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Dr. Lovejoy, president of the American Women’s Hospitals, reported on the chaotic and desperate conditions of the Turkish city of Smyrna as it burned to the ground in September 1922. Forced to flee the city, thousands of residents gathered on the docks, waiting and hoping to board ships bound for Greece.

Why It Matters

Dr. Esther Lovejoy of the American Women’s Hospitals, wrote this speech to be read aloud on a radio broadcast for the Federation of Churches. A witness to the refugee crisis, Lovejoy vividly describes the chaos, violence, and disease that erupted on the docks as the Greek and Armenian residents tried to board ships bound for Greece as their city burned. Lovejoy intended her detailed descriptions to make the case that the “Christian nations”—meaning the Allied countries of Western Europe and North America—needed to help the Greek and Armenian Christian refugees. She believed that these nations had the resources to alleviate the unstable political and humanitarian situation.

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Analyze this evidence

  • As described by Dr. Lovejoy, what are some of the dangers faced by the people waiting on the docks?
  • What does being “deported to the interior” mean? Who is deported to the interior?
  • Who is Dr. Lovejoy addressing with this report? Why do you think she describes the Smyrna refugee crisis with such detail, and specifically mention that the refugees are Christian?
  • Why do you think Lovejoy emphasized her “direct contact with those who actually pay the price of war”?

Listen to this document read aloud

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I have just come from the shores and islands of Greece, where over a million Christian people, mostly women and children, who were driven from their homes in Asia Minor have taken refuge. Robbed of their birth-right; separated from their husbands and sons; herded in the reeking holds of cargo ships short of food and water, these poor creatures left the land of their fathers -- a land literally flowing with milk and honey and oil. Behind them was the Turkish Army and the smoldering ruin of Smyrna. Before them was the open sea, and away beyond their range of vision, beyond their range of understanding, beyond the range of human understanding and divine charity, were the closed doors of the strong nations called Christian. Like sacrifices chosen for their innocence, these poor mothers and little children were cast out upon the waters. Only one country would let them land and that was poor little Greece. I am a doctor at the head of the American Women’s Hospital Service conducted by the Medical Women’s National Association in war-stricken countries, and my duties bring me into direct contact with those who actually pay the price of war. I was in Smyrna during the evacuation of that city, between the 24th and 30th of last September. As we steamed into the harbor, the sight was a shock. The heart of the city was a smoldering ruin. The Greek Army, in its retreat, left Smyrna on September 8th; the Turks took the city on the 9th; the fire was started on September 13th, and from that date, the Christian people (Greeks and Armenians) had been homeless. During the fire, with its attendant murders, robberies, and outrages, they had rushed frantically from pillar to post, and the war ships in the harbor had taken some of them away. But the representatives of the different governments had been officially notified to maintain neutrality, and that meant that no more of these innocent people should be helped without the official sanction of the victorious Turks. What a travesty of national and international responsibility! The Christian nations, by their actions and reactions, created conditions which made this holocaust inevitable. They furnished munitions, aeroplanes, everything necessary to Mustapha Kemal in his victorious campaign. They made treaties that were even as scraps of paper. The Greek soldiers marched in and the Greek soldiers marched out, and then the Christian nations, responsible for the whole wicked business, held up their hands and maintained neutrality while the Turks wreaked their vengeance on the non-combatant people of Smyrna, most of whom were women and children. At least a quarter of a million of them were huddled together on the cobblestones of the quay and in the adjoining streets, like sheep chosen as sacrificial offerings to appease the wrath of Mars. Day in and day out, night in and night out, they held these places. They dared not leave. This was the zone of greatest safety. It was within the range of the searchlights on the warships of the Christian nations in the harbor, and the deeds of darkness could not be perpetrated at night without the risk of an all revealing flash of light. Human beings, suddenly deprived of the conveniences of civilization and reduced to an animal plane, are utterly unable to care for themselves. They are far more offensive than animals. In less than two weeks’ time, the quay and the adjacent streets had become reeking sewers. The people were filthy beyond words. They had no means of keeping clean. They stank, and when they stirred the stench was sickening. The Turks had issued a proclamation, which has been printed in the newspapers, posted on walls and scattered from an aeroplane among the wretched people huddled on the quay, to the effect that all men of military age, although they were civilians, were to be deported to the “Interior”, and that all Greek and Armenian women, children, and old men remaining in Smyrna after September 30 were to share this terrible fate. “Deportation to the Interior” is regarded as a short life sentence to slavery under brutal masters, ended by mysterious death. The victims are marched away over the hills and no one knows where they are going or what becomes of them. But the flight of the buzzards and the cry of the jackals have a terrible meaning for the people whose husbands, fathers, and brothers have been, “deported to the Interior.” Day after day they watched and waited. Night after night they pray. On Sunday, September 24th, eight ships came. There was a frantic struggle to reach these ships and about twenty-five thousand outcasts were taken away. On Monday, only one ship arrived and the people were in despair. That evening at dusk, I went out on the balcony of the Relief Headquarters with a young Christian woman and looked over the mass of tragic faces. There was a strange murmur of many voices passing up and down the quay; it was a mournful sound like the moaning of the sea or the sighing of the wind in a forest. I did not know what it meant and I asked this Christian girl what they were doing, and she answered, “They are praying for ships.” Early Tuesday morning, September 26th, nineteen ships came into the harbor and the struggle to reach them began. The frantic crush to reach the ships cannot be described. For six hours on Thursday, September 26th, I stood apart between the two iron fences and watched this awful struggle. Women, children, and old people were crushed and some of them forced over the edge of the quay into the shallow water. Just beyond them, the ebb and flow of the tide was obstructed, and a large mass of dead animals--with here and there a human body, bloated and putrid-- washed to and fro with the waves, and dashed against the stones of the quay. Day after day during the week of the evacuation there was a continuing succession of harrowing incidents. In the struggle, at the different gates along the pier, the families were separated. Children were lost and mothers and children ran frantically up and down calling for each other until they forced aboard different ships and sailed away to different places. Many of the women, struggling through the different gates, lost their shoes, and their clothes were torn from them. Water bottles were broken on the pier and those without shoes reached the ships with bleeding feet. A great many men came through the gates with their families. They were usually carrying bundles or young children; sometimes these men carried their invalid mothers or fathers. In any case, it made no difference. They were forcibly separated from their wives and children, who clung to them pleading for mercy. The men were beaten into submission with the butts of guns and the women were driven away, always with the same Turkish word –“Haide! Haide!” (Begone! Begone!) There was large number of expectant mothers among the Smyrna outcasts, and these terrible experiences precipitated their labors. Children were born on the quay and on the pier. It was my job to look after the cases and whenever it was possible we got the women aboard the ships before their babies came. These stories are too shocking to be told. Day after day this horror went on. Children were pushed from the pier and drowned. Old people died and were rolled into the sea, young men killed themselves to escape deportation – but life is sweet and every night after dark there were men swimming out into the harbor hoping to reach a British ship and save themselves. With fire and sword the Christian part of the city of Smyrna was destroyed, and the interests and affairs of the nations playing the game in the Near East are so involved that is impossible even for an 'expert' or a 'commission of experts' to determine the relative responsibility of the different nations. I have little faith in 'experts'. Had these same nations stood together for the protection of humanity in this emergency, the city of Smyrna would have been saved and incidentally the property of these self-interested nations. But they stood apart, these Christian nations, each guarding her own possessions, and when the fire swept through the streets it did not stop to salute the flags of these great Allied powers. With tongues of flame it lapped them up and wiped the city from the face of the earth. The exodus of the Christians which started last September, over a year ago, from Smyrna and adjacent territory is still going on, and while it is impossible to place the blame in proper measure exactly where it belongs, there are two outstanding facts which must be apparent to everybody: the Turks are determined to get rid of the Christian population in Turkish territory, and Greece is the only country within reach which will receive them. There are over a million of these refugees on the shores and islands of Greece. The world is very cruel to these unhappy people. The nations responsible for their being refugees have closed their doors against them. They have almost forgotten them. During the early months of this year I was in Greece, in the islands and in Constantinople. A great many tour ships from the United States were coming and going and the tourists saw the Acropolis, and the Mosque of St. Sophia, but they saw very little of the people or the countries through which they were passing. Measured in human suffering the destruction of Smyrna is the most colossal atrocity ever perpetrated. In the history of Christian martyrdom there is nothing equal this tragedy. These people, mostly women and children, were actually sacrificed for the sins and selfishness of the world. Let us hope and pray that the magnitude of this crime against humanity will finally awaken the conscience of the nations to their Christian duties and responsibilities.