Reviews of Ships of Mercy

Index of Book Reviews and Reviewers

Aiolika Nea of Mytilini Nibi, Sophia
Concord [NH] Monitor Rule, Rebecca
Four Seasons Quarterly Saunders, L.
Hellenic News of America Tsounis, Catherine
Hellenic Voice Vogianni, Christina
Herschbach, Dennis Zeus Publications of Australia
Merrimack Journal Ziagos, Dr. Anthony G., Sr.

ISBN: 9781913807661
Hardcover: 280pp; Price $30.00

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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 reprod
uced 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.

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Book 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.]

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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

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Book Review by Rebecca Rule for the [New Hampshire] Concord Monitor

"Shedding light on a tragic piece of Greek history, 86 years later, a N.H. man uncovers the truth.

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 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.

“Before 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." --Book review by Rebecca Rule for the Concord Monitor

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Book Review by Discovery Magazine

"Ships of Mercy: The True Story of the Rescue of the Greeks, Smyrna, September 1922, is a moving and well-documented story about the Great Fire of Smyrna - with a Y connection.

Published in April, the book, which recounts the rescue of thousands of Greek refugees on the Smyrna quay, is based on more than 10 years of research by Papoutsy and his wife, Mary.

For more than 80 years, many accounts of the rescue claimed that American and Allied warships were in the Smyrna harbor but provided no assistance to the civilians. But as the Papoutys searched for the truth, they dispelled those myths and uncovered an amazing story of Asa Jennings.

Jennings, a shy American worker with the YMCA, did all he could do to secure the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people. Driven by his moral convictions, he engineered a miraculous rescue effort, and for his actions he was named Admiral of the Greek Navy. Later, Jennings was doubly honored by Greece, receiving the country's highest military and civilian accolades."--Discovery Magazine, Summer Edition

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Book Review by Hellenic News of America

"Using a combination of imagery from his book and unpublished research, author Chris Papoutsy discusses this new volume about American heroism and generosity in a 45-minute power-point presentation, followed by a question-and-answer session.

Ships of Mercy reveals the true heroes of Smyrna, later forgotten by history. The book is based on more than 10 years of research by the Papoutsys, who traveled extensively in their quest to uncover and document the truth about the rescue of hundreds of thousands of Greek refugees from Smyrna. They discovered a compelling story and found previously unpublished materials. Vintage photographs, exhibits, naval war diaries, and captains' logs appear for the first time in the pages of this volume.

Ships of Mercy dispels common myths about the evacuation of the refugees and clearly documents the real heroes in this enormous tragedy. The book also clarifies the role of the U.S. Navy, showing how U.S. 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. During the fall of 1922, vessels from the United States, Great Britain, Italy and France evacuated thousands from Turkish shores. The American vessels also provided desperately needed food and medical care, and delivered supplies to the refugee camps.

How these events became lost to history can only be speculated upon, but at last the true story can be told. Ships of Mercy is the account of these forgotten heroes. Surprising and powerful, it is a story that needs to be told."--The Hellenic News of America

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Excerpt of Book Review by Four Seasons Quarterly Publication of the Asia Minor Society of Kalloni, Lesvos, Greece [in Greek]

Ôï âéâëéï "Ôá ðëïéá ôçò Óõìðïíéáò" áðïêáëõðôåé ôïõò áëçèéíïõò çñùåò ôçò Óìõñíçò, ïé ïðïéïé áñãïôåñá ëçóìïíçèçêáí áðï ôçí éóôïñéá. Ôï âéâëéï âáóéæåôáé óå åñåõíá ðïõ äéçñêåóå ðåñéóóïôåñï áðï 10 ÷ñïíéá áðï ôï æåõãïò Ðáðïõôóç, ðïõ ôáîéäåøå óå ïëï ôïí êïóìï, ðñïêåéìåíïõ íá áðïêáëõøåé êáé íá ôåêìçñéùóåé ôçí áëçèåéá ãéá ôç äéáóùóç åêáôïíôáäùí Åëëçíùí ðñïóöõãùí áðï ôç Óìõñíç.

Ôï æåõãïò Ðáðïõôóç áíáêáëõøå ìéá óõíáñðáóôéêç éóôïñéá êáé âñçêå õëéêï ðïõ äåí åé÷å äçìïóéåõôåé êáôá ôï ðáñåëèïí. Ðáëáéåò êáé åêëåêôçò ðïéïôçôáò öùôïãñáöéåò, åêèåìáôá, çìåñïëïãéá ôïõ ðïëåìéêïõ íáõôéêïõ êáé çìåñïëïãéá ðëïéáñ÷ùí ðáñïõóéáæïíôáé ãéá ðñùôç öïñá óôéò óåëéäåò áõôïõ ôïõ âéâëéïõ.

Ôï âéâëéï "Ôá ðëïéá ôçò Óõìðïíéáò" êáôáññéðôåé ôïõò åõñåùò äéáäåäïìåíïõò ìõèïõò ãéá ôçí ìåôáöïñá ôùí ðñïóöõãùí êáé ðáñïõóéáæåé ìå óáöçíåéá ôïõò áëçèéíïõò çñùåò óå áõôçí ôçí åèíéêç ôñáãùäéá.

Åêðëçêôéêï êáé äõíáôï, áðïôåëåé ìéá éóôïñéá ðïõ çôáí áðáñáéôçôï íá åéðùèåé.---Ôåóóåñåò Åðï÷åò, ðåñéïäéêï ôçò Åíùóç Ìéêñáóéáôùí Äçìïõ Êáëëïíçò Ëåóâïõ (Åôïò 1, ôåõ÷ïò 2, Êáëïêáéñé 2008, óåëéäåò 13-14) [Four Seasons, quarterly publication of the Asia Minor Society of Kalloni, Lesvos, Greece (Vol. 1, no. 2, Summer 2008, pp. 13-14)]

Click here to read entire review [in Greek, pdf].

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Book Announcement by Aiolika Nea Newspaper of Mytilini, Greece

Τα πλοἰα της συμπὀνιας του Χρἠστου Παπουτσἠ ομογενἠ απὀ το Χἐϊβερχιλ της Μασαχουσἐτης, εἰναι ἐνα βιβλἰο γεμἀτο μ' αληθινἐς μαρτυρἰες για τη διἀσωση των Ελλἠνων της Σμὐρνης στη σφαγἠ του 1922.

αθηλωτικὁ, αποπνἐει την τρυφερὁτητα του συγγραφἑα για την αδυσὠπητη μοἰρα των Ελλἠνων χωρἱς να ξεφεὑγει απὀ την ιστορικἠ αλἠθεια που σἠμερα ενοχλεἰ, γιατἰ δεν βολεὐει. Απὀφοιτος του Χἁρβαρντ ο κ. Παπουτσἡς, γεννημἐνος στην Αμερικἠ με Βατουσιανἠ ρἰζα απ' τον πατἐρα του, με τον τἱτλο του διδἀκτορα της Νομικἠς, με βραβεἱα και διακρἰσεις που ὁμως, δεν τον κἁνουν περισσὀτερο περἠφανο απ' τον τἱτλο του Ἐλληνα της διασπορἀς.

ο βιβλἰο του (εκδὀσεις Καστανιὠτη), θα παρουσιαστεἰ μἐσα στον Αὐγουστο σε Μυτιλἠνη, Καλλονἠ και Βατοὐσα με τη συνεργασἰα του Συλλὀγου Ελληνοαμερικανὡν Λἐσβου "Μytilene GRACE". Συγχαρητἠρια κι ευχἐς για τον πετυχημἐνο συμπατριὠτη μας της διασπορἀς . . . [Aiolika Nea, Mytilini, Greece, July 2009, p. ]

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Excerpts from Book Review by Christina Voyianni for Aiolika Nea Newspaper of Mytilini, Greece

"Τα πλοἰα της συμπὀνιας" εἱναι ο τἱτλος του βιβλἱου του Χρἠστου Παπουτσἡ, Βατουσιανοὐ της διασπὀρας, που κυκλοφὁρησς πρὁσφατα απὀ τις Εκδὁσεις "Καστανιὡτη" και μας μεταφἑρει στη Σμὐρνη του 1922 αποκαλὐπτοντας ὁλα ὀσα συνἑβησαν στους Ἐλληνες της Μικρἀς Ασἰας το Σεμπτἐμβριο της χρονιἁς αυτἡς. Ἡταν μια περἰοδος τραγικἠ και συνἀμα ηρωικἡ, οστὀσο, με το πἑρασμα του χρὀνοθ, τα γεγονὁτα λησμονἠθηκαν, αν και οι συνἑπειἑς τους ἐχουν αφἡσει το σημἁδι τους σε εκατοντἀδες χιλιἀδες οικογἐνεις.

Το βιβλἱο βασἰζεται στη δεκαετἡ ἑρευνα του Χρἡστου και της Μαἱρης Παπουτσἡ, που ταξἱδεψαν σε ολὁκληπο τον κὁσμο προκειμἑνου να τεκμπριὡσουν, με βἁση τις ιστορικἑς πηγἑς, την αλἡθεια γὑρω απὁ τη διἁσωση των προσφὑγων. Μἑσα απὁ ἑνα πλοὑσιο υλικὁ (δημοσιεὑματα στον Τὑπο, ναυτικἁ ημερολὁγια, επιστολἑς και τηλεγραφἡματα, αφηγἡσεις απὁ επιζἡσαντες, φωτογραφἱες), το οποιο δημοσιεὑεται για πρὡτη φορἁ, τα "Πλοἱα της συμπὁνιας" δἱνουν απαντἡσεις--απαντἡσεις αναπὁντεχες--στα ερωτἡματα που μας απασχολοὑν σχετικἁ με την καταστροφἡ της Σμὑρνης.

Πρὁκειται για ἑνα βιβλἱο που διαλὑει τους κοινοὑς μὑθους και αποκαλὑπτει τοὑς πραγματικοὑς σωτἡρες αυτἡς της τραγωδἱας, αναδεικνὑοντας μἱα απὁ τις πιο οδυνηρἑς εξὁδους στην ιστορἱα των προγὁνων τους.--Χριστἱνα Βογιἁννη, Αιολικἁ, Μυτιλἡνη [βλἑπε τον ἁρθρο ολὁκληρο--κἁντε κλἱκ εδὡ]

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Book Review by Catherine Tsounis

“The facts about Smyrna have always been sketchy,” said Christos Papoutsy in the preface of his book “Ships of Mercy: The True Story of the RESCUE OF THE GREEKS Smyrna, September 1922. “Did events really unfold as many Greeks and other believe? We decided to find out the truth, as we believe that all sides need to know, without doubt, what occurred in Smyrna during September 1922.”

The current Modern Greek perspective is that American warships were in the Smyrna harbor and turned a blind eye. Japanese ships rescued civilians. America and the WWI allies double-crossed the Modern Greek government by ordering them to march into Anatolia. Then abandoning them when the Turks pushed the Greek army back to the coast.

Official documents uncovered by Mr. Papoutsy, reveal Asa Jennings, a former Methodist pastor for ten years, was the real hero. Click here to read entire review.

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Book Review by Dr. Dennis Herschbach

Some historical events are important to retain clearly in our collective memories because of their significance to human understanding. One such event was the destruction of Smyrna, a cosmopolitan city of striking beauty situated on the Aegean Sea with a deep-water port serving maritime traffic crisscrossing the eastern Mediterranean. Founded in antiquity, by the twentieth century the city of five hundred thousand was both a trade and cultural center teaming with a polyglot mixture of Greeks, Turks, Jews, Armenians, Lebanese, Italian, French, British and Americans, among a smattering of other nationalities drawn by its economic opportunity, tourism, urban vitality, wonderful climate, and historical and cultural legacy. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, however, the city became tragically embroiled in the violence accompanying the Greco-Turkish conflict which broke out in 1921 following World War I and the emergence of a secular Turkey under Mustapha Kemal, or Ataturk, as he is commonly called today. Beautiful Smyrna was destroyed in an orgy of violence and death. Read entire review.

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(Posting date 26 June 2008; updated 24 October 2009)

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