Ernest Hemingway – Excerpts from the “Black Book” – In the Port of Smyrna

Ernest Hemingway – Excerpts from the “Black Book”The “Black Book” is a book-accusation, in which famous foreigners talk about the Turkish crimes of the late 19th century, including the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

One of them is American writer Ernest Miller Hemingway, a Nobel Prize winner (1954) and one of the classics of world literature of the 20th century. He volunteered and participated in World War I. After getting a serious injury, he became a correspondent for the Canadian newspaper Toronto Daily Star. In particular, he covered the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922.

Many impressions of those years formed the basis of the first book of his stories “Nowadays”, one of which is “In the port of Smyrna”. In September 1922, Turkish troops took Smyrna (Izmir) and committed a brutal massacre of Greeks and Armenians, who made up a significant part of the population.

In the Port of Smyrna or the Great Fire of Smyrna

It was impossible to persuade women to give their dead children. Sometimes, they held them for six days, unwilling to hand them over to anyone. We could not help it. But in the end, it was necessary to take them.

I also saw an old woman, who was an unusually strange case. I spoke about her with a doctor, and he said that such things cannot happen. We cleaned the pier and had to remove the dead bodies, but an old woman was laying on some self-made stretchers.

Someone asked me: “Do you want to take a look at her, sir?” I looked, and at the same moment, she died and immediately became stiff. Her legs bent, her body rose, and so she froze. It seemed like she had been dead for hours at least.

Her body became incredibly rough. People were crowded at the pier, but not in the same way as during an earthquake or other similar cases because they did not know what the old Turk would come up with. They did not know what he could do.

I remember how we were forbidden to enter the harbor to clean the pier from the corpses. Standing at the entrance to the harbor that morning, I was exceptionally frightened. He had guns, and he could easily throw us out. We decided to go in, pull ourselves close to the breakwater, throw both anchors, and open fire on the Turkish districts of the city.

They would have driven us out, but we would have smashed the city nonetheless. When we entered the harbor, they fired on us with blank charges. Kemal arrived at the port and removed the Turkish commandant. For abuse of authority or something like that.

I took too much. This story could end very badly. It’s hard to forget the embankment of Smyrna. You can’t imagine what has been floating on the waters. For the first time in my life, I experienced so much that it would come to me in my uneasy dreams.

Women who had given birth were not as horrible as women with dead children. And many had become mothers. It’s amazing that so few of them died. They were just covered with some piece of cloth and left there lying. They had always climbed into the darkest corner of the hold and had given birth there. As soon as they would have been taken away from the breakwater, they were not afraid of anything.


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