1. World War II and the civil war

World War II found Greece once again on the Allies’ side and Cyprus sent 30 000 men to fight for national and international ideals. Greece suffered enormous destruction during the simultaneous German, Italian and Bulgarian occupation, in terms of lives lost as well as in terms of damage to its economy. The following table shows these losses.

Greek losses in World War II
Description Pre-Ware Numbers Losses Percentage Losses
Human Losses 7,335,000 475,000 6.47
Work Animals 2,005,000 855,000 42.64
Sheep, Pigs, Poultry 24,840,000 12,305,000 49.53
Forests 19,180 sq km 5,000 sq km 26.00
Vehicles 17,200 11,300 65.70
Bridges over 6m 100 90 90.0
Bridges over 10m 96 96 100.00
Railway vehicular material 6,502 6,080 93.51
Buildings 1,710,000 401,000 23.18
Commercial Ships 583 434 74.44

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The population was reduced by 10% (deaths and emigration), 75% of the commercial fleet was sunk and almost all the economic structures of the country were destroyed. The post-war governments were unable to apply a systematic program of economic reconstruction, while the civil war between communists and pro-western nationalists that followed, led to divisions that inflicted wounds that were hard to heal. During the 1940s, many people were forced to emigrate to seek better opportunities. Left-wingers were forced by their political enemies to flee to communistic countries. Thus, a large percentage of Greece’s workforce was lost.

2. The second mass migratory wave

In the following two decades, Greece developed, but still remained a destitute country, just as it was before the war. Emigration continued and took the shape of an avalanche, so much so that businessmen pressed the government to open the borders to foreign workers. On the other hand, however, money remitted by emigrants to help their families back home to survive was reported to have increased from $ 239 million to $ 673 million in the period from 1967 to 1974.

Some differences can be observed when the post-war movements of emigrants are compared to their pre-war activities. It seems there were two waves of emigration. One was directed at overseas destinations and the other at European countries (inter-European immigration), mainly to the then West Germany. The motivation for emigrating was the same as before, namely economic deprivation, but now with an addition: the general atmosphere of a “new fashion”, which entailed the abandonment of the villages by young people. There was an expectation that emigration to a foreign country would bring about social upliftment. The opinion was also held that to stay in an industrialised country would present better educational opportunities, as well as better recreational prospects.

Annual emigration from Greece continued to increase rapidly, mainly after 1960, and finally amounted to 117 167 individuals in 1965, compared to 37 957 in 1914. The following table gives an indication of Greek emigration from 1955 to 1967, but it must be stressed that it only reflects official emigration figures.

3. Special characteristics of the post-war emigration

It must be stressed here that the official emigration statistics from the National Statistical Service of Greece are only available for the years 1955 and onwards. Certain useful information for the years 1955 to 1967 can be taken from a book published by this service:

a) The natural increase in the population was smaller than the emigration from 1963 to 1965; during the other years it was double or triple that of emigration.

b) The migratory exit to the U.S.A. decreased, while Australia was continually absorbing growing numbers of emigrants. More than half of the overseas emigrants went to Australia in the years 1962 to 1965.

c) Emigrants used to go to Europe alone (i.e. as individuals), leaving behind their families. They did this because Germany and Belgium are relatively close to Greece, and the people went there in order to work and regularly returned to their homeland. Of course, this situation changed later because many workers eventually decided to fetch their families to come and stay with them; others started families in the foreign countries.

d) In certain places, overseas emigrants brought their families along with them right from the start. This is why women appeared to be more numerous than men during certain periods; there used to be more women than men in some families.

e) The emigrants came from every region of Greece. Those from Macedonia, Epirus, Thessaly and Sterea Hellas mostly went to European destinations, while those from the other regions mostly left for overseas destinations.

f) Most emigrants declared that they had worked in secondary industries in Greece. Most of them came from rural areas, but many simply declared themselves industrial workers in order to gain employment in the foreign country.