THE destroyer reached Piraeus very early in the morning, and I obtained, after some negotiations, permission from the authorities to land my colony. I was soon convinced that I had made no mistake in undertaking this task myself. I herded my refugees temporarily in the compound of the custom-house, and immediately appointed a committee of the most capable to attend to the details of obtaining provisions, etc., and to distribute among the families the necessary sums for their daily needs from a small amount which had been provided at Smyrna for immediate necessities by the representatives of the Near East Relief. I then set about finding lodgings for my people and telegraphed to Washington an account of the situation and asked for funds. I found Piraeus, as well as Athens, already crowded to saturation with refugees from Turkey. It soon became apparent that it would be next to impossible to find lodgings for these new arrivals. After running about frantically all day, toward evening I obtained permission to make use of a large steamer that was undergoing repairs in the harbor.
My appeal to Washington for financial help brought an immediate telegraphic order for two thousand dollars, and about two weeks later, Consul Oscar Heizer arrived from Constantinople with ample funds. A small room in the basement of the American Consulate at Athens was accorded to the personnel of the Smyrna office. This was crowded all day with refugees and their innumerable relatives.
It was necessary to study carefully the case of each and determine to what extent he was entitled to relief from the American Government, a matter rendered doubly difficult by the lack of essential records. The painfulness of the task was augmented by the fact that while American citizens could be repatriated, many of those dependent on them could not be sent to the United States.
The consular officials were obliged, therefore, actually to engage in the gruesome business of tearing families apart, even to the extent of separating aged parents from children, and to act as the agents of an uncompromising system which was not rising to the emergency. A more pleasant feature of the task was that of helping in the reuniting at Athens of scattered families and in obtaining news of missing relatives. This work, begun by me, was developed into an efficient system later by the Athens Red Cross.
It was very painful to me to be thrown into daily contact with the beggared inhabitants of Asia Minor, whom I had known such a short time before as self-supporting and prosperous. I remember with peculiar distinctness the old guide of my hunting expeditions, an industrious small farmer from the village of Develikeuy. Many an unforgettable day have I spent in the pinewoods with him, shooting woodcock and hare and swapping Greek and American bunting yarns in his native tongue. The day before I left Athens, I met him wandering about the streets in a dazed condition. He told me that his beautiful and intelligent young daughter, who was soon to have been married, had disappeared; he feared that she had suffered a fate worse than death.
Mr. Heizer, on taking over the work, asked me the peculiar feature of the job. I knew he was a very competent man, as he had done most of the work of the Constantinople Consulate for years, so I replied, “The quality most needed in this task is a human heart and not to try too much to repress its promptings.”
From his reply I understood that he was aware of this requisite and agreed with me. I therefore left my people with him without apprehension and sailed to the United States on leave granted me by the department!