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|Turkey in WW II
Ismet Inönü (1884-1973)
Ismet Inönü Portrait Inönü
at the funeral presidential palace Ankara
of Atatürk (tr.wikipedia.org)
(picture Turkish school book)
Ismet Inönü was the most important fellow-worker of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Between 1923 and 1924 and from 1925 until 1937 he was prime minister.
In 1934 in north-western Thrace (the European part of Turkey) pogroms, persecution of Jews, started. Many thousands of Jews fled to Istanbul. Premier Ismet Inõnü was outspokenly against the pogroms, and ordered soldiers and policemen to the region to maintain order. A consequence of the pogroms was, that the Turkish Jews got more involved in national politics (see contribution Ömer Öztürk, based on the book of Ad van den Oord).
After the death of Atatürk (10 November 1938) Inönü succeeded him as president of the Republic of Turkey (1938-1950). ‘The politics of Inönü were hardly different from the politics of Atatürk and no democratic reforms were made. But it's not completely justified to see Inönü as a dictator, because parliament was completely functional, though the title of National Leader evoked some associations with the fascist regimes of Ioannis Metaxas (Greece) and Benito Mussolini (Italy)' (nl.wikipedia.org).
Ismet Inönü welcomes Winston Churchill
on the Yenice station (Adana, Turkey) (tr.wikipedia.org)
During the Second World War Turkey remained mainly neutral, which caused annoyance to the allies as well as to the Axe-powers. This strictly neutral policy of Inönü led to a severe censoring of press and a ban on pro- and anti-fascistic propaganda. An attempt by the German ambassador in Ankara, Franz von Papen, to tempt the Turks to participate in the war, didn't succeed because Inönü didn't want to fight the allies (1941)'. The allies in their turn established the British-American Coordination Committee in Ankara (1941-1945) and Churchill on 30 January 1943 came to Turkey, to visit Inönü. They met in the presidential train on the Yenice station close to Adana. 'Only in April 1945 Turkey - under great pressure of the allies - declared war to the Axe-powers.’
Wealth tax (Varlik Vergisi)
This ambivalent attitude had ambivalent consequences for the Turkish Jews. In Turkey, foreign Jews were welcomed or given free passage to Palestine. Turkish diplomats in Rhodos (Selahattin Ülkümen), Marseille (Necdet Kent) and Paris (Namik Yolga) saved hundreds of Turkish speaking Jews by giving them the documents they needed and, even in the camps, to prevent personally their deportation (see en.wikipedia.org). In the same time, in Turkey itself discriminating measures were issued. The worst of them was the law to have ‘war profiteers’ paying extra taxes, a law called ‘Varlik Vergisi’ or Wealth Tax. The law was accepted in November 1942 and aimed on all citizens who made war profits. But non-Islamic minorities like Armenians, Greek and Jews (sometimes converted Jews) were portrayed in the media as profiteers in the first place. They were not allowed to pay the tax in rates, like Islamic accused could. The law was executed by neighbourhood committees, which again gave room for arbitrariness. Everyone who wasn’t able to pay was sent to a labour camp in East Turkey, Askale, near Erzurum. That region is known for its winter circumstances during more than half of the year. 21 persons died because of the hardships. Inside and outside the country protest rose. Some neighbours brought food parcels to the families where the breadwinner was deported. On 11 September 1943 the New York Times published a critical article of Cyrus L. Sulzberger about the consequences of the Varlik Vergisi, “Turkish Tax Kills Foreign Business”. It helped the Turkish government to moderate the law (see tr.wikipedia.org). In the same month, September 1943, the deportees were allowed to return. It lasted till April 1944 before the law itself was abolished.
The Turkish-British writer Moris Farhi (1935) describes in his novel 'Jonge Turk' ('Young Turk') the consequences of the Wealth Tax through the diary of Selma, one of the Jewish characters (de Geus 2005 p. 93-126):
"1 January 1943
Do you still remember that new tax measure the government wanted to pass? To deal with black marketers, profiteers, war inciters, etc. - that is, the non-Islamic minorities. ... Since November it's a law now, the so-called Varlik Law ... Not from the perspective what you possess, but from the perspective how much you earn - according to an investigation committee. ... It is carefully made up of civil servants from the ministries and entrepreneurs who already made their pile – one by one the members call themselves ‘pure Turks’ – to deal with the non-Islamic businessmen. ... Two weeks ago the lists were published. Most names on it are Jewish, Armenian and Greek. My father calls the measure a 'slow death'. He said the law is meant to expropriate the minorities and to expel them from the Turkish economy. And you can't appeal.
The assessments are astronomically high; only a few can raise the money. It's almost impossible to get a loan; nobody has the money. Everything must be paid in one go – before 4 January. They can grant you a delay until 20 January ...
15 January 1943
Big palaver yesterday.
Many Jews, Armenians and Greek ... Also a few ‘dönme’ [Jews converted to Islam]. Among them van Rifat's father, Kenan Bey. But not Rifat's grandparents. Different from their son and grandson, who are really converted to Islam, they still secretly practice Judaism. And, though well known, they still avoid the company of Jews hoping everybody will think they're Islamic. But this comedy won't help them. The dönme – or better the false dönme – are also heavily taxed, though not as ruthless as average Jews.
Wednesday is the last day of the delay. After that, property, furnishings and personal possessions of those who weren't able to pay everything, will be confiscated and sold in auction to clear the balance. Even then huge sums are still unpaid. They must be payed off by means of what they call 'physical labour', in labour camps.
... How can wives, children and the elderly survive without their breadwinners?
22 January 1943
Yesterday ... non-Islamic people in our street received their first food parcels. Donated by Muslims in their neighbourhood, by freemasons and people 'who wanted to stay anonymous’. ... That is the real Turkey, the real Turkish soul. These are the real Turks, the real Muslims!
1 February 1943
Still no bailiffs. They're coming the sixth. They're waiting for a member of parliament from Ankara who's preying on my fathers collection of Ottoman manuscripts. These are quite valuable.
15 February 1943
The bailiffs arrived. Of course my fathers collection was flogged dirt cheap. Our house is empty now. Except for one mattress – mine. ... My father is now detained ... and is waiting for the train to take him to Aşkale. ... Regularly food parcels arrive. Once a week. Enormous generosity. I suspect people to spare bread from their own mouth to give it to us.
... the terms ‘half-Turkish’ and ‘half-citizen’ are coined for Jews and non-Muslims. You hear it everywhere nowadays – also at school.
20 September 1943
Ahmet Bey told a journalist from the New York Times wrote a series of articles in which he characterizes the Varlik as a way to marginalize non-Muslims in Turkish commerce. ... The government is quite embarressed by it. Yesterday the Ministry of Finance declared that everyone who hadn't been able to pay his assessment in full, will be acquitted.
11 December 1943
Father is home! What else can I say? ... He arrived this afternoon from Eskişehir. He lost weight, but is still in good health. The Varlik-nightmare is over. And totally scrubbed when he took a bath for the first time in 299 days, 18 hours and 12 minutes.
1 January 1944
Father is back to work. In his own shop ... but now as an employee. He's hired in by the man who took over the business. After he almost let the shop go broke, he needs fathers expertise to save the business.
21 March 1943
Now officially the Varlik is over. Last week, on 15 March, the measure officially was lifted. Everyone affected was pardoned and all debts have been remitted."
Turkey and WW II
Tuesday 25 May 2004
Theme meeting 'Liberation for everyone', Haarlem
Speaker: Ömer Öztürk
I'm a Dutchman with a Turkish background. Therefore I'll tell you a bit about the Liberation from the perspective of Turkey and the contribution of Turkey to the liberation itself. I'll concentrate on the reasons for the neutral role of Turkey during the Second World War, and on the attitude towards the many Jewish refugees. I largely derive this information from a recent publication of Forum, NIOD and SDU: Ad van den Oort, Allochtonen van nu & de oorlog van toen ('Nowadays immigrants & latter-day war', 2004).
Turkey on the verge of WW II
After the traumatic experiences of the years 1912- 1922 Turkey wanted to stay neutral in a new war at all costs. After the Balkan wars (1912-1913) Turkey lost almost all of its European possessions and seemed to be doomed if not quickly a strong European ally was found. After the victory in the French-German war of 1870 ‘Istanbul’ viewed Germany more and more as a useful befriended nation. But it turned out otherwise. The First World War in which Turkey fought on German side, brought the country years of draining campaigns. By acts of war, evacuations and diseases millions of people in Turkey died.
Immediately after Hitler ceased power (1933) Turkey - where already for centuries a large Jewish community had been living - had to deal with Jewish refugees. They belonged to the ‘intellectual exile’ from nazi-Germany, where there were also, besides Jewish scientists, liberal, catholic and social-democratic scientists. The Turkish government viewed these scientists as a welcome contribution to the modernisation of Turkish society and offered them jobs at universities and hospitals in Istanbul and Ankara. Very nearly also Albert Einstein went to Turkey. He received an offer from the University of Istanbul, but in the end chose to become a professor in Princeton in the USA. The scientists from Germany formed a complete community of their own, one reason being they received a salary which was five times higher than that of their Turkish colleagues.
"... the main recommendation for my mother [who was in 1938 commissioned by the Ministry of Health to set up a national school for obstetrics] came from ... professor Albert Eckstein, a German Jewish paediatric who personally received asylum from Atatürk. Eckstein was a refugee from Hitler Germany and gained during the following years the status of a saint within the Nümüne Hospital in Ankara – the institute that served as a model for all hospitals in the country”.
(Moris Farhi, Jonge Turk, p. 33).
In 1934 in north-western Thrace (the European part of Turkey) pogroms, persecution of Jews, started. Thousands of Jews fled to Istanbul. Premier Ismet Inönü was outspokenly against the pogroms, and ordered soldiers and policemen to the region to maintain order. A consequence of the pogroms was, that the Turkish Jews got more involved in national politics, which for instance made Dr. Abravaya Marmarali the first Jewish member of parliament. But slumbering anti-Jewish feelings in society, activated by German nazi’s, emerged again end 1937 when Jewish refugees from Poland, Hungary and Romania arrived in Turkey.
[Ed.: For that matter Atatürk had Turkish minorities like Greek, Armenians, Assyrians, Arabs, Alevi, Kurds, Jews and others to adopt a Turkish first name, next to their ethnic name.]
"From my description you've already been able to derive Esters worries about her family, that Bilâl – and also Naim and Can – were Jewish; and maybe you were surprised about their Muslim names. ... Atatürk ... wanted his people to be proud of their ‘Turkishness’. Therefore all minorities had the obligation to give their children a Turkish name, next to their ethnic name. And so beside Benjamin there was Bilâl; beside Nehemiah Naim, and beside Jacob Can.” (Moris Farhi, Jonge Turk, p. 63).
Efforts to translate this anti-Jew mood into political actions failed though. An initiative by some of the Turkish members of parliament to force the fled Jews to learn the Turkish language within a year, if failing being expelled, didn't make it.
Turkey during WW II: bridge to Palestine
When the Germans rapidly conquered Greece in April 1941 and advanced on the boarders of Thrace, the rumour started that the Germans, once having arrived in Istanbul, would use the ovens of the bakery in the section Balat to cremate Jews. This rumour characterized the situation during the first years of war. The Jews didn't feel safe in Turkey, whith its pro-German sentiments, when Hitler was at the gates of the country. But also the Turkish themselves, the gouvernment not in the least, were worried about a German invasion. This fear made the attitude towards Jewish refugees ambivalent.
During the war Turkey formed – because of the rapidly advancing German armies – already soon the only bridge to Palestine. After all, after the First World War Palestine went from a Turkish to a British administration, with the explicit promise of the British that the Balfour-declaration (creating a Jewish national home in Palestine) would be fulfilled.
As well as advocates as opponants of the Jewish migration to Palestine exerted pressure on the Turkish gouvernment. The gouvernment though was apprehensive about large scale illegal shipping transports of refugees. With it the Turkish state would be in danger of getting stuck with all the refugees themselves. The Turkish leaders also wanted as little as possible to antagonize the powers of Germany and Britain.
On 12 February 1941 the Turkish parliament enacted a law, which made it possible for the Jewish Agency in Istanbul to organize the passage of Jewish immigrants to Palestine. But this permission was restricted to Jews who'd received visa from Britain. Still thousands of East-European Jews could be saved this way. The advancing German troops chased Jewish refugees from Poland, Austria, Hongary and Czechoslovakia in crowded boats over the Danube to Romania. There the hopes of the refugees – and of the alreaydy heavily persecuted 900,000 Romanian Jews – were set on sea ships in harbour of Constanta, where they would be able to reach Palestine via the Black Sea and Turkey.
But Hitler, who was thirsting for the rich oil fields in the Middle-East, promised the great-mufti of Palestine no more Jews would be able to escape to Palestine. Hitlers anti-semitism received much sympathy in the Arabic world. And the British administration of Palestine didn't want to antagonize the Arabs any further. Under the pretext of danger of German spies, Palestine was blocked by the British, preventing illegal refugees to enter. Turkish authorities feared though the stream of illegal refugees by sea would increase, with every chance of accidents. Therefore the Turkish gouvernment turned to the United Stats to arrange a legal and orderly transport of 300,000 Romanian Jews via Turkey to Palestine. The Americans pointed out though there weren't enough ships at hand, that a migration like this also was in violation of the British immigration quota (75,000 in five years) and that such a massive tansport would drive the Arabs into the hands of Hitler.
The ships Salvador, Struma and Mefkure
The Struma (www.wdr.de)
In 1944 the US managed to persuade the Romanian ambassador in Turkey for consent to bring 50,000 Jews from Romania with Turkish boats to Istanbul and from there by land to Palestine. Already soon eight ships with 2,936 Jewish refugees in total were brought from Romania via Turkey to Palestine. But middle August 1944 the refugee ship the Mefkure, sailing under Turkish and Red Cross flag, was shot at by a non-identified ship of war. Only five of the 350 passengers survived the disaster. This incident put an end to the transport of Jewish refugees by boats across the Black Sea.
Before this also two other refugee ships were sunk. One of them was the Salvador, a ship from Uruguay, that was wrecked on 12 December 1940 in the Sea of Marmara. The old ship - without beds, life jackets, compass and wheather instruments - had 327 refugees on board, being only fit to transport 30 to 40 passengers. 204 passengers drowned. Next was the Struma, a ship under Panamese flag with 769 refugees. Most of the passengers on the Struma were well-to-do Jews, physicists, jurists, engineers, business people, merchants and artisans. On the Struma there were only a hundred beds and not a single toilet. It was for 71 days in quarantine in the harbour of Istanbul with no place to go. It sunk on 24 February 1942 in the Black Sea. One person survived.
In total 16,474 Jews with visa would reach Palestine through Turkey; but a much larger number of non-official refugees should be added.
‘The fourth of May never meant a thing to me. I mean, it didn't come on its own. It wasn't something that was mine, I was kept out. The fourth of May was from the Dutch and on the fifth of May I was tolerated because 'multicultural' was the legacy of the fourth of May, from the Second World War. Never again war, never again racism, that sort of things.’
Ladies and gentleman,
I open my argument with the speech from Haci Karacaer, the director of the Turkish organisation Milli Gõrüs Holland, during a meeting concerning the 4th of May 2003. My name is Ömer Öztürk, I'm 23, a student of economics and law and I'm also the secretary of the Milli Gõrüs-association Furkan in Haarlem.
The speech remembers how we achieved peace and liberty. How people in high positions turned out to be cowards and followers. How ordinary men and women, boys and girls, developed into heroes. Because the gave shelter to the persecuted. Because they resisted the occupier and his accomplices. Because as a courier they kept freedom of speech alive. And sometime payed the ultimate price for it.
Some ask themselves why, sixty years later, we still have to dwell on the suffering the Dutch, and especially the Dutch Jewish population, has gone through. To start with the latter one: since the Second World War many millions of other people died by oppression, war and hunger. Not only the sheer number of victims of the Holocaust makes it a crime unequalled. But the purpose of it does it even more: exterminating an entire culture. Hitler planned a museum of Jewish Culture, to be established in Prague – a museum for an extinct people. Therefore we shouldn't forget the Holocaust.
Heroes from outside the Netherlands
In our discussion today we must dwell on all those heroes, men and women, from outside our country who contributed to our liberation. It weren't only the Americans or Canadians who liberated us. Also the Polish, the French and the many Surinams, Moroccans and Turks who payed with their lives for our freedom.
We must realize liberty and peace aren't natural phenomenon. People fought for it. And we're all responsible for it to guard this heritage. The world doesn't stop at the borders of Holland or Europe. There are conflicts in the world that also our people here are deeply affected by.
However terrible the grief is that's been done to the Palestine people, we can't blame our Jewish fellow-citizens for it. However bad the terror is, we can't blame our moslim fellow-citizens for it.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Liberty and peace aren't natural phenomenon. The way we live together here in Holland, in Haarlem, shows that freedom and peace don't have to be a utopia, a dream, but a reality in which we treat each other with respect. If other people can take hope from this, this meeting hasn't been for nothing.
Sources / More reading
Also see Verhalen (Stories):
Haci Karacaer: "We must share the stories from our past"
Allochtonen van nu & de oorlog van toen (Todays immigrants & latterday war - Morocco, the Netherlands Antilles, Surinam and Turkey during the Second World War
Ad van den Oord, SDU/Forum 2003, isbn 90-5409-420-6
Moroccans fighting in Zeeuwish clay. Antillian students in the Dutch resistance. Surinam volunteers to the East, Jewish refugees (not) to the West. Turkey as the only bridge to Palestine…
The Second World War put everything upside down. Human masses adrift by service, deportation, invasion or flight. This usually meant a way of agony, but also challenged to think about ones identity and loyalty. How were Dutch immigrants involved in the war and what do they feel about it now? It's made clear every group has it's own story. But if we want to keep understanding each other, we also have to share our pasts.
'Allochtonen van nu & de oorlog van toen' is a first step. This publication will put on stage the mutual past of Dutch and immigrant Dutch in Holland.
The Dutch Red Cross, Mr. Victor Laurentius.
Downfall. The persecution and extermination of Dutch Jews 1940-1945. Dr. J. Presser, The Hague 1965, pag. 426-427.
In Depot. Diary from Westerbork. Philip Mechanicus, Amsterdam 1964 (1989).
Jonge Turk; Over liefde en moed in het moderne Turkije. Moris Farhi, De Geus 2005. ISBN 90-445-0606-4 (Young Turk; About love and courage in modern Turkey)