Thursday, November 17, 2016

How Ataturk saved 30 German-Jewish dons

 Ataturk's Turkey welcomed 30 German-Jewish professors fleeing the Nazis. A new film, Haymatloz, tells their story. Report on Qantara.de:

Kurt Heilbronn, a psychotherapist, ...moves back and forth between Germany and Turkey. His father, founder of the Istanbul Botanical Garden, was a respected plant geneticist in Germany before the Nazis chased him out in 1933. Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of modern-day Turkey, offered him a professorship in Istanbul.

Ataturk actively pursued a sweeping university reform in the late 1920s, with the aim of turning Turkey into a modern country – no matter the cost. The German professors who fled Nazi Germany were welcomed with open arms and helped build Turkey′s university system.

Ataturk outlawed Arabic letters and introduced the Latin alphabet. Young Turkish students were to receive a sound education, just like their fellow students in the West. Women, who were no longer required to wear a veil, flocked to the universities, says Eren Onsoz, director of the documentary "Haymatloz".

German Jewish academics forced to emigrate to Turkey in the 1930s (source: mindjazz pictures)

 German Jewish academics forced to emigrate to Turkey (Photo: mindjazz pictures)

The families of all five of the film′s protagonists managed to flee persecution by the Nazis in 1933. Many decades later, these Jewish emigrants′ children reminisce about their childhoods, about growing up in Istanbul or in Ankara – and what awaited them in post-war Germany, where Jewish returnees were anything but welcome.
The film highlights a chapter of German-Turkish history that has largely been forgotten, telling the stories of five German emigrants who worked as professors at Turkish academies, universities, ministries and in public office. In Turkey, they weren′t labelled as Jews, but rather regarded as the "Germans". They taught generations of Turkish students.

After Hitler seized power, Jewish scientists and professors were no longer allowed to hold official positions. Many fled to Switzerland, where they turned to the Emergency Association of German Science Abroad, founded in Zurich in 1933 by a German emigrant, Philipp Schwartz. The association helped more than 2,600 persecuted academics escape and find posts at foreign universities. In the winter semester of 1933/34, Istanbul University hired 30 Jewish professors.

The families of all five of the film′s protagonists managed to flee persecution by the Nazis in 1933. Many decades later, these Jewish emigrants′ children reminisce about their childhoods, about growing up in Istanbul or in Ankara – and what awaited them in post-war Germany, where Jewish returnees were anything but welcome and where no one spoke about the fate of the German Jews.

Susan Ferenz-Schwartz, Egon Bagda, Kurt Heilbronn, Enver Hirsch und Elisabeth Weber-Belling say they don′t really feel at home anywhere.

"We would have ended up in Auschwitz, too," says Susan Ferenz-Schwartz, averting her eyes. "That was the only alternative."

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