The David E. Moore Collection

Moore Photographs

by Mark Mazower

The aftermath of the First World War in the Near East, and in particular the Turkish defeat of the invading Greek army in Anatolia in 1922, triggered off one of the first great refugee crises of modern times. More than one million Orthodox Christians fled to Greece; nearly half a million Muslims left in the other direction: the transportation, care and resettlement of these homeless people formed the chief preoccupation of both Greece and Turkey for many years to come. Unlike his Turkish counterpart Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Greek leader, Eleftherios Venizelos, welcomed international support and the United States turned out to be one of the main providers. Indeed, America’s assistance at this time was a key early part of  its long, intimate and increasingly complex relationship with Greece. And unlike its subsequent involvement in Greece’s affairs during the Cold War, its role in the early 1920s was cast in an altruistic and benevolent key.

These photographs, donated to Columbia through the generosity of David Moore, cast a vivid light on what American humanitarian activists found and did in Greece. William Scoville Moore, the donor’s father, was a wealthy young man who traveled to Greece together with the well-known American ambassador, Henry Morgenthau, in 1923. After the League of Nations assisted the Greeks in raising a loan to support the resettlement of the refugees, a small administrative body –the RSC – was set up, staffed mostly by Greeks but led by Morgenthau. Moore, together with an Englishman, Colonel Owen was given responsibility for supervising the use and disbursement of the loan. In an article that appeared in L’Opinion – a French-language newspaper from Thessaloniki – at the end of 1923 – we learn that the two men had traveled widely throughout the country to see the problem for themselves, and that Moore in particular planned to send information and pictures back to the USA to highlight the dimensions of the refugee crisis in Greece.

The range of subjects is vast. Some include snap-shots of destitute refugees [01], huddled by roadsides or on pavements [02], under canvas [03] or in unfurnished buildings. [04] is a remarkable record of the camps of tents that sprang up, supplemented by the first make-shift huts constructed out of scrap metal. One notices the grief, the pinched and anxious faces, the absence of [05] males – many of whom had been conscripted, or taken into the interior of Anatolia as prisoners. Women and children predominate, and there are groups of children in the care of adult workers [06], others being lined up to greet the distinguished visitors of whom Moore was one [07, 08, 09]. The Church played an important role, too, especially in looking after orphans. [10]

There is also a sequence of photographs that Moore had evidently purchased in Greece of the scenes of chaos at the dockside in Izmir/Smyrna in 1922 [11, 12]when crowds of refugees lined the waterfront, hoping to escape the doomed city.

Once the refugees had landed in Greece, they had to queue for food [16, 17] and be housed. The provision of housing was one of the most urgent, and most contentious issues facing the Refugee Settlement Commission. [18] shows a group of refugee children in front of wooden barracks: many were housed in wartime quarters left behind by the British and French armies at the end of the First World War. In northern Greece in particular, whence most of the Muslim expellees had come, the new refugees were assigned quarters in new settlements on farming land, [19] as part of a deliberate policy of Hellenising the newly acquired regions. The administrative center of this activity was Thessaloniki, the metropolis of northern Greece, which had only been won from the Ottomans in 1912 and where many traces of Ottoman rule survived. [20] shows the city-skyline as it was when Moore visited in the early 1920s, after the Great Fire of 1917 had destroyed much of the city center but before the remaining minarets were demolished.

The dignitaries of the refugee resettlement program also figure in several photographs. [21] shows three men standing in front of one of the new refugee settlements in northern Greece. In [22, 23] we see Morgenthau seated next to the Greek statesman, Venizelos, at what appears to be a Boy Scouts ceremony. [24] Traditional Greek ceremony honouring the American guests.
Moore himself was honoured by the Greek republican government in 1924 for his humanitarian work before sailing back to the US that spring.