On Monday, the looting, rapine, and killing was extended to the larger Greek quarter, which was now crowded with Greek refugees fleeing the advance of the Turks. Many hid in homes, churches, schools, and other buildings. Eight hundred Christians who had taken refuge in the Catholic Cathedral were dragged out and massacred. In the streets and homes, the same pattern of looting, rapine, and killing proceeded. Twenty women who had fled for safety to the home of a British citizen were raped and then killed. A full account of such wanton savagery would take many articles. The slaughter in the Greek quarter of Smyrna seemed to peak late on Tuesday, but the worst was yet to come.
When the wind turned away from the Turkish quarter, sometime after noon, on Wednesday, Turkish soldiers began to spread gasoline and kerosene in tin cans on the homes and streets of all but the Turkish and Jewish quarter, starting with the Armenian quarter, which had already been partially burned. They used rags, sticks, and small bombs to help spread the fire, which quickly spread downhill toward the quay. The small Jewish quarter was too near the Turkish quarter to fire and was also protected by Italian Marines.
Within four hours, the fire was raging over two-thirds of Smyrna across a two-mile front and was approaching the buildings on the 300-yard-wide quay. Most of the seaworthy civilian boats in the harbor had already departed for the Greek Island of Chios, loaded with fleeing families and their most necessary belongings. The only hope for rescue from the fire and the Turks were the 21 Allied ships in harbor, whose orders forbade them to take any but their own nationals.
The foreign nationals were already queuing at the ships, and thousands of Greeks and the remaining Armenians were filling up the quay hoping to be taken on an Allied ship. One of them was a resourceful 16-year-old Greek boy named Aristotle Onassis.
The fire was so hot that it forced the Allied ships to pull back 250 yards from the quay. Meanwhile an estimated throng of 500,000 was caught between the raging tongues of fire and dense clouds of smoke and the water, while the Turks guarded the ends of the quay. According to a representative of an American tobacco company, quoted by Edward H. Bierstadt, author of The Great Betrayal, published in 1924:
“So tightly was the great throng packed on the quay that when one died he could not fall, but continued to stand upright supported perforce by his fellows.”
Into this already dreadful situation, squads of Turkish soldiers darted in and took away ten or twenty women and made off with them for whatever fate.
Meanwhile the Allied ships began to take on their nationals. But they had orders to take none but their own nationals. Small boats and swimmers were pushed away. Only the most distant Italian destroyer was hauling swimmers aboard. Night after night, the Allied warships threw their searchlights on the women screaming for protection. It took the fire about four days to die out. The Turks had never tried to put it out. According to Dr. Esther Lovejoy, who interviewed many eye witnesses after she arrived on September 24,
“One could constantly hear the screams and moans and shrieks of these poor women and girls moving up and down the quay….There was no retreat from that position. If they tried to go back through the ruins of the city they would probably have lost their lives…The quay became a reeking sewer.”
The crews of American, British, French, and Italian ships in the harbor were growing extremely agitated by not being able to help the pleading refugees. The ships’ bands played tunes to drown out the enervating screams. Little mercies of hidden stowaways and picking up more swimmers began to increase. Finally, the officers of a British battleship persuaded their captain that the honor of Britain and the Royal Navy would be forever stained, if they did not go against standing orders and rescue the Christians from this Turkish atrocity. He commanded the battleship and his accompanying cruisers and destroyers: “Away all boats.” More than 20,000 were rescued from the quay.
French ships screening their boarding passengers allowed anyone who could speak a word of French, no matter how bad the accent, to come aboard as French citizens with no questions asked. Among others, they took aboard an Armenian mother and her eight children. There were many Armenian girls in British and American missionary schools, and they were taught French, which turned out to be a blessed providence.
According to dispatches on September 14-15 between three U.S. destroyers and George Horton, U.S. Consul-General in Smyrna, a total of 1,950 refugees were crowded into these destroyers and delivered safely to Greek ports. This may have been contrary to official State Department and Navy orders. Eventually, 12 American destroyers would take part in the rescue.
Mustafa Kemal gave an ultimatum that all Christian males between 15 and 50, still in Smyrna by September 30 would be taken to the interior to rebuild Turkish villages destroyed by the Greek Army. Everyone knew exactly what this meant: a long march, hard labor, and then a bullet, bayonet, or the edge of a sword.
Rev. Asa Jennings arrived in Smyrna with his wife and three children in late August to be Assistant YMCA Director. He was an ordained minister of the Methodist Church, who had given up his pulpit in upstate New York to pursue an administrative career. He was a small, frail man with occasional health problems, just approaching his forty-fifth birthday. Although physically unimposing, he was very likable, spirited, and could muster an authoritative manner when the occasion demanded. He was deeply touched by the agony he saw all around him. Even his suburban home life was disturbed by the Turks burning wagon-load after wagon-load of bodies nearby, spreading a terrible stench. He felt like he wanted to do more than hand out bread and bandages, so he began to pray—for rescue ships. Through his friends on the American destroyer Edsall, he was already enquiring of every steamer in the harbor, if they would take refugees.
On Friday, September 15, two days after the fire had broken out, and was still burning, Acting Secretary of State William Phillips cabled Admiral Bristol and directed him in certain and commanding terms to develop a rescue plan with Britain, France, and Italy to aid refugees in Smyrna. Moreover, Jennings was able to persuade an Italian ship captain and the Italian Consul to approve using a large cargo ship to take 2,000 refugees to the Greek port of Mytiline. He accompanied the refugees and found that the Greek Navy’s 20 troop ships were there. He immediately began to negotiate with the Greek Navy and by radio with the Greek Cabinet to have them pick up refugees in Smyrna. Somehow he was made an acting Greek Admiral and was initially given six transports for the task. Kemal for some reason extended his deadline to October 8. By October 8, Jennings, now with 50 ships, had succeeded in rescuing over 250,000 refugees. Another 250,000 were rescued by Allied ships responding to his initiative and leadership. Meanwhile, Mustafa Kemal had apparently become convinced that exporting Greeks accomplished his purpose of purifying Turkey of Christian minorities, while keeping the good will of the Allied powers.
Despite the miraculous rescue of many thousands, however, the genocidal Jihad against Christian minorities in Smyrna was appalling. At least 100,000 died in the looting, rapine, and slaughter in the Armenian and Greek quarters of Smyrna. Approximately 160,000 men were marched off to the interior of Turkey for hard labor followed by extermination. Estimates of those dying as a result of the fire range from 10,000 to 100,000, with the low estimates being Turkish propaganda or U.S. State Department cover-up. Admiral Bristol’s original telegram to the State Department claimed that less than 2,000 died as a result of the fire.
Based on the books of Bierstadt, Horton, and Dobkin, I would go with the higher number of 100,000, bringing the total to 360,000. Rutgers University has estimated that the total number of Greek civilians killed in the 1919 to 1922 genocide was 1.5 million. Another 1.5 million refugees were settled in Greece. In addition, about 43,000 Greek soldiers were died in the Greco-Turkish War of 1919 to 1922. According to League of Nations reports, 50,000 Greek and Armenian Christian girls were sold into sex-slavery. The non-Muslim population of Turkey dropped from 19.1 percent in 1914 to 2.5 percent in 1927 and is now less than 0.3 percent.
“Democide” scholar Dr. Rudolph Rummel estimates that from 1900 to 1923 various Turkish regimes killed from 3.5 to 4.3 million Armenian, Greek, Assyrian, and other Christians.
On December 27, 1927, the Greek Government awarded its highest civilian honor, the Golden Cross of St. Xavier, and its highest war honor, the Medal of Military Merit, to Asa K. Jennings of Utica, New York.