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Book Review: The Great Fire, Americans Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century’s First Genocide

New York – By Catherine Tsounis

“The beauty of Smyrna was not the houses or streets. The beauty of Smyrna was us, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Smyrneoi. The beauty of the Greeks was not the locations or the marbles. It was the bravery (Leventia) they had in their souls,” said author Angela Papazoglou. The Greek soul has one foot in the East and the other in the West.”1 

Smyrna was one of the principal cities of Roman Asia, vying with Ephesus and Pergamum for the title “First City of Asia”. It was one of the seven churches addressed in the Book of Revelations.2

Lou Ureneck, professor of Journalism at Boston University book “The Great Fire, Americans Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century’s First Genocide”, has been renamed “Smyrna: September 1922”. It is the same book available for all in the public library book section and audio books and Amazon during the 100th Anniversary of the Asia Minor Catastrophe. His sources are based on original American diaries of US Naval forces, declassified American intelligence reports, American diplomatic cables, first-person accounts by Americans and British persons who witnessed the “Great Fire.”

Smyrna’s burning was the last episode of a violent 10-year Holocaust. 3 million+ Christian minorities were eliminated in the multicultural Ottoman Empire. Prof. Ureneck describes the Greek point of view. The Great Powers self-interest used the Greeks and Turks to fight each other, instead of their own soldiers, in partitioning the Ottoman Empire for its oil reserves. Genocide was first used to describe the slaughterhouse between 1912 to 1922 of all in Asia Minor. Adult Hitler learned and told his generals: “the aim of war …is to annihilate enemy… who today remembers the Armenians?”3 Chapter 1 said it all.

After reading Prof. Ureneck’s book, I realize Kemal Atatürk destroyed his own infrastructure of Greek and Armenian business and maritime bases, making his country a secular, homogeneous nation. What did Atatürk get in return for the expulsion and slaughter of Greeks and Armenians? “Greek General Nikolaos Plastiras was even admired by his greatest enemy, Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk). At the end of the war, during the negotiations that took place regarding the exchange of populations between Greece and the newly formed Republic of Turkey, Atatürk is quoted telling Plastiras, “I gave gold and you gave me copper.”4

The author describes accurately the power politics that has led 2022 Turkey to be a shadow of its former glory under the Ottoman Empire: tolerant to minorities until the Western powers, especially GERMANY became involved in influencing the persecutions of Christian minorities.

The primary hero of the rescue was Methodist minister Asa Jennings. Other persons who played roles included: Lt. Commander Halsey Powell; Captain Ioannis Theophanides; Captain Arthur J. Hepburn; Us Consul General George Horton; Admiral Mark L. Bristol; Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy; Lt. Commander J.B. Rhodes; Lt. Aaron S. Merrill. Recent scholarship by Ilias Katsos revealed a Japanese merchant vessel saved survivors while Major Powers’ ships refused to help. As John F Kennedy said, “one person can make a difference and everyone should try.”

 In the afterword chapter, Jennings’ career in establishing the American Friends of Turkey was explained. His mission was to create clinics, sports clubs, and libraries. Prof. Lou Ureneck does not mention the following point. In the population exchange of 1922, Greeks were given poor areas inhabited by Turks. The Turkish population received the affluent Greek homes and lands of western Anatolia and Asia Minor coast. The three million from the Greek population exchange had to be catered in a country with a ruined economy, internationally isolated and internally divided. The Great Powers’ role in alleviating this humanitarian disaster in Greece is not explained. This should be explored in future research.

Prof. Lou Ureneck wrote a detailed masterpiece. Now we are experiencing, 100 years later, the results of WWI and the demise of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. We can learn about the past to understand life that it has created in 2022.


1.    https://www.helleniccomserve.com/tsounisafternoongreekmusic.html 

2.    https://www.britannica.com/place/Izmir 

3.     Ureneck, “The Great Fire,” p.1

  1. Boinodiris, Stavros. “Google Books”  Andros Odyssey: Liberation: (1900–1940). iUniverse, 20 [remainder of message body omitted; too large]