“Morgenthau” nursery

Voreiou Ipeirou 7, Ad. Korai and Chr. Smyrnis

Henry Morgenthau was one of the pioneers in the process of settlement and integration of Asia Minor refugees in the Greek society. He was head of the Refugees' Settlement Commission, which was fouded in 1923 and collaborated closely with the state authorities in order to house the refugees. In April 24th, 1924 the newspaper Empros published the inaugural speech of the district of Vyronas, delivered on the 16th of April by H.Morgenthau, who praised the role of Lord Byron in the Greek War for Independence and dedicated to him both the settlement of Vyronas and the nursery, the foundation stone of which he deposed the same day.

In the nursery many children of refugee inhabitants of Vyronas were taken care of. In those days nurseries were unknown in Greece. The toddlers were raised at home by their mothers, until they reached school age. However, in the refugee settlements women had to work, since their husbands were often dead or missing. The Morgenthau nursery, thus, covered a basic social need; yet, it was criticized by the bourgeoisie of Athens and the newspapers it controlled, since the mothers were accused for indifference and negligence.

The Morgenthau nursery became closely linked to a great and tragic moment of Vyronas: in front of it were executed twelve young men arrested during the blockade of Vyronas on August 7th 1944. On the iron rods of the fence one can still see marks of the bullets which killed Panayiotis Kassimatis, member of the resistance group EPON, who attempted to escape.

Today, the building belongs to the Charity Foundation of Stam.and Eleni Vafeiadaki and is ceded to the Municipality of Vyronas in order to host the 5th  and 6th municipal Nurseries of Vyronas.

Additional information

[Νewspapar Scrip, 21.8.1924] " Αt 10 a.m. yesterday took place in the settlement of Vyronas the inaugural ceremony for the nursery funded by mr. Morgenthau. The Vice-Royalty [of Abessynia] mr. Ras Taffari, Mrs. Koundourioti on behalf of the President of the Republic, the Minister of Welfare mr. Orfanidis, representing the Government, mr. Morgenthau along with members of the Refugees' Rehabilitation Committee, mr. Bougeon, the mayors of the two cities and other personalities were present. Archbishop Chrysostomos offered his blessing and thereafter mr. Morgenthau officially addressed mr. Ras Taffari.
Henry Morgenthau was a Jewish businessman and lawyer of German origin, who was actively involved in diplomacy and particularly in the refugee problem caused by the expulsion of Christian populations from the Ottoman Empire in 1922. He was born in 1856 in Mannheim and emigrated to the USA in his early years. He studied law and in 1913 President Wilson appointed him ambassador in Istanbul. He handled several matters related to World War I and the Entente. In 1923 he was appointed head of the Committee for the Rehabilitation of the Refugees. He wrote his experiences in two books, “On the shores of the Bosphorus” and “My mission in Greece”.
Shortly after the influx of refugees from Asia Minor, in November 1922, the Fund for the Salvage of the Refugees was founded. Its role was to take care of the housing problem of the refugees, even in tents. Gradually, the Fund started building settlements (houses and stores) but its mission was undertaken by the Refugees' Settlement Commission, founded in September 1923. The reason was that, with the signing of the Lausanne Treaty, the hope that the refugees would return to Asia Minor was extinguished forever. The committee contiinued the creation of infrastructure both in the urban and in the rural areas. The Commission was dissolved in 1930 and its work was carried on by the Ministry of Welfare and the Bank of Agriculture in the rural regions.