They Shall Not Perish:

The Story of Near East Relief

Original Near East Relief Commitee


At the turn of the twentieth century, a group of selfless Americans rallied the nation to save a generation of orphans in war-torn Ottoman Empire. Motivated by nothing but a moral sense of duty, these men and women, among them industrialists, ambassadors, missionaries, teachers, nurses, admen and Presidents, helped bring care and comfort to millions of suffering refugees in extremely harrowing environments. At this moment in history, the U.S. was truly a shining city on a hill.


Map of Near East Relief activities in 1921

They Shall Not Perish: The Story of Near East Relief is the story of the men and women who worked to save the Armenian people and other Christian minorities in the wake of the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman government in Turkey.


It is told through the individual stories of those who bore witness, rallied the country, raised money, and delivered aid and comfort. Utilizing leading academic experts and voice-over narration against a mix of historical film, photographs and contemporary footage, TSNP takes viewers on a journey from the depths of cruelty to the triumphs of survival.

2,500 orphans spell out America We Thank You



Led by its Chairman, James L. Barton, a Boston missionary with deep experience in the region, Near East Relief (NER) would, at its peak, have a staff of three thousand. Many of the volunteers put themselves at deep personal risk to help those in need. 

As the Ottoman Empire began to crumble, its rulers consolidated their power around Turkey. A genocidal policy of “Turkification” was enacted. Many of the minority population, largely consisting of Christian Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians, were massacred. Those who were initially spared were deported in brutal death marches to the deserts of Syria and beyond. 


A group of U.S. citizens was called into action by Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. Ambassador to Constantinople. With the blessing of President Wilson, a meeting took place in the New York offices of Cleveland H. Dodge, a long-time supporter and Princeton classmate, that set in motion a relief effort that galvanized the nation. 

Ambs.  Henry Morgenthau

Ambs. Henry Morgenthau

Cleveland H. Dodge

Cleveland H. Dodge

James L. Barton

James L. Barton



NER’s use of mass media—the first such effort by a philanthropic organization—reached into homes around the country and overseas. Using movies, newspapers, and striking graphics, they broke new ground in fundraising. Over the course of fifteen years, they would raise $116 million in funds and supplies, worth over $2 billion in today's currency.

Most importantly, NER is credited with saving over a million lives, one hundred thirty thousand of which were orphans.Barton said it best: “This is a narrative of American philanthropy. In all the stories of the Great War we doubt if there is one more tragic, more colorful, more heroic.”

Patriotic posters were made to appeal to Americans’ appreciation of their own freedom. Poster designed by Douglas Volk, 1918.

Patriotic posters were made to appeal to Americans’ appreciation of their own freedom. Poster designed by Douglas Volk, 1918.