Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy (Director, American Women's Hospitals Service)


Dr. Esther Clayson Pohl Lovejoy (1869-1967) was an American physician who witnessed the events at Smyrna in September 1922 during the Greek Genocide. After the start of World War I, she helped establish the American Women’s Hospitals Service (AWHS) which was formed to bring humanitarian relief to displaced and injured victims of war. She was in Geneva attending a conference when the Smyrna fire broke out and was dispatched immediately by the American Women's Hospitals.

More of her recollections on the Smyrna fire, as well as other relief efforts conducted by the AWHS during and after the genocide can be found in her book titled Certain Samaritans. The following is an excerpt from a radio address made by Dr Lovejoy in early 1923.

I have just come from the shores and the 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 holes 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 was 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 was in Smyrna during the evacuation of that city, between the 24th and 30th of last September. As we steamed into the harbour, the sight was a shock. The heart of the City was a smoldering ruin. On one end of the quay, which curved along the harbor for miles, was the Turkish quarter quite uninjured, and on the other end of the quay toward the railroad pier where the ships docked, a few white buildings, spared by the fire, stood like monuments to the memory of a dead City.

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 Mustafa 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 of the non-combatant people of Smyrna, most of whom were women and children.

At least a quarter of a million of them huddled together on the cobble-stones of the Quay and in the adjoining streets like sheep chosen as innocent 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 range of the searchlights on the war-ships of the Christian Nations in the harbor, and deeds of darkness could not be perpetrated at night without the risk of an all revealing flash of light.

The Turks had issued a proclamation, which had been printed in the newspapers, posted on the 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 all civilians, were to be deported to the "interior", - and that all the Greek and Armenian women, children and old men remaining in Smyrna after September 30th 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 nobody knows where they are going or what becomes of them. But the flight of the buzzards and the cry of the jackals have terrible meaning for the people whose husbands, fathers and brothers, have been "deported to the Interior".

The people of Smyrna know what happened to many of the Armenians who had refused to fight against the Allies during the war. They know all about the Turkish policy of ridding Asia Minor of Greek or Armenian Christians by extermination or any other means. But the harbor was full of the war-ships or the Allied Nations. Surely, the Turks could not take them from under the very guns of Christian countries and deport them to the Interior!

But they had reckoned without Neutrality. They were not diplomats. They did not know what neutrality meant to the rest of the world, but they soon found out what it meant to them. It meant the violation of everything they held sacred in life. It meant outrage, slavery, death and destruction. The City was surrounded by Turkish Soldiers. The only possibility of escape was through the Harbor - the only hope was in the coming of refugee ships.

Day after day they waited and waited. Night after night they prayed. On Sunday, September 24th, Eight ships came. There was a frantic struggle to reach those 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 Quay was divided from Railroad pier by the iron picket fences, about two hundred feet apart. By placing timber across the pier three other fences with gateways had been improvised. The purpose of these fences was to force the people to pass through the gates so that might be carefully scrutinized and the men detained for deportation. Between the iron fences there was a double line of Turkish soldiers, and guards were stationed all along the Pier. Most of the American Sailors, assigned to help the outcasts, were working near the center of the Pier and at the far end the British sailors did their bit. The privilege of helping these poor women and children and aged people was a favor granted by the Turks to the Americans and British, and it goes without sating that the Boys did all and far more than their orders permitted.

The frantic rush to reach the ships cannot be described. For six hours on Tuesday, 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 Pier, 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.

At the gate, the Turkish soldiers kept beating the people back with the butts of their guns in order to force them to come through  slowly. Many of the more prosperous appearing women were seized by individual soldiers, searched and robbed in the broad daylight  under our very eyes. Their rings were torn from their fingers, and finally these robberies were expedited by merely striking the women across the fingers which meant "take off your rings and deliver them".

Often when a man came though this gate and was seized by the soldiers, they would whisper a moment, the captive would pay tribute, be released and pass along the line, but before he had gone thirty feet he would be detained out on the wharf and placed among the prisoners for deportation. His money never saved him. At first it seemed strange that the men were not promptly seized and turned over to the military authorities to be searched in regular order. Finally, we realized that this was a prearrangement among the common soldiers to prevent the officers from getting all the loot.

Day after day during the week of the evacuation there was a continuous 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 were 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 a 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 these 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.

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 be apparent to everybody: the Turks are determined to get rid of of the Christian population in Turkish territory, and Greece is the only country within reach which will receive them.

The method adopted for their taking off would challenge the admiration and envy of an American efficiency expert. The men are "deported" to the interior, The women and children are "permitted" to depart providing they take nothing of value with them. Their abandoned property reverts to the Government the minute it is abandoned, and just now an effort is being made to collect insurance on property  destroyed by fire at Smyrna.

Measured in human suffering the destruction of Smyrna is the most colossal atrocity ever perpetrated. In the history of Christian Martyrdom there is nothing to 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.

When I talked about Mustafa Kemal and the Kemalist movement I was hard to make people understand that Mustafa Kemal was not a medicine but a man, and that the Kemalist movement was not a new kind of massage [message?] but a great human movement with a religious and national impulse behind it - a movement that will influence the history of mankind. Now everybody knows that Mustafa Kemal is one of the greatest military leaders the world has ever produced, and the Kemalist movement has pushed the Christian people out of the land of their fathers, the country of their forefathers Anatolia and given Turkey a place in the sun. While her patron-ally Germany lies broken in the shadow.

In the present state of the world Turkey is perhaps the strongest argument for militarism. Bold militarism plus subtle diplomacy has made Turkey a king on the chessboard on International politics - and what about the pawns at the psyclolocal moment.1

1. The Smyrna refugee crisis of 1922 and the American Women’s Hospital Service (AWHS). Drexel University College of Medicine. Accessed 24 Feb 2018.

Further reading:
Dr. Esther Lovejoy Describes Systematic Robbery and Outrages by Troops.
Les derniers jours de Smyrne

Smyrna 1922, M. Housepian Dobkin
Smyrna 1922, L. Ureneck
American Accounts Documenting the Destruction of Smyrna by the Kemalist Turkish Forces
The Martyrdom of Smyrna and Eastern Christendom: A File of Overwhelming Evidence, Denouncing the Misdeeds of the Turks in Asia Minor and Showing Their Responsibility for the Horrors of Smyrna.


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