HarperCollins has released a major new book today on the burning of Smyrna in 1922 by Boston professor Lou Ureneck. The Great Fire: One American’s Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century’s First Genocide tells the full and dramatic story of the destruction of the richest and most sophisticated city of the Mediterranean and the astonishing rescue by an American minister of thousands of Greek and Armenian refugees from the city’s horrors after it was occupied by the Turkish nationalist army.
Professor Lou Ureneck, a former Nieman fellow and editor-in-residence at Harvard University, is a professor of journalism at Boston University. He was deputy managing editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer and editor of the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. Ureneck’s writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, the Boston Globe, and Field & Stream. A former Fulbright fellow, Ureneck is the author of Backcast, which won the National Outdoor Book Award for literary merit, and Cabin—Two Brothers, a Dream, and Five Acres in Maine.
Based on de-classified U.S.intelligence reports, secret diplomatic cables and survivor accounts, the book opens new insights into a pivotal event of the early 20th century. Among the characters is Theodora Gravou, a Greek child whose parents were murdered but who found her way to safety and eventually a life in Greece.
By turns harrowing and inspiring, it is a true story, based on years of research in Turkey, Greece, Great Britain and the United States. Written by Boston University Professor Lou Ureneck, it is titled “The Great Fire — One American’s Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century’s First Genocide.”
The year was 1922: World War I had just come to a close, the Ottoman Empire was in decline, and Asa Jennings, a YMCA worker from upstate New York, had just arrived in the quiet coastal city of Smyrna to teach sports to boys. Several hundred miles to the east in Turkey’s interior, tensions between Greeks and Turks had boiled over into deadly violence. Mustafa Kemal, now known as Ataturk, and his Muslim army soon advanced into Smyrna, a Christian city, where a half a million terrified Greek and Armenian refugees had fled in a desperate attempt to escape his troops.
Turkish soldiers proceeded to burn the city and rape and kill countless Christian refugees. Unwilling to leave with the other American civilians and determined to get Armenians and Greeks out of the doomed city, Jennings worked tirelessly to feed and transport the thousands of people gathered at the city’s Quay.
With the help of the brilliant naval officer and Kentucky gentleman Halsey Powell, and a handful of others, Jennings commandeered a fleet of unoccupied Greek ships and was able to evacuate a quarter million innocent people—an amazing humanitarian act that has been lost to history, until now. Before the horrible events in Turkey were complete, Jennings had helped rescue a quarter of a million people.
Professor Ureneck, in association with The Pappas Post is undertaking a speaking tour to coincide with the book’s release. If your community, church, organization or bookstore is interested in organizing a book signing event, please email Gregory Pappas for details on how to bring the author to your city.