was an hour’s walking distance to Jerusalem to the headquarters for prisoners
of war. After brief questioning, he was sent to the prisoner receiving
camp that was in a vast area covered with tents. Approximately one
hundred newly arrived prisoners were led to a field adjoining the camp,
where a huge steam boiler was emitting clouds of steam. A sergeant lined
them up and told them to take off their clothes and lay them on the ground
in front of them. Promptly, there stood a long line of naked men shivering
in the afternoon sun. They carried bundles that were already numbered and
tagged, over to where the boiler stood, threw them into the tank and turned
on the steam.
line of prisoners kept moving toward a series of tubs filled with a disinfectant
solution. In front of each tub stood a man with a long-handled brush in
his hand. He would dip the brush into the solution and spread it over the
prisoners’ bodies from head to foot. The burning sensation made them run
around screaming and cursing. In that chaotic atmosphere there came a familiar
voice to Sempad’s ears: “Sempad! Sempad!” A naked figure with black disinfectant
all over him came to embrace him. It was Beto!
in the hell did you come from?”
from the same hell as you did.” said Beto. His white teeth were glowing
next to his black face.
unexpected meeting made them forget their physical pains.
are in a different world now.” Beto said with excitement. “They sent me
somewhere near the Sassoun Mountains and then transferred me to the Palestine
front! Now I am here with you, again.”
quieted down. They walked over to the tent to which they were assigned
and were immediately served supper. They all had individual beds with brand
supper they settled down on their beds and began thinking.
are finally out of hell and are on our way to Heliopolis near Cairo.” said
said: “I have no doubt the Allies will be victorious in this struggle.”
what if they are? Are they going to let us in on the spoils?”
must give us our share of it. There are thousands of young Armenians with
the Allies and they are calling us the “Little Ally.”
are very optimistic! I wish I could feel the same way.” said Beto.
or wrong, I am glad I am here and as soon as I get to Heliopolis, I will
explore the possibilities of joining the Legion d’Orient. You must have
heard of this group which was organized under French sponsorship.”
conversation continued until it became dark outside. They turned quietly
on one side closed their eyes and fell asleep.
following morning, they took the train to Cairo, Egypt. One could see the
remnants of shattered battlefields on their way through the Sinai desert
where the English and Turkish armies had been engaged in battle. Barbed
wire stuck out here and there in the sand dunes. Portions of trenches stood
out gaping in a continuous shift of the landscape. The northwestern horizon
was a ridge of chalky looking mountains that covered the sight of the Mediterranean
Sea. Cars and trucks rolled over a wire mat that extended from the Suez
Canal down to Jerusalem giving the impression of a tarred highway.
they saw from behind the front line down to Cairo, made them realize they
were now breathing in an entirely different world, clean and pleasant.
about ten minutes to walk from the railroad station to the Heliopolis prisoner
of war camp. It was a large area enclosed with heavy wire fencing and contained
many barracks. They stopped about fifty feet from the gate, took off all
of their clothes and put them in a pile. The pile was sprinkled with gasoline
and was set on fire.
by one the prisoners passed a secretary, sitting at a table, who recorded
each prisoner’s name. They then walked to the gate where there were two
guards standing face to face. Before entering, each prisoner had to undergo
a medical examination. The guards made each one open his mouth so they
could have a look. They kept a record of each prisoner’s condition.
They made each prisoner bend over so that he could be given a careful anal
examination. After recording the results, they allowed him to enter.
entered one by one, a guard would lead each to his section which was arranged
according to his nationality...Turkish, German, Armenian, Greek, Arab...
approached the barracks, they stopped at barbers who removed all the hair
off their bodies except for their eyebrows and eyelashes. They were given
a bath in disinfectant before allowing them to enter. When they got to
their assigned places they found individual bunks with brand new blankets,
clothes and slippers waiting for them.
camp looked like a populated desert that was spotlessly clean. Every morning,
some of the prisoners were assigned to pick up cigarette butts, sticks
of matches and other rubbish. In order to keep the prisoners in motion
they had to do some minor daily chores such as carrying a shovelful of
sand from one point to another, back and forth, for a couple of hours each
day. They would have their lunch, lie down to rest or go under the shower
all afternoon, talking, joking and laughing.
day a middle-aged Armenian man came to see the newly arrived Armenian prisoners.
After he met Sempad and got through talking with him he asked him for a
favor. He wanted him to write an article about some of his experiences
at the front, in French, for the Commander of the camp. After the Commander
read his first article he asked him to continue this writing. He earned
a couple of shillings every week in payment for this.
One day, the kitchen was short of help and someone was sent out looking
for a cook.
Beto jumped right up and said: “Here I am!”
have you worked as kitchen help?” the man asked.
help?” Beto exclaimed contemptuously, as if his dignity were hurt. “I used
to be the chef for Talaat Pasha’s cuisine. Do you know who Talaat Pasha
is? He is the Turkish Minister of the Interior...One of the greatest criminals
he exclaimed. “You are all right then! Let’s go!”
came to his bunk as if he were looking for something.
knew you worked as a chef anywhere!” said Sempad.
did I.” whispered Beto. “I’ll see you later.”
followed the man out of the barracks, contentedly. At the threshold Beto
turned around, looked at everyone with a mysterious smile and was gone.
following morning he returned from the kitchen, sick. He flopped on his
bunk, half dead. Sempad wondered what had happened to him. He was rolling
on his bed uncontrollably from one side to the other. He was breathing
as if a ten ton weight was on his chest. He kept watching him and saying
nothing. Beto knew he was worried. After a few minutes, he regained himself
and stammered: “This is going to be my last visit to the kitchen!”
a mess of it! To tell the truth, everybody was complaining... That will
never happen again. I had never done any cooking in my life. What do you
expect? Yesterday evening, after supper was served, each one of us was
given a double ration. Three large kettles had to be scrubbed. At the bottom
of each, there remained a thick layer of molasses. Of course, we couldn’t
discard it. It would have been a shame. So all three of us scraped it and
ate it all until our stomachs were on the verge of bursting. We fell down
crammed full, unable to turn from one side to the other all night, suffering
and cursing ourselves. At sunrise someone kicked us out and here I am!!”
the time Beto was telling his tale, Sempad was playing with the shilling
in his hand wondering what he could buy with it..
in your hand?”
showed him and told him how he had earned it.
Sempo! Keep up the good work...We can use these things.”
scrambled to his feet, took a deep breath and stretched his arms in a gymnastic
maneuver and said: “Give it to me!” He took the money and went around until
he finally stopped at the kitchen and returned with a stack of flat round
bread that he had bought. While they were eating the bread, Beto asked
him what he had been doing with the two packs of cigarettes they have been
giving them every day.
said: “You know I have never smoked a cigarette in my life. I just give
just give them away, eh! Well, from now on, you are not going to give them
away anymore. I will take care of them. You don’t like to smoke but you
do like to eat.” he said.
then on, he swapped Sempad’s cigarettes for bread.
passed on one after the other, drearily. Sempad, Beto and Vartan (a newly
arrived prisoner) kept relating the incidents they had experienced and
discussed the wisdom of joining the Legion d’Orient.