“The haughty arrogance of the Nordic people”: A Scandal in the German Colony of Athens on the 20th of April 1935.

Posted by Alexandra Kankeleit

Alexandra Kankeleit here contributes an essay about an unknown episode, almost a scandal, which took place in 1935 in the German community of Athens and involved the local Catholic church and members of the German Archaeological Institute.  Alexandra, an archaeologist who specializes in the study of Roman mosaics, has also since 2016 been part of an extensive project of the German Archaeological Institute (Athens and Berlin), titled The History of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens during the National Socialist Era. As part of the project, she has examined a host of bibliographic and archival sources in both countries that document the activities of the German archaeologists in Greece from 1933 until 1944. A list of her most recent publications can be found on Alexandra’s own website.


A recently discovered episode from 1935 offers a striking picture of the predominant mood in the so-called “German Colony” in Athens following the National Socialist seizure of power in Germany. (“Deutsche Kolonie” was the official name of the German-speaking Community in Greece until the end of WWII.)  It illustrates in dramatic fashion what battlefronts were being drawn up at the time and what the representatives of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens (DAI Athen hereafter) saw as their role in this critical period.

I stumbled more or less by chance upon this incident while carrying out research at the Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes (Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office). The relevant documents are to be found in a folder that deals with the “Schwarze Front” (“Black Front”) in Greece, an underground organisation that was opposed to Hitler and his policies, and which was founded in 1930 by Otto Strasser (1897-1974), brother of the infamous Gregor Strasser (1892-1934). From 1934-1937 members of the “Schwarze Front” were based in Greece publishing illegal flyers and articles, and encouraging Germans living in Greece to turn away from Hitler.

It seemed unlikely that information about German cultural policy in Greece, and in particular the DAI Athen, would be hidden amongst such material, but I was in luck and a search in the proverbial haystack yielded a small but successful result. A short time later I discovered supplementary material in the archives of the DAI, the Deutsche Evangelische Kirche (German Evangelical Church) in Athens, and the Bundesarchiv (Federal Archives) at Koblenz. These materials round out the picture and allow me to report on this interesting story here.

This episode is naturally embedded in a broader context, titled History of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens during the National Socialist Era. This project was created in 2016 on the initiative of Professor Katja Sporn, Director of the DAI Athen. (I am immensely grateful to both her and the staff in charge of the above-mentioned archive ‒ Lucia van der Linde, Johanna Müller von der Haegen and Hilde Hülsenbeck. I also want to thank Neil Bristow, who is responsible for the English translation of this article, and Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan for presenting it in her blog.)

Fig. 1: City map of Athens from around 1908 showing the German Archaeological Institute and the “Philadelphia.” Source: single sheet, probably taken from the Baedeker Guide to Greece; The map was acquired by the author for a small fee on an online auction site in 2016. The document itself contains no indication of its date of creation.

A Casual (?) Evening Lecture

On 20 April 1935 there was something of a scandal among the German community in Athens: to mark Hitler‘s birthday the German prehistorian Peter Paulsen (1902-1985) gave a talk in the Gesellschaft Philadelphia (a German-Greek Association named “Philadelphia”) on the topic “Cultural Policy in the New Germany.” Unfortunately the text has not survived (or at least it has not been discovered in the relevant archives), but fortunately there are testimonia concerning the varied reactions of the audience. All Germans living in Athens were invited to attend the event (as part of a so-called “comradeship evening”). It is not clear exactly how many people turned up. At this time approximately 600 Germans lived in Athens (out of a total of 1,000 in Greece), while Greeks with an interest in Germany also often attended the community evenings in the “Philadelphia” association. The talk dealt with, among other topics, the reintroduction of German cults and neo-heathen rituals to supplant Christianity. The response of the attendees appears to have been mixed: some offered wild applause, others were shocked by and rejected Paulsen’s theses. Reports on the evening offer no consistent picture.

Fig. 2: Photographs of the “Philadelphia” building at Omirou 16 (thanks to Kostas Galanis and Marilena Kassimatis for drawing my attention to the images). Left: origin unknown. Right: from the newspaper “Εθνικός Κήρυξ” dated 17 December 1961 with the title, Γερμανική Λέσχη “Φιλαδέλφεια” ‒ Ομήρου 16.

Only three persons in attendance voiced criticism and demonstratively left the hall before the end of the talk. According to the sources, the persons in question were Father Richard Liebl, Dean Gödicke, and Ms. Sörgel. For Ms. Sörgel, this action was to have consequences: Johann Friedrich Crome (1906-1962), researcher at the DAI Athen and regional group leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP hereafter), threateningly reminded her “that her case […] in relation to the party has not yet been settled.” The exact repercussions for Sörgel are unfortunately not known.

In the case of Father Richard the situation was more complicated, as his position and personality made him a respected person in the “Germany Colony.” It was not so easy for over-eager party members to attack and silence him. A few weeks later, on 1 June 1935, he published an article in the Catholic community newspaper “Der Rufer” (“The Caller”) that was to provoke more consternation among National Socialist sympathisers in the community.

Fig. 3: Catholic community newspaper “Der Rufer” from 1935. Source: PAAA, RAV Athen, 38: Schwarze Front.

The topic of “Germanness versus Christianity” seems to have also occupied the Evangelical priest Carl Kindermann (1896-1936?). In January 1935 he gave a talk on the topic entitled “Does Christ still have something to say to the Germans?”. In his case, too, the text has not survived, and so we are left in the dark concerning Kindermann’s precise intention and aim.

Fig. 4: Evangelical newsletter “Glaube und Heimat” from 1935. Source: Evangelische Kirche Deutscher Sprache in Griechenland (German Evangelical Church in Greece).

In this era of high tensions, Georg Karo (1872-1963), First Secretary of the DAI Athen, tried to play a mediating role. Two letters survive that show how he tried to soften the increasingly bitter opposition between the two camps of Germans based abroad. One letter was addressed to Peter Paulsen, who as recipient of a DAI scholarship in the spring of 1935 enjoyed the hospitality of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens. Karo thus felt responsible for him, and it is plausible to assume that the DAI Athen provided the original impetus for Paulsen’s talk at the “Philadelphia.” The second letter was addressed to Father Richard Liebl. It is not known whether Karo’s letters were ever answered, but this one-sided correspondence nevertheless offers a window into the prevailing atmosphere in Athens at the time. Karo’s involvement is particularly noteworthy when one bears in mind that, although he was christened as a Protestant, in the eyes of the National Socialists he was classified as “Volljude” (fully Jewish). His Jewish roots led him to flee Germany in 1939 and spend thirteen years in exile in the United States. (About Karo’s escape to America, the help he received from his American friends, especially Carl W. Blegen, and his life thereafter, read  Jack L. Davis, “A Preamble to the Nazi Holocaust in Greece: Two Micro-Histories from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens,” published on November 1, 2014 in this blog.)

In 1935, however, Karo still felt safe and the extracts from the correspondence that are presented here illustrate the degree to which he identified with the National Socialist regime. Karo expressed understanding and solidarity towards Peter Paulsen, while Father Richard was subject to his criticism, a fact that both the German Embassy in Athens and Peter Paulsen were made aware of. But now we will let the participants speak for themselves.

Fig. 5: “Die Deutsche Revolution”, newspaper of the “Schwarze Front.” Source: PAAA, RAV Athen, 37: Schwarze Front.

The “Schwarze Front’s” Reaction

In May 1935 an article appeared in the “Deutsche Revolution” (German Revolution) newspaper entitled “Zerfall der NSDAP in Griechenland. Hitlersystem sprengt Auslandsdeutschtum” (“Collapse of the NSDAP in Greece. Hitler System Destroys German Culture Abroad”). It was written by the “Schwarze Front” organisation, which was opposed to the regime. Here is an excerpt:

“In his talk Dr. Paulsen contends that the revolution is not yet complete, and that the bloody final reckoning still lies ahead. The main battles will be against reactionaries and the church. […] In an impassioned manner Dr. Paulsen attacked the Catholic Church and the thoroughly corrosive influence of the Pope. The reckoning with the church, which is both an enemy of the German race and alien to the German people, will soon take place and will be bloody.

The contents of the talk were coolly received by the modest audience, which reacted in amazement and silence. There was no applause. The oppressive atmosphere was only heightened when Father Richard, head of the Catholic community here for many years, and Dean Gödicke, who has quickly made himself very popular among all strands of the Christian faith in the German Colony thanks to his selfless acts, left the event in protest. Father Richard described Dr. Paulsen’s arguments as “nonsense,” and both departed while the talk was still in progress. As soon as the Deutschlandlied [German national anthem] had been sung, the old party fighters also departed. As is known, this group has become increasingly resentful and angry about the antics of the “neo-Hitlerites” over the last few months.

This event led to much lively debate. The courage of the Catholic priest was praised and compared to the cowardly behaviour of Father Kindermann, who, apparently more concerned with holding onto the privileges of his position, remained until the event was over; in recent months this individual had fought against National Socialist ideas in a caustic yet clandestine way in his newsletter “Glaube und Heimat” [Faith and the Fatherland], but is now grovelling before the new rulers.”

Fig. 6: Article by Father Richard Liebl in the Catholic newsletter “Der Rufer.” Source: PAAA, RAV Athen, 63: Kulturpolitik.

The Catholic Church’s Reaction

On June 1, 1935 Father Richard Liebl offered his perspective in “Der Rufer,” the newsletter of the Catholic Church in Athens:

Among us today there are circles that reject Christianity because it came from the East. There is talk of how Christianity represents a betrayal of the Nordic-Germanic spirit, and that, instead, a faith or rather relationship to God should be pursued that is born of blood and soil. Christianity, they say, did not spring from the German race. It is a Semitic offshoot that the Nordic people must shake off if its noble qualities are not to perish. The argument continues in the same vein, its representatives convinced that they are tapping into, God only knows, what sources of wisdom.

On Good Saturday 20 April 1935 we had the pleasure of hearing one of these individuals give a talk in the large hall at the Philadelphia. The speaker was Dr. Peter Paulsen, lecturer at Kiel University. From the very beginning of the talk the promise of the material was evident: Cardinal Faulhaber had the temerity to claim that prior to its adoption of Christianity, the Germans had no culture or civilization.… The 12 minutes of the young man’s talk that I managed to force myself to listen through displayed nothing but contempt towards Christianity, priests and monks in general and the Catholic Church in particular. These 12 minutes offered ample opportunity for me to admire the paltriness of historical knowledge, the ignorance concerning the essence of the Christian religion, the prejudice towards the Christian priesthood, the deep aversion towards the Catholic Church and the haughty arrogance of the Nordic people.

Holding such talks abroad is most certainly no way to improve the world’s opinion of Germany. I would go as far as to say that if these are the characters our universities are now producing then the good reputation of German universities will soon be a thing of the past. We are already the subject of enough animosity and envy in the world without having to go and make ourselves look ridiculous as well. We will not be deprived of Christianity. Christianity alone is the religion that belongs to our race, because God Himself gave it to us. Whoever claims the opposite was either never a Christian and has never understood the essence of Christianity, or has a personal interest, due to the high demands Christianity makes, in rejecting and negating it. Such speakers, far from fostering a much-needed unity in the German nation, rather heighten and deepen what are already grave divisions. Is this man still unaware of just how much damage the lack of unity since the 16th century has done to us?

A “Volljude” as Mediator

Georg Karo, First Secretary of the DAI Athen, reacted immediately by writing, the same day (June 1, 1935), a long letter to Father Richard:

Most Esteemed Father,

When we parted this morning I had not yet properly read your article in “Der Rufer”, but only skimmed the first couple of paragraphs. […]

While I am not in a position to get involved in affairs of the Church or the Party, this article does concern me directly, as it deals with a young scholar who was sent to the south as a recipient of a scholarship from our institution [the scholarship in question is the DAI’s Reisestipendium, or travel grant]. These recipients are selected annually, based upon them being the best of the respective year. It would truly be a sad sign for German academia if your comments were valid.

Dr. Paulsen’s specialty is that branch of German prehistory that deals with the German and Nordic Middle Ages. Of course, such research cannot bypass the religious side of the Middle Ages, and so Dr. Paulsen engaged with these matters under the guidance of his teacher, the renowned church historian Professor Scheel in Kiel, with whom he also published a comprehensive work about the sources, I refer you to the 22nd “Bericht der Römisch-Germanischen Kommission” [Report of the Roman-Germanic Commission] 1933, published by our institute. Opinions in this field are, of course, very diverse and often stand in sharp contrast to one another. However, Dr. Paulsen, who was made aware of your article before his departure this afternoon, assured me that his religious outlook is indeed rooted in Christianity, albeit not in the Church. He added that he had made it known that, following his talk, he was open to discussion regarding all relevant points, including with persons such as yourself and others who left the Philadelphia and who doubtless hold very different views to his own. He is therefore understandably hurt that nobody availed of the opportunity to talk to him at the time, and that this attack has now followed more than one month later. On a personal level, as head of the DAI Athen, I have to express my displeasure that a young specialist in my field, one whom, as recipient of a scholarship, it is my duty to protect, has been subject to attacks in the press that go well beyond the disputed religious topics in question and threaten to damage his reputation and academic career. This damage is in no way offset by the explanation you plan to give in your sermon tomorrow, but rather remains undiminished in scope and is very likely to be further exploited by the anti-German publication Prags [author’s note: the »Schwarze Front« is meant here].

German regards,

Most respectfully yours,
Georg Karo

Fig. 7: Georg Karo (1872-1963). Source: DAI Berlin, Archiv der Zentrale.

The following day, 2 June 1935, Georg Karo composed a somewhat shorter letter to Peter Paulsen:

Dear Mr Paulsen,

I deeply regret that your stay in Greece ended in such an unfortunate manner; however, I am certain that this will in no way overshadow the pleasant memories of the weeks you spent here.

I am including here a copy of a letter to Father Richard. It resulted in a detailed talk between the two of us, which concluded with the following points:

  • Father Richard was never aware of your offer to discuss the relevant questions with you. He assured me that, if he had been aware, he would have availed of the opportunity, as such a discussion would have interested him greatly.
  • He thought that you were a historian, and was unaware that you were a prehistorian and recipient of a scholarship from our institute.
  • He deeply regrets the incident, asked me in no uncertain terms to communicate that to you, and added that he was grateful to me for providing him with an opportunity to make up for his error in as far as it is possible. He also sent a letter to this effect to Crome.

I am under the impression that Father Richard acted impulsively in a fit of indignation – which one can understand in the case of a priest who sees all that he holds most sacred being attacked – but that he bore no personal animosity towards you. At the same time, his obliging expression of immense regret is, in light of his age and status, surely impressive evidence of his desire to achieve reconciliation.

I will not write any more today, as I want to post the letter quickly, though I just wish to add what a pleasure it is to think back on the shared weeks of travel and exchanges concerning our field.

I wish you all the best for your onward journey, regards to Lullies and Bittels and Heil Hitler

Yours Sincerely

signed: Georg Karo

Fig. 8: Letter from Georg Karo to Peter Paulsen dated 02 June 1935 (source: PAAA, RAV Athen, 63: Kulturpolitik).

If there was ever a “letter of apology” from Father Richard, it has not survived. In fact, a letter from the Reichsverband für die katholischen Auslandsdeutschen e.V. (Reich Association for German Catholics Abroad) to the Foreign Office in Berlin dated 25 June 1935 suggests that Father Richard did not revise his original opinion, but rather found support within his church:

“It would be a sensible step if the Reichs- und Preussische Ministerium für Wissenschaft, Erziehung und Volksbildung [Reich Ministry of Science, Education and Culture] were advised to instruct speakers who have obtained permission to give talks abroad to conduct themselves in such a manner that similar mistakes are avoided as much as possible in future.”

Fig. 9: Peter Paulsen (1902-1985). Source: Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte der Universität Kiel.

Afterlives and Afterthoughts

The center piece from the Veit-Stoß altarpiece from St. Mary’s Church in Krakow. Source: Public domain.

Peter Paulsen’s biography has been relatively well researched. He was a member of the NSDAP from as early as 1928. His scholarship in 1935 preceded a rapid rise in the ranks of the SS. From 1937 Paulsen worked as SS-Untersturmführer at the Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt (Race and Settlement Main Office) in Berlin. In 1939 he became active in the SS-Ahnenerbe, a National Socialist think tank focused on racial doctrines. In Poland he led the Reichssicherheitshauptamt’s (Reich Main Security Office’s) »Sonderkommando Paulsen«, a special unit named after Paulsen himself. While holding this post he stole the Veit-Stoß altarpiece from St. Mary’s Church in Krakow, as well as many other art works from Polish collections and libraries. (On the recovery of the Veit-Stoß altarpiece, read entry for Karol Estreicher, Jr. here.) 1941 Paulsen was promoted to SS-Hauptsturmführer, and as of 1944 he led the “Germanische Führerschule” (Germanic Führer School) in Hildesheim. After the war he went through a denazification process (BArch Z 42-II/1269). He then became a teacher and in 1958 was employed at the Wissenschaftliche Forschungsgesellschaft Syriens (Scientific Research Association of Syria). In 1961 he was appointed curator for the Early Middle Ages department at the Landesmuseum Württemberg in Stuttgart.

Very little is known, however, about Father Richard Liebl. According to individual eyewitness reports, he provided assistance to the starving population of Greece during the occupation and was held in equally high regard among both Germans and Greeks. No photographs, letters or other documents that indicate his subsequent path have been found in the relevant archives. If anyone is aware of such documentation at other locations I would be very grateful for information.

The documents that have been presented here for the first time offer us a picture of a society characterized by great uncertainty, conflicting aspirations and feelings, but still hopeful that the situation could be defused. While it is apparent that Georg Karo went out of his way to serve the new regime in Germany, behind the scenes he also tried to assist German-Jewish archaeologists who had sought refuge in Greece in the inter-war period – a topic that will be treated in a different context.


Sources

  • BArch Koblenz, Spruchgerichte in der Britischen Besatzungszone Z 42-II/1269
  • PAAA, RAV Athen, 37 (Schwarze Front, Band 1).
  • PAAA, RAV Athen, 38 (Schwarze Front, Band 2).
  • PAAA, RAV Athen, 63 (Kulturpolitik: Schulen, Presse, Wissenschaft, Verschiedenes).
  • DAI Berlin, Archiv der Zentrale, Biographica-Mappe Peter Paulsen.
  • Evangelische Kirche Deutscher Sprache in Griechenland:
    »Glaube und Heimat«. Monatsblatt für die Deutschen Evangelischen Gemeinden in Griechenland: Athen, Saloniki, Patras, Volo, Cavalla, Corfu, Kreta, Jahrgang 7, 1935, Nr. 4 Seite 6 und Nr. 6 Seite 5.

Further Reading

  • Barth W. and G. Auernheimer, Geschichte der Deutschen Gesellschaft Philadelphia in Athen (Athens 2001)
  • Fleischer, H. “Der Neubeginn in den deutsch-griechischen Beziehungen nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg und die ‘Bewältigung’ der jüngsten Vergangenheit,” Thetis 10, 2003, 191-204.
  • Kankeleit, A. “Η ιστορία του Γερμανικού Αρχαιολογικού Ινστιτούτου Αθηνών κατά τη διάρκεια της ναζιστικής περιόδου,” Θέματα Αρχαιολογίας 2018, 64-87 (https://www.themata-archaiologias.gr/?p=6937).
  • Kius, E. Heureka. Auch eine Odyssee, Norderstedt 2006, 230-231.
  • Klein, J. “Hans Schleif. Stationen der Biographie eines Bauforschers im Nationalsozialismus,” Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 131, 2016, 317-322.
  • Krumme, M. “Walther Wrede (1893–1990),” in Lebensbilder. Klassische Archäologen und der Nationalsozialismus I, ed. G. Brands and M. Maischberger, Rahden 2012, 159-176.
  • Leube, A. “Die Ur- und Frühgeschichte an der Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität zu Berlin,” in Die Berliner Universität in der NS-Zeit II, ed. R. vom Bruch and R. Schaarschmidt, Stuttgart 2005, 161.
  • Leube, A. Zur Ur- und Frühgeschichte an der Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität 1933-1945, Online publication: https://www.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/en/forschung-und-projekte-en-old/foundmed/dokumente/forschung-und-projekte/ns-zeit/ringvorlesung/teilIIordner/4februar (November 2018).
  • Lindenlauf, A. “Georg Heinrich Karo: Gelehrter und Verteidiger deutschen Geistes,” Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 130, 2015, 259-354.
  • Mezynski, A. Kommando Paulsen. Organisierter Kunstraub in Polen 1942–1945, Berlin 2000.
  • Müller, K. “Die ‘Kieler Schule’ – Archäologie zwischen 1927 und 1945,” Das Altertum 55, 2010, 105-126.

Dr. Alexandra Kankeleit
Deutsches Archäologisches Institut
Abteilung Athen
Fidiou 1 | GR-10678 Athen

https://www.dainst.org/project/2356126

kontakt@alexandra-kankeleit.de


The Man from Damascus, the Good Wife, and Baby Solon: R.I.P. at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

ASCSA Library, 1902

ASCSA Library, 1902

“You enter a reception hall of marble and go up a flight of marble steps which give the effect of entering a museum, as there are marble busts and old sculptures round that have been dug up…” Major A. Winsor Weld wrote to his wife on October 26th, 1918, upon entering the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter). He and six other officers of the American Red Cross including Lieutenant Colonel Edward Capps would live in the School’s premises until July of 1919. (At the time one entered the Library through the Director’s residence.) Although the ASCSA was already building a small collection of antiquities –mostly pottery sherds and other small objects picked up on walks and informal surveys– the antiquities Weld described are of a different scale. The busts he refers to must have been plaster casts of originals similar to the one displayed above the fireplace mantle in the Library in a photo from 1902. I believe that the other “old sculptures” on display, the ones that “have been dug up,” were three Roman marble funerary reliefs unearthed in 1894, at the corner of Vasilissis Sophias (then Kephissias) and Merlin (then Academy) street, exactly opposite the Palace (now the Greek Parliament), during the construction of a mansion by Charles Edward Prior Merlin (1850-1898). Named after one of Merlin’s French ancestors, the “Hôtel Merlin de Douai” has housed the French Embassy since 1896.

“Hôtel Merlin de Douai” (French Embassy at Athens)

The “Hôtel Merlin de Douai” (French Embassy at Athens)

“In digging for the foundations of the large house which Mr. C. Merlin, the well-known artist and photographer of Athens, is building at the corner of Academy and Kephissia Streets, the workmen came upon considerable remains of an ancient cemetery. At my suggestion Mr. Merlin made over to the American School the right of publishing these discoveries, and afterwards generously presented to the School three reliefs and one other inscribed stone, together with some smaller fragments. The finds were made in the autumn of 1894. Only a part of them came under my observation at the time; hence the description of the graves and their location rests in part upon the accounts of Mr. Merlin and his workmen” reported Thomas Dwight Goodell a year later (American Journal of Archaeology 10, 1895, pp. 469-479).

Read the rest of this entry »


Who Went to Schliemann’s Wedding?

Posted by Curtis Runnels

Curtis Runnels, Professor of Archaeology at Boston University, here contributes to From the Archivist’s Notebook a story about the accidental discovery of an original letter by Heinrich Schliemann at an Antiquarian Book Fair in Boston. The letter was found inside an old Greek-English lexicon that Runnels bought for his book collection.  In addition to doing fieldwork and publishing extensively on Palaeolithic archaeology in Greece, Runnels is also the author of The Archaeology of Heinrich Schliemann: An Annotated Bibliographic Handlist (Archaeological Institute of America; available also as an ebook from Virgo Books).


Experienced booksellers and collectors always look through old books that come into their possession to see what might have been left between the pages.  Some people make collections of their finds, which range from the curious to the valuable.  It can be an exciting business: almost anything may turn up in a book, from gold coins and paper money to love letters and flowers—even a strip of bacon (cooked or uncooked, one wonders).  It was a matter of habit, therefore, that induced me to leaf through an old Greek-English lexicon that I purchased last November at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair.  Of all the finds I have made in old books, this was perhaps the best: a letter written by Heinrich Schliemann.  It was tucked inside the first volume of A Lexicon of Modern Greek-English and English-Modern Greek by N. Contopoulos, which was published in two volumes in 1867 [volume 1] and 1869 [volume 2] in Smyrna by B. Tatikidou (vol. 1) or B. Tatikianou (vol. 2). Read the rest of this entry »


On Communism and Hellenism: An Archaeologist’s Perspective


Posted by Despina Lalaki

Despina Lalaki holds a PhD in Historical Sociology from the New School university while she currently teaches at the The New York City College of Technology-CUNY. The essay she contributed to ‘From the Archivist’s Notebook’ is largely an excerpt from her article “On the Social Construction of Hellenism: Cold War Narratives of Modernity, Development, and Democracy for Greece,” in The Journal of Historical Sociology, 25:4, 2012, pp. 552-577. Her essay draws inspiration from an unpublished manuscript by archaeologist Carl W. Blegen, titled “The United States and Greece” and written in 1946-1948.


Carl W. Blegen (1887-1971) is one of the most eminent archaeologists of the Greek Bronze Age. Nevertheless, he intimately knew Modern Greece, too. In 1910, at the age of twenty-three, he first visited the country as a student of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (hereafter ASCSA), and by the time of his death in 1971 he had made Greece his home and his final resting place, having experienced first hand the land and its people in the most troublesome moments of their modern history. In 1918, for instance, he participated in the Greek Commission of the American Red Cross, assisting with the repatriation and rehabilitation of thousands of refugees who during the war had been held as prisoners in Bulgaria. During WWII, he was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to head the Greek desk of the Foreign Nationalities Branch (FNB) in Washington D.C., which was following European and Mediterranean ethnic groups living in the United States and recording their knowledge of political trends and conditions affecting their native lands.

April 1946: US Cultural Relations Attache Carl W. Blegan (R) and J. W. Foster standing in headquarters of the Allied Mission For Observing Greek Elections (AMFOGE). (Photo by Nat Farbman/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

J. W. Foster (left) and Carl W. Blegen (right) standing at the headquarters of the Allied Mission for Observing the Greek Elections (AMFOGE), 1946. Photo by Nat Farbman. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images/Ideal Image.

Read the rest of this entry »


“A Greek Author Travels to the Country of the New Myth”: The Voyage of Elias Venezis to America in 1949

This essay comprises the text of a talk that I presented in the Cotsen Hall auditorium of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), April 9, 2013, at an evening devoted to novelist Elias Venezis, whose papers reside in the Archives of the Gennadius Library. The text was also published (in Greek ) in the “Athens Book Review,” in an issue dedicated to Venezis. Since my essay discusses two of Greece’s most important novelists’ impressions from their journeys to America, I thought that it also deserved to be published in English and be made available to an American audience (here, I must thank my friend and former colleague Stefanie Kennell for her wonderful translation). For half of my life I have studied and worked in a Greek-American environment; there interest lies in examining how foreigners (usually described as philhellenes) perceive(d) Greece, and it is rarely discussed, at least in the broader community of the American School, how Greeks experienced America at critical times, such as in the first decade following WW II. The two authors, Elias Venezis and Yiorgos Theotokas, traveled in America during the period of the Marshall plan and the beginning of the Cold War, just before strong anti-Americanism began developing in Greece. For both, the voyage to America was a journey to a mythical land — as implied by the title of this essay, which is drawn from the title of a talk (“Ένας Έλλην συγγραφεύς στη χώρα του νέου μύθου”) that Venezis delivered at the Greek American Cultural Institution in 1950, immediately after his return from America.

"The Thirties Generation" in 1963

“The Thirties Generation” in 1963

For those who are not familiar with Modern Greek Literature, I should also add a few remarks about the so-called literary “Generation of the Thirties.” As commonly employed, this term describes a group (all male) of novelists, poets, and artists, who came of age in the 1930s. These men continued to be very productive and influential in the following three decades, to the point that a myth with regenerative power was built around them, one that still aspires and inspires (Leontis 2013). Nobel-prize laureate poets Yiorgos Seferis and Odysseus Elytis, novelists Angelos Terzakis, Stratis Myrivilis, Elias Venezis and Yiorgos Theotokas, are some of the most accomplished and distinguished “members” of the “Generation of the Thirties.” The personal papers of most of them have been deposited in the Gennadius Library of the American School.

Elias Venezis

Elias Venezis

 In 2009, at an event devoted to Yiorgos Theotokas and the republication of his Essay on America, I was introduced to Greek travel literature about America. Theotokas was among the first writers of the so-called “Generation of the Thirties” who visited America a few years after the end of World War II. While taking receipt of Elias Venezis’s personal papers in 2010, I came upon the manuscript of Land of America and then, in discussions with the author’s daughter, Anna Venezi Kosmetatou, I was made aware of the fact that Venezis was actually the first of the famous “Generation of the Thirties” to travel to the U.S., in 1949.

Except for Theotokas’ Essay on America (Δοκίμιο για την Αμερική), which had the good fortune to be re-published a few years ago, travel writing of this type is difficult or impossible to find on the shelves of Athenian bookstores. When I looked for Land of America at a well-known bookstore in downtown Athens, clerks told me that it was the first time they had heard that Venezis had written a book of this sort. Perhaps this is because, in the age of globalization, trips to America have lost some of the magic and myth that used to surround them. Already in the 1970s, as Vassilis Lambropoulos writes, “with the spread of cinema and even more the advent of television in Greece, travel writing is losing its primary function and sparkle. The public does not need the guidance of an eyewitness to get to know foreign countries.”

Αμερικανική γη (Land of America) by Elias Venezis

Αμερικανική γη (Land of America) by Elias Venezis

Unlike the other writers and intellectuals who visited the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s, Venezis began his long journey without the support of the American government. The famous program of cultural exchanges sponsored by the the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, popularly known as the Smith-Mundt Act, does not seem to have been implemented immediately in Greece. What is certain is that Elias Venezis and his wife either did not know about or did not expect American government support when they decided in the summer of 1949 to cross the Atlantic. On the opposite shore was Venezis’s brother, Thanos Mellos and his wife, the mezzo-soprano Eleni Nikolaidi, who had settled there just a year before.

Thanos Mellos wrote to his brother Elias and his wife on May 6, 1949, from New York: “I’ve told Elias that a place has been confirmed for his trip to America on a merchant ship that sails from a port in France. Perhaps there’s a way he can embark even from Greece. The trip won’t cost a cent. The steamship owner’s a friend of ours, and he’s offering it to us for free. You only have to get your papers ready, Elias, and send me a telegram.” Read the rest of this entry »