International solidarity 50 years ago in the Ionian

Representatives of the countries who so generously helped the victims of the massive earthquakes 50 years ago this month on the Ionian islands of Cephalonia, Ithaca and Zakynthos are to be honored by Argostoli Mayor Gerasimos Forte tomorrow evening. Guests at the ceremony, to take place in Argostoli’s Kefalos Theater, will include the ambassadors of the USA, Thomas Miller, and Israel, Ram Avriam, along with diplomats from the Russian, French, Italian and Swedish embassies. The ceremony, which will be addressed by former minister Gerasimos Apostolatos, is a gesture of gratitude as well as of remembrance for those who died and the property and cultural heritage that was lost. It is intended as a mark of thanks to all those who, from the moment the first tremor struck (among the first to arrive were men of the Israeli Navy) worked alongside the islanders, as well as to the various foreign countries and to the ordinary people who contributed relief in the form of medical care, housing and solace for the victims. Many thousands of foreigners, such as the French and British, responded generously to public collections in their own countries; foreign governments added their efforts to that of the Greek State, which, despite its own difficulties, dispatched the landing craft Alpheios on the day after the first quake to the island of Ithaca and to Sami, on Cephalonia, to begin the relief effort. The Church of Greece held its first collection for the quake victims on August 15, the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin, adding to the collections taken by the Red Cross and other Greek organizations. If Greeks found it self-evident to help their fellow-countrymen, for foreigners it was deeply generous and even heroic. The men of the Israeli Navy rushed to help rescue victims even as the earth was still trembling. The first official gesture from a foreign power was a letter to Greek Foreign Minister Stefanos Stephanopoulos from the Brazilian Ambassador Ruis Piniero with a check for $100 made out to the Greek Red Cross, a symbolic gesture but the forerunner of many generous contributions from states great and small. Naturally the islanders who experienced the terror of those days have not forgotten the major operation by the British Navy, which immediately sent ships from Malta. Nor have they forgotten the unqualified support of the French, who rebuilt Sami, Aghia Efemia and Lakythra. Then there were the Italians. Ambassador Alessandrini announced on August 12 that the Italian State would send help in return for that provided by the Cephalonians to Italian soldiers in 1943. The Soviet Red Cross sent $63,000. Greek-Soviet relations had only just begun to be revived in 1947. The Swedes built a hospital and other public buildings. Help also came from West Germany, Yugoslavia, Turkey, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Poland and Egypt, whose president, General Neguib, went personally to the Greek Embassy in Cairo. Even the tiny state of Lichtenstein sent its own contribution. It was a great landmark in the annals of international solidarity.