During World War I, the Turks accuse the Armenians of secretly supporting the Russians, and despite the pleas of American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau the Armenians are rounded up to be sent south. Families are broken up as the men and women are separated; many men are massacred; and the refugees are forced to march across the desert without food or water. At night, only those girls who are buried in the sand by older women are able to escape the "infamy" of the Turks. Against this background is told the story of Aurora Mardiganian, the daughter of a prosperous Armenian family of Harpout, in the shadow of Mt. Ararat. Passelt Pasha, the Turkish governor, demands her hand in marriage, but her father refuses since she would have to deny her Christian faith. Miss Graham, an English girl who teaches at the mission, feeling an obligation to her students, disguises herself as an Armenian and joins the refugees. Miss Graham and Aurora, with the aid of Andranik, a young shepherd attracted to Aurora, escape but are captured by Kurds, violated, and sold into a harem. They are sent to a slave market, after trying to escape, where Andranik buys them. They are captured again by Turks, who have pursued them into a monastery. As a warning against further escape attempts they are shown "a supreme horror--The Cult of the Germans": a long line of naked girls who have been crucified. However, they do manage to escape again, making their way to the American mission.