The Secretary of State to President Roosevelt 4

My Dear Mr. President: There is enclosed a communication from the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Tsouderos, addressed to you,5 which the Greek Minister in Washington has delivered to the Department under instructions from his Government. The communication expresses the earnest hope that permission will be granted for relief supplies notably wheat, to be sent to Greece.

There is attached a suggested reply to the Greek Prime Minister, for your consideration.

There is also enclosed a copy of a letter from the Greek Minister in Washington, dated December 24, 1941,6 suggesting that advantage be taken of the presence of the British Prime Minister in Washington to discuss with him the question of possible measures for the relief of Greece. It seems to me that the Greek Minister’s suggestion merits consideration, in view of the necessity of coordinating our policy with that of Great Britain in the matter of relief for Axis occupied areas.

The information which the Prime Minister reports regarding the appalling conditions in Greece are similar to those we have received from our own missions in Rome, Ankara and Cairo. There can be little doubt that conditions in Greece are desperate. The Second Secretary of our Embassy in Rome, who recently visited Greece, reports that mass starvation is a fact there at present.

As you are doubtless aware, some food has been sent into Greece from Turkey recently, and further shipments are planned, on a small Turkish freighter. The food has been purchased in Turkey by the United Kingdom Commercial Corporation, an agency of [Page 728]the British Government, which has advanced the funds on the assurance of being reimbursed in part at least by the Greek War Relief Association, an American organization headed by Mr. Harold Vanderbilt. The Turkish Red Crescent has cooperated in the arrangements and has contributed some supplies.

But the relief supplies being sent to Greece from Turkey constitute merely a token, and there are many things, such as medical supplies, vitamin concentrates, and milk for children, which may not be obtained in Turkey at all. Small quantities of such supplies are available in Switzerland which could be shipped to Greece. The British Government’s attitude regarding supplies already in Europe and therefore potentially available to the Axis is, I understand, to encourage the use of such supplies by non-Axis nationals, as a means of reducing the supplies the Axis might obtain. A difficulty is presented to us by the fact that before materials such as medical supplies and condensed milk can be purchased in Switzerland for shipment to Greece, funds must be transferred to Switzerland for their purchase.

Mr. Norman Davis7 has recently given considerable attention to the Greek situation and has written to the Department, on December 15, 1941,8 recommending that the American Government grant permission for the transfer of 153,000 Swiss francs (about $38,000) to the International Red Cross at Geneva for medical supplies, vitamins, sera, and condensed milk to be sent to Greece. The funds would be supplied by the Greek War Relief Association, in an earmarked contribution to the American Red Cross. The Red Cross would assume charge of the matter, and the representative in Greece of the International Red Cross would supervise the distribution in Greece, to assure its use by the Greek people themselves. I recommend that the American Government’s permission be granted for this transaction.

Mr. Davis is also considering the urgent need of Greece for wheat. The Turkish authorities might be persuaded to permit wheat to be shipped to Greece immediately from their own meager supplies if assured that an equivalent amount of wheat, in replacement, would be sent to Turkey at an early date. The Turkish Government has shown a desire to do what it can for the relief of Greece, and has been deeply moved by an appeal of the refugee Greek authorities to send to Greece even “fish heads and scraps which the Turks would not eat”. The Turks, however, have barely enough wheat for their own urgent needs. I recommend, subject [Page 729]to your approval, that we inform Mr. Davis that this Government looks with favor, in principle, on arrangements for sending wheat to Greece from Turkey against an undertaking, if necessary, by the Red Cross to replace the wheat shipped from Turkey.

Faithfully yours,

Cordell Hull

Draft of Letter From President Roosevelt to the Greek Prime Minister (Tsouderos) 9

My Dear Mr. Prime Minister: The distressing situation which exists today in your noble country, depicted in your recent letter, moves me very deeply indeed. The information you report is similar to that which other sources have confirmed all too unmistakably. No further evidence is necessary to convince any humane person, whatever his allegiance, that countries which have been overrun by Axis tyranny, and notably Greece, are in desperate want, and should be aided by every feasible means.

The American Government has given serious consideration to proposals for furnishing relief to Greece, has cooperated in arrangements for sending food supplies from Turkey, and is at present giving active attention to suggestions for more adequate relief.

Our endeavors to aid Greece are limited by the necessity of avoiding any action which would assist the Axis Powers. The unconscionable actions of the Axis forces in despoiling Greece are beyond adequate condemnation. As you are doubtless aware, Hitler has boasted to the world of Germany’s resources of food at the very moment he was giving orders for the removal from Greece of the meager supplies which were available to the people of that country. We should not lose sight for one moment of the full responsibility of the Axis for the situation existing in occupied territory and of the crimes which should be on the consciences of those who have ordered and those who have carried out measures which have taken even the grain seed away.

I concur, however, in your view, Mr. Prime Minister, that the fact that the Axis powers have every duty to feed the peoples over whom they have extended their domination does not alter the fact that the people are in desperate need. The American Government will continue its efforts to find a means of bringing aid to the Greeks in their tragic plight without compromising the prime [Page 730]objective; namely, victory over the Axis powers. This objective is as vital to the Greeks as to ourselves, since Greece can be fully relieved only through such victory.

Very sincerely yours,

  1. Notation on original: “CH OK FDR.”
  2. Ante, p. 725.
  3. Supra.
  4. Chairman, American Red Cross.
  5. Letter not printed.
  6. Filed separately under 868.48/2012. A penciled notation by Mr. George V. Allen of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs states this letter was signed by President Roosevelt on December 31, 1941.