The story of how a Japanese ship saved hundreds Armenians and Greeks from genocide in Smyrna in 1922 is the theme of a lecture to be held soon in Tokyo by a prominent Japanese researcher.
Organized by the Japan Greece Society, in cooperation with the Embassy of Greece in Japan, the lecture will reveal the true story of the ship that rescued these desperate people from certain death in September 1922.
According to a most remarkable incident, described in a recent book “Armenia, Australia and the Great War”, the captain and crew of the “Tokei Maru” showed exemplary courage tin saving the people who were stranded at Smyrna.
Hundreds of thousands of Armenian and Greek refugees had fled to the docks of Smyrna after Turkish nationalist troops had entered and occupied the city on September 9, 1922. The Turkish occupation was soon followed by the massacre and deportation of Armenian and Greek civilians.
About twenty ships belonging to the WWI Allies were in the harbor, with their crews simply sitting by and watching the events onshore unfold. A fire broke out in Smyrna’s Armenian quarter four days later, which eventually ended up destroying most of the city. The captain of the Japanese merchant ship suddenly decided to take it upon himself to rescue the desperate refugees.
Anna Harlowe Birge, the wife of the American professor Dr. Birge of the International College at Smyrna, witnessed the helpless refugees crowding each other off the wharves as Smyrna began to burn. Men and women could be seen swimming in the harbor, hoping to be rescued; many of these people eventually drowned.
Birge related that “In the harbor, at that time, was a Japanese freighter, which had just arrived loaded to the decks with a very valuable cargo of silks, laces and china representing many thousands of dollars. The Japanese captain, when he realized the situation, did not hesitate.
“The whole cargo went overboard into the dirty waters of the harbor, and the freighter was loaded with several hundred refugees, who were taken to Piraeus and landed in safety on Greek shores,” according to Stavros T. Stavridis, who wrote about Birge’s story in an article published in the American Hellenic International Foundation’s Policy Journal.
Another account of the brave rescue was published on September 18, 1922, in the New York Times. “Refugees constantly arriving… relate new details of the Smyrna tragedy. On Thursday (September 14) last there were six steamers at Smyrna to transport the refugees, one American, one Japanese, two French and two Italian. The American and Japanese steamers accepted all comers without examining their papers, while the others took only foreign subjects with passports.”
The humanitarian actions of the Japanese ship were also recorded at the time by many Armenian and Greek survivors of the Smyrna massacre.
Professor Nanako Murata of Tokyo University will present further historical materials regarding the Smyrna evacuation at the lecture, to be held at the Otsuma Women’s University on November 29.