Saturday, September 26, 2020

Refugee Procession Is Scene of Horror

Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961)
From Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises & Other Writings 1918–1926

Refugee camp near the Theseion [Temple of Hephaestus], following the 1922 defeat of Greece in Asia Minor and the evacuation of Eastern Thrace. American National Red Cross photograph collection; Library of Congress
In late August 1922 Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Hadley, were in Germany when news broke that, after a twelve-month standoff, the Turkish National Movement forces had overrun Greek defenses and were working their way west to Smyrna (present-day Izmir), a major port on the Aegean coast. At the end of the month, the Hemingways headed back to Paris and, by the time they returned to their apartment, the Greek army was in rapid retreat as Turkish forces captured city after city, reaching Smyrna on September 8–9. A few days later, a massive fire broke out that destroyed Smyrna’s Greek and Armenian sections and killed thousands, as people fled to the quay to escape the flames. During the following days British and American ships conducted a chaotic evacuation of approximately 200,000 Greeks and Armenians; more than 30,000 men were taken prisoner by the Turkish forces and sent inland.

Three days after the Great Fire of Smyrna, Hemingway received a wire from his editors at the Toronto Star instructing him to travel to Asia Minor to cover the war. He also accepted an offer from William Randolph Hearst’s International News Service to report on the same conflict, essentially double-dipping—a deceit that angered Hadley, who was already upset that he would both leave her alone in Paris and jeopardize his life in a warzone. To hide his duplicity from his employers at the Star, Hemingway would use “John Hadley” as a pseudonym for his articles for Hearst, many of which repeated his dispatches to Toronto.

He left via the Simplon-Orient Express on September 25 for the four-day trip to Constantinople. By the time he arrived, the Greek government had collapsed, King Constantine had been overthrown by his military, and the Greco-Turkish War was essentially over. Instead of arriving at the frontlines of battle, Hemingway found himself in the middle of a refugee crisis.

Within days, Hemingway and his fellow correspondents began hearing stories of Turkish atrocities against fleeing Greeks and learned of the stream of more than a quarter million refugees evacuated from Smyrna and the surrounding areas. Sickened with fever, probably from malaria, he was unable to follow up on the reports or even to attend the briefings for journalists and instead ended up at the British hospital in Constantinople on October 13. An armistice was signed two days later, giving the Greek population fifteen days to leave eastern Thrace and launching yet another mass exodus—including those who had just been evacuated from Smyrna. Still ailing, Hemingway left Constantinople (soon to be Istanbul) and traveled to Adrianople (present-day Edirne, near the border with modern-day Greece), where he witnessed the flood of refugees on October 17 and filed a brief report, which began:
ADRIANOPLE. — In a never-ending, staggering march, the Christian population of Eastern Thrace is jamming the roads toward Macedonia. The main column crossing the Maritza River at Adrianople is twenty miles long. Twenty miles of carts drawn by cows, bullocks and muddy-flanked water buffalo, with exhausted, staggering men, women and children, blankets over their heads, walking blindly along in the rain beside their worldly goods. . . .
Two years later, the “march” of refugees still haunted him, and he echoed the prose of his reporting in a short chapter of the modernist classic in our time:
The carts were jammed for thirty miles along the Karagatch road. Water buffalo and cattle were hauling carts through the mud. No end and no beginning. Just carts loaded with everything they owned. The old men and women, soaked through, walked along keeping the cattle moving. The Maritza was running yellow almost up to the bridge. Carts were jammed solid on the bridge with camels bobbing along through them. Greek cavalry herded along the procession. Women and kids were in the carts crouched with mattresses, mirrors, sewing machines, bundles. There was a woman having a kid with a young girl holding a blanket over her and crying. Scared sick looking at it. It rained all through the evacuation.
The day after he sent off his report from Adrianople, a much-emaciated, still-feverish Ernest Hemingway, his head shaved from sleeping in lice-infested quarters, took the train back to Paris. On the way, he wrote a longer, more personal story that he mailed to the Star, which published it four weeks later and which we present below as our Story of the Week selection.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria. — In a comfortable train with the horror of the Thracian evacuation behind me, it is already beginning to seem unreal. That is the boon of our memories.. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.