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    WELCOME TO THE BLACK RUSSIAN BLOG--DEDICATED TO TOPICS CONNECTED WITH, AND CIRCLING AROUND, MY BIOGRAPHY OF FREDERICK BRUCE THOMAS, THE SON OF MISSISSIPPI SLAVES WHO BECAME A MILLIONAIRE IMPRESARIO IN PRE-REVOLUTIONARY MOSCOW AND 'THE SULTAN OF JAZZ' IN CONSTANTINOPLE To subscribe to this blog's RSS feed, please click on the icon above

    Entries in evacuation from Odessa (2)

    Frederick’s First Steps in Constantinople

    The American Consulate General in Constantinople did not have the money or the inclination to provide much help to the refugees from Odessa after they finally disembarked on the Galata quay.  In any event, Frederick initially took his family to live at the Pera Palace Hotel, which was one of the two best in the city.  Staying there was an indulgence that he could ill afford, although it was surely an enormous relief to be able to immerse oneself in the cleanliness and comforts of a first-class hotel after the filth and deprivations of Imperator Nikolay and the quarantine at Kavak. 

    The Pera Palace had opened in 1895 on the heights of the European district of Constantinople as a modern residence for the passengers of the Orient Express, the fabled train that ran from London, Paris, and Venice, in reality as well as fiction and film, across all of Europe to the Sirkeci Terminal in Stambul (the terminal still stands).  Other than the Sultan’s Dolmabahçe palace, the Pera Palace was the first building in Constantinople with electricity, an electric elevator, and hot running water. 

     

     

    In its heyday before and after the Great War, its many famous guests included Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern-day Turkey (whose revolutionary policies would, before long, play a fateful role in Frederick’s life), as well as Ernest Hemingway, Greta Garbo, and Agatha Christie.

    The Pera Palace Hotel exterior, as Frederick Thomas saw it in 1919

     

    Lavishly decorated with stained glass, marble, gleaming brass, and gilded plaster (and recently refurbished to all its former glory) the hotel had wonderful views of the Bosporus and the Golden Horn and was the epitome of the Pera district in which it was located—a cosmopolitan, westernized island in an otherwise Turkish Muslim sea.

     

     

    The Pera Palace Hotel, lobby bar, c. 1919

     

    As Frederick discovered within days of arriving, Pera fit him very well.  (To be continued).

     

    The Pera Palace Hotel lobby, contemporary restoration

    The Misery of Frederick Thomas’s Evacuation to Constantinople

    On the evening of April 7, 1919, after a voyage of some forty hours, Imperator Nikolay entered the Bosphorus and anchored a few miles from the Black Sea, near Kavaka, a small town on the Asian shore now called Anadolu Kavagi.  The site was then, and still is, dominated by the ruins of an ancient castle, with its twin, also ruined, on the European side.  

     

    Anadolu Kavagi, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus

     

    These enigmatic monuments from the Byzantine past were among the first signs the Imperator Nikolay’s passengers had seen of how far they had traveled from home.  Other steamers from Odessa arrived that night and by morning there were a half dozen, all overflowing with evacuees. 

    Reaching Turkey was not the end of the ordeal for Frederick and his family, however.  French officers came on board the Imperator Nikolay and posted black Senegalese sentries everywhere.  Rather than being made to feel that they had finally arrived in a safe haven, the passengers were treated like prisoners and were ordered to disembark so that they could undergo medical examinations and quarantine on shore. 

    Together with the British and the Italians, the French were one of the main occupying powers in Constantinople and took charge of processing arrivals from south Russia.  The Allies were alarmed by the typhus epidemic in Odessa, and since lice spread the disease, “severe delousing” had been made mandatory for anyone arriving from Russia.  They were also much concerned about political and criminal undesirables sneaking in with the refugees and did what they could to screen passengers.

    Although the French procedures were driven by legitimate public health concerns, they were also humiliating and the guards treated the passengers very harshly.  An eyewitness recalls what Frederick and others endured:

    It was a pathetic sight to see the barges, overloaded with men, women, and children, leaving for the Kavaka quarantine station. Old men and women of good families and wealth, accustomed to luxury and courteous treatment, were stumbling down the gangway under the oaths and coarse shouts of French sergeants who were treating them like cattle.

    And Constantinople itself, the fabled capital of the Ottoman Empire, was still miles away.