John L. Caskey (ASCSA Director 1949-1959) and Dorothy H. Cox interviewed refugees and enemy deserters at Izmir (the largest post); James H. Oliver and John F. Daniel established the Greek desk in Cairo; and Jerome Sperling managed Istanbul. Sterling Dow ran the office that established contacts and organized bases in Cyprus, Izmir, and Istanbul, allowing networks of agents who could communicate with occupied areas to be built.
Perhaps one of the greatest contributors from this particular ASCSA crew – and certainly one of the bravest, risking his life twice during the war – was Rodney S. Young. Young lead the initiative of some of the younger scholars at the School to donate an ambulance to the Greek Red Cross, which Young himself drove to the Albanian front. He later became head of the Greek Secret Intelligence Desk and played an important role in designing the Comprehensive Greek Project, a report by the directing officers of the Secret Intelligence Services proposing U.S. involvement in rebuilding postwar Greece. The report identified people like Young, who “know Greece by instinct rather than intellect” as invaluable not only in relief and rehabilitation work, but in helping to inform policy. Young ultimately implemented his own suggestion to the Project: mobilizing all international organizations and individuals in Greece that had connections with the Greek state, including relief organizations, businesses, schools, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Red Cross, etc. For his staff, Young recruited archaeologists from the ASCSA, with whom the bonds of friendship, camaraderie, and trust were already quite secure.
Stateside, Carl Blegen headed the Greek section of the Foreign Nationalities Branch in DC, with Mary Alison Frantz as his assistant. They called upon ASCSA-affiliated friends to do a monograph on the modern history of Greece and its current state of affairs entitled “The Kingdom of Greece,” and also advised the OSS on who to hire.
President Roosevelt appointed William Bell Dinsmoor head of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe (a kind of “Monuments Men”). He produced maps of cities likely to see American military operations, on which historical landmarks were prominently marked so as to facilitate their preservation. Dinsmoor and the Commission also prepared handbooks on the care and preservation of monuments and works of art, and lectured to members of the military on the subject. As territory was recovered by the enemy, the Commission made reports on the condition of the monuments, and took an active role in tracking down and restoring “displaced works of art” to their rightful owners.
During and after the Greek Civil War (1946-1949) following WWII, the American Mission for Aid in Greece (established to implement the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan) sought out archaeologists from the ASCSA to help facilitate relief agency work. As Cultural Attaché for the U.S. Embassy (1945-1946) and liaison between the Marshall Plan’s Economic Cooperation Administration and the Greek Government, Blegen fought for the rehabilitation of Greek museums and the Greek Archaeological Service. Alison Frantz succeeded him at the Embassy and was the first executive director of the Fulbright Foundation. Oscar Broneer presented a petition to the American Mission for Aid in Greece for the financial reinstatement of the Greek Archaeological Service and tried to mobilize Greek resources through lectures and directing a film to accompany the fundraising campaign, Triumph Over Time. The documentary shows Greece rebounding from the horrors of World War II and the staff of the American School hard at work preparing archaeological sites for presentation to post-war tourists.
Postwar, from 1953-1956, the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos in the Athenian Agora (funded by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and American philhellenes) was built by Greek master masons, marble carvers, carpenters, and steelworkers, with Greek products. This ambitious project, presented to American donors as a debt to the country that gave birth to democracy, did much to help tourism and economic development during a time of depression and recovery.
For a more detailed and critical discussion of the American School’s role in various philanthropic projects throughout the first half of the 20th century, see the excellent Hesperia Issue 82.1: Philhellenism, Philanthropy, or Political Convenience? American Archaeology in Greece edited by Jack L. Davis and Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan.