Ships of Mercy: The True Story of the Rescue of the Greeks, Smyrna September 1922

By Christos Papoutsy

Title: Ships of Mercy: The True Story of the Rescue of the Greeks, Smyrna September 1922
Author: Christos Papoutsy
Publisher: Peter Randall Publisher
Date of Publication: January 2008
Language: English [Greek edition late 2008]
ISBN: 978-1-931807-66-1
Price: USD $30.00, plus $4.00 shipping to addresses in mainland US and Canada (add $1.00 for each additional book); to US states of Alaska and Hawaii, to European and other countries, USD $14.00).
Description: 280pp, hardcover, numerous photos, index
Availability: Advance orders by credit card or check accepted by Enfield Distribution Company (telephone: +1 603-632-7377). Download order form by clicking on link to PDF form (Enfield Distribution Company--Order Form) and returning to distributor by postal mail or fax. Be sure to include title of book, Ships of Mercy, and buyer's full name and mailing address. Make checks payable to Enfield Distribution Company (cost of book plus shipping) and send to: Enfield Publishing & Distribution Co., PO Box 699, Enfield, NH 03748, USA.

Book Releases

This book reveals the true heroes of Smyrna, forgotten by history. It's based on more than ten years of research by the Papoutsys who travelled around the globe to document the rescue of hundreds of thousands of Greek refugees on the Smyrna quay in September 1922. After more than a decade of preparation, this book discloses surprising answers, and previously unpublished photos, exhibits, naval war diaries and captains' logs. Net proceeds of book sales to support Hellenic Asia Minor Studies.

Click here to view and download book announcement (HTML page)

Click here to read "Ships of Mercy, the Smyrna Rescue Story, Goes Global" [11 May 2008].

Book Review by Sophia Nibi [forthcoming edition of The Hellenic Voice]

Click here for Greek version

Because life, and history for that matter, is personal, I have always thought that the burning of the Mediterranean Metropolis of Smyrna in 1922 is my mother’s story. Today, 86 years later, thanks to a newly published book, Ships of Mercy: The true Story of the Rescue of the Greeks, Smyrna, September 1922 by Christos Papoutsy, I know that the rescue of the hundreds of thousands of refugees of that great catastrophe is Asa Jennings’ story. Jennings was a quiet, humble American Y.M.C.A. worker who moved heaven and earth to secure the evacuation of thousands of people, including, perhaps, my mother and her family. Well documented in the book, Christos Papoutsy shows how driven by the force of his moral convictions, Asa Jennings engineered one of the largest rescue efforts in history.

Today’s Turkish city of Izmir has nothing in common with the cosmopolitan city known as Smyrna in which my mother was born in 1916 and where at the age of six she witnessed unspeakable atrocities which haunted her till the day she died in Wellesley, MA at the age of 81. In my lifelong search to find more about my mother’s childhood about which she would not talk because if was too painful, I have read just about every book about the Great Fire of 1922 during which 55,000 homes and 5,000 shops were burned and thousands of men, women and children were gasping for life on the quay of that historic city whose magnificent civilization spanned centuries. And I have learned a lot about the heroic generation of the Greeks of Asia Minor. But until now, I never knew how they were rescued or what a significant role an American, not just a forgotten hero, but until now also an unknown hero contributed to saving so many lives. Ships of Mercy convincingly clarifies the role of the United States Navy, showing how American naval officers horrified by the plight of the refugees, worked with Asa Jennings and organized the ships in the area into a large-scale rescue operation. Vessels from the United States, Great Britain, Italy and France evacuated thousands from the Turkish shores. The American vessels also provided food and medical care, and delivered supplies to the refugee camps.

Ships of Mercy does not tell the entire story of Smyrna and the Great Fire that destroyed it. But it tells a lot and offers undisputed evidence of its presentation. The book’s pages contain exactly what Christos Papoutsy said it would when he chose the 15-word title. Through an extensive, ten-year long research by the author and his wife, Mary, which took them to many parts of the world interviewing descendants and records, the book offers a compelling, backed-by-facts account of the resulting conditions from the Great Fire of September 14, 1922 and of the determined role Asa Jennings played in the rescue from the massacre. The photographs are haunting. The reproduced original news accounts and correspondence so telling that the reader finds herself in the middle of the massacre and feels the agony, the pain, the despair, and also the hope as the ships arrive.

What Christos Papoutsy has given us and history through Ships of Mercy: The True Story of the Rescue of the Greeks, Smyrna, September 1922 is a magnificent missing piece of an epic event which the world has not always treated fairly. I, a proud descendant of the heroic generation of the Greeks of Asia Minor, am grateful to Christos Papoutsy for presenting a documented and undisputed account which I view not just as a historical fact but also as a respectful tribute to my mother and to the Greeks of that historic area who lost the country they loved overnight through a catastrophe that not only should not have happened, but which should have at the very least been a lesson not to be repeated. Sadly, as evidenced by the holocausts that followed it in other parts of the world, man’s inhumanity to man remains a condition not easy to eradicate.

Ships of Mercy: The True Story of the Rescue of the Greeks, Smyrna, September 1922 should be on the history shelves of every library. It is a book to have and read, a book to give as a gift, a book for lovers of history to study again and again. Personally, I plan to visit its pages at least once a year, on September 14, the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, the day in 1922 when the Great Fire destroyed a civilization, killed thousands, and altered the lives of hundreds of thousands who left the land of their birth and became refugees in other lands. And on September 14, I will not only think and reflect on my mother’s life but, thanks to Christos Papoutsy I will also offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the soul of one man, Asa Jennings, who showed us how “one person can make a difference, even in the most extreme circumstances. Asa Jennings didn’t just believe this; he lived it. We can aspire to do the same.” (Ships of Mercy, page 219)

Sophia Nibi, the administrative assistant to His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, is a journalist and freelance writer.

Review by Dr. Anthony G. Ziagos, Sr. [Merrimack Journal, Special Edition, May 2008, p. 18]

Five hundred years of unrest in a clash of Eastern and Western cultures that never ceases. The Greeks and the Turks were fighting and in 1922 the Seaport City of Smyrna boiled over. The Turkish Army had pushed the Greek Army back to the sea. In addition to lost lives, thousands of refugees are caught in the cross fire of two nations. Consequence of War is always ugly anda tragic, flee or face certain death. Christos and Mary Papoutsy, have traveled across the world to uncover the truth about the Rescue fo Greeks at Smyrna in 1922. After a decade of research, thousands of pages of original documents, photographs, interviews and transcripts, they can now tell the real story of the rescue of the Greeks from Smyrna. This is Asa Jennings' story. A shy American YMCA worker who moved heaven and earth to secure evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people. Driven by his moral conviction, and the help of the United States Navy and Allied forces he engineered massive evacuation from the Turkish shores. For his effort The Greek Government awarded Jennings its highest civilian honor, The Gold Cross of St. Savior and the highest war honor, The Medal of Military Merit. This was the first time in history that the both medals were awarded to the same person simultaneously.

Read this compelling account of the evacuation in Ships of Mercy: The True Story of the Rescue of the Greeks, Smyrna, September 1922 by Christos Papoutsy."

[Copyright 2008 Middlesex Media Exchange. All Rights Reserved.]

Excerpts of Editorial Evaluation by Zeus Publications of Australia

"I thoroughly enjoyed reading Ships of Mercy. This book of historical non-fiction is based on over ten years' research by the author into the mammoth rescue of over 250,000 Greek refugees from the Smyrna quay in September 1922. During what has been called the Greco-Turkish war, a short conflict from 1920-1922, the Turkish troops systematically drove the Greeks and Armenians from their homes and set fire to the city of Smyrna. Running for their lives many people were butchered, set alight and raped in a massacre that saw the thousands of stranded people, mainly women and children, huddle on the quay; in front lay the ocean and behind the barbaric Turks. All able-bodied men and youths were separated and taken to the interior as prisoners. When no rescue seemed possible Asa Jennings, an unknown American, solely put in place a daring plan to save the lives of the refugees. Despite being hindered by politics and red tape, stubborn Jennings forced the Greek government to send rescue ships where he took command and entered the harbor. This event has to be one of the greatest singular feats of human service in history.

I found the work well-written in an easy fluent style that was a pleasure to read. The amount of research that has been carried out in this book is incredible and very well done. Keeping some incorrect spelling and grammar as it was quoted at the time only adds to the authenticity of the work. Recording the true events that happened in Smyrna is of great importance not only to the Greek people of the world but to all mankind so we never forget that the courage of one person can make a difference. I particularly like the inclusion of ancient Greek history and excellent original photos and documents. I believe this book will be a valuled addition to many schools, libraries and universities world wide."--L. Saunders, Evaluator

Review by Rebecca Rule [Nashua Telegraph, 7 September 2008]

Just when you think you know a little something about history, along comes a book full of surprises.

Truth be told, I knew nothing about the rescue of hundreds of thousands of Greek refugees from the quay at Smyrna in 1922. For the Greek community, this event, I'm told by Christos Papoutsy, is as significant as Hiroshima or Pearl Harbor, a war tragedy of earthshaking proportions.
Papoutsy, of Rye Beach, spent 10 years researching the Smyrna Catastrophe, in which many died before many were saved through evacuation. His book, Ships of Mercy, tells the story of how these refugees came to be in Smyrna, what happened to them there and how some of them, in the end, escaped.

Here's the background in a nutshell: After World War I, many peace settlements were implemented as territory was divided. In these settlements, as in the war, there were winners and losers.

Among the Allied countries gaining territory was Greece which sought to have her ancestral lands of eastern Thrace, Smyrna, and other sections of Asia Minor restored. The Italians, miffed at not receiving certain lands that they desired, decided to seize them by force. They landed soldiers on the Adalia coast and began heading north toward Smyrna. Because the Greeks had the closest Allied garrison (in [the Greek province of] Macedonia), the Allied powers asked them to head off the Italian maneuver. The Greeks complied, and quickly occupied Smyrna.

This angered the Turks, who launched a revolution, kicking out the Sultan who had cooperated with the Allies, and precipitating the Greco-Turkish conflict of 1920-22.

Enraged at their empire being chopped up, Turkish rebels called for a "Turkey for the Turks" and pledged to fight to retain their lands. Their battle cry also brooked no tolerance for non-Turks or Christians, and turned a fight over territory into a far bloodier conflict over race and religion.

Driven from their homes and lands by the Turks, Greeks and others fled toward the sea--"flight was their only hope"--and ended up crowded on the quay at Smyrna.

For nearly thirty days, they baked under the hot sun and suffered perishing thirst, hunger, and brutality. For nearly thirty days they prayed for rescue.

Papoutsy documents that rescue in Ships of Mercy. He and his wife traveled the world--Italy, Greece, Turkey, France--and combed the libraries in search of the truth about Smyrna.

They discovered documents--ships' records, letters among key players, military orders--that shed light on the nature and sequence of events. They had documents translated into English. They unearthed photographs of the refugees, the ships, and Smyrna before and after the catastrophe--a fire burned much of the city.

They discovered an unsung hero, Asa Jennings, an American who facilitated the evacuation, saving thousands of lives. His firsthand account of events brings color and immediacy to the story. Here's a sample:

I remember the exciting time I had on the morning of September 13, when I was on my way to the office. I was coming through the Armenian quarter, and as ill luck would have it, fell in with a mob. There was firing on both sides, for of course, Turkish soldiers were everywhere.

I had long since taken the precautionary measure of arming myself with an American flag, for that little bit of bunting was of more potential defense than any Colt automatic. Finding myself in this pleasant little party, I pulled out my flag, pinned it on, and made for the nearest wall.

I finally reached it and then walked sideways for quite a distance, for I had always been told that if you must be shot by all means avoid being shot in the back.

Jennings got his family out of the trouble zone on an American ship, then returned to Smyrna to try to help the refugees. And he did! It wasn't easy, but he did.

Papoutsy's mission was to set the record straight on the Smyrna Catastrophe. It needed to be set straight.

Sometimes myths arise and are counted as history. The widely held belief that the Greeks at Smyrna were rescued by the Japanese always struck Papoutsy, who has family connections in the region, as illogical. "What were the Japanese doing in the harbor at Smyrna?"

Other stories--that British and American ships had denied refugees safety and that sailors had pushed swimmers away or poured scalding water on them--also struck him as fishy.

What really happened? In some of the stories, the United States and the Allies were said to have caused the whole mess and did nothing to help. Papoutsy didn't buy it.

In fact, according to Ships of Mercy (and with the amount of documentation the book provides, it certainly seems like fact), America didn/t start the fire, as Billy Joel might say. And in fact, we tried to help, and did. Yes, it was tricky, with complex political mazes to maneuver, but we helped big-time. That's Papoutsy's well-researched message.

He wrote the book in part out of national pride.

" I'm Greek," he told me, "I'm an American. I'm proud to be an American." This book and its message are "not Republican, not Democrat, not red or blue--just American."

Just as Papoutsy traveled the world to write his book, he's traveling the world talking about it. A Greek edition will be released soon.

Locally, you can find him at the Rye Public Library at 7 p.m. Oct. 2. For more information, visit

Rebecca Rule, a writer who lives in Northwood, writes this column weekly except the last Sunday of the month. Her e-mail address is

Readers' Comments
  • "I . . . am very impressed with the research and time you put into this valuable and true story. Congratulations on such a wonderful and accurate description of the fate of the Asia Minor Greeks. . . . Thank you for bringing your story to the general public."--Jasmine Panos Andrews, author of Demetrios the Survivor

  • "I have read your tremendous book . . . and I am thrill[ed] to know that there are people like you in the world, revealing the truth of history."--Rev. Fr. Chrysostom Manuel

  • "[We] would like to congratulate you for the beautiful job you did in your book. . . . it is an aristourgima.--Demosthenes and Angela Varipatis

  • "I . . . wish to number myself among the many persons who will congratulate you on what you have accomplished by writing such an important book. Yours is a remarkable achievement--the product of long hours of work, thoughtful research, and dedication to the cause of providing answers to lingering questions about an episode in history neglected by scholars and the world-wide public. Moreover, by your relentless pursuit of heretofore unknown factual material you have provided an important reference source for persons engaged in any future scholarship regarding the horrific Catastrophe of Smyrna.

    For the average reader such as I, you have done a number of important things. In broad brush, you painted with clarity a picture of the confusing military and political events following World War I, not only pertaining to the situation in Europe but specifically to Greece and the Balkans. You alluded to the complexity of interests of the Great Powers at that time and how Greece became embroiled in a web of Geo-political complicity. Appropriately, you spoke of the horrors that befell an innocent population, and in vivid detail you described the brutality of the Turkish armed forces. your narrative was at times riveting as the horrific events unfolded, while at moments eliciting a certain sadness from the human misery your book described. you rightfully refuted the erroneous impression of the role played by the United States during the tragedy, as well as the false credit attributed to others. You rightfully paid tribute to agencies and persons who labored on behalf of the victims. And most importantly you related the remarkable story of an amazing hero, namely Asa Jennings.

    Prior to reading Ships of Mercy, I had read Twice a Stranger by Bruce Clark, an editor of Economist magazine and a well known Philhellene. While his book deals primarly with the population exchange brought about by the Lausanne Treaty, his work and yours together compliment each other by speaking specifically of the misery experienced by the Greeks of Asia Minor--something which Marjorie Housepian Dobkin fails to emphasize in her book, Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City. For me, reading Ships of Mercy filled a certain void in my comprehension of the events of that time. . . . Our family was touched as were thousands of others by the great Catastrophe. Ships of Mercy brought home to me the enormity of that tragedy. Thanks for writing it."--Dr. James Rouman

  • "An important contribution, it enrichens the relevant bibliography with sources and testimonies, placing the Smyrna Catastrophy momentum through a different prism. Please accept our sincere congratulations for your work. . ."--Stavros Th. Anestides and Stelios Kapsomenos, Centre d'Etudes d'Asie Mineure, Athens, Greece

  • "[Ships of Mercy] will go a long way in dispelling the myths concerning the tragedy of September 1922. I would recommend highly to all Greeks and Philhellenes to read your stirring Ships of Mercy to better appreciate the tragic events of the Smyrna (Asia Minor) Catastrophe. I believe that a detailed understanding of those events makes us even more appreciative of our beloved United States."--Rev. Christopher P. Foustoukos

  • "The book is Awesome! This is a great work to be proud of. Thank you for telling the story that the world needs to know."--Rogers Jennings, grandson of Asa Jennings

  • "[Ships of Mercy] reads great and is very informative! This book, in my opinion, carries agreat deal of historical, truth revealing value!--Professor Demetri Kantarelis

  • "What a story! I can't put the book down and when I do, I find myself thinking an awful lot about it."--Alex Panos

About the author

See Mr. Papoutsy's brief bio under the Contributing Authors' section of HCS.

Book Tour Schedule

The author will be speaking throughout the U.S. and Europe in 2008-2009. For the latest, up-to-date schedule of his appearances, click here.

(Posting date 1 November 2007; updated 25 June 2008)

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