Turkey thanked for saving Jews in Holocaust

Turkey thanked for saving Jews in Holocaust

Bnai Brith Canada conferred its Interfaith Humanitarian Co-operation Award upon the Turkish ambassador to Canada, Aydemir Erman, at a special ceremony in Montreal last week.

The award, which formally recognizes Turkeys little-known efforts to rescue Jews from the Holocaust and the countrys enduring friendship with the Jewish people, was presented on the eve of the North American television premiere of a documentary on the subject called Desperate Hours.

Erman said he accepted the award in memory of my brave colleagues who acted in line with the ministry of foreign affairs.

Desperate Hours was directed and produced by American Victoria Barrett, a former Hollywood actress, and written by Michael Berenbaum, director of the Institute for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at Los AngelesUniversity of Judaism. Its world premiere was at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and its television premiere was on PBS.

An invited audience of about 100 including Barrett previewed the film before the ceremony, which was held at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art.

Desperate Hours documents the ways Turkey, neutral until near the end of the war, helped both its Jewish citizens and other Jews escape the Nazis. A highlight is the story of Marseilles vice- consul Necdet Kent, who boarded a railway car full of Jews bound for Auschwitz, risking his own life in an attempt to persuade the Germans to send them back to France. He succeeded, but only three hours out of the station.

Other diplomats, those from the West, turned their heads. Turkey did not,said Bnai Brith Canada executive vice-president Frank Dimant, who called the award a long overdue thank- you.

Dimant said Turkey continues to stand with the Jewish people even as anti-Semitism looms again.

Also profiled in the film are the Turkish vice-consul in Paris, Namik Yolgo, who arranged for a train to take Turkish Jews from that city to Turkey, and the Turkish consul on the Greek island of Rhodes, Selahattin Ulkemen, who refused to turn over to the Nazis the approximately 50 Jews living there.

Barrett, who described herself as Christian, said she is especially gratified she was able to record the stories of these former diplomats, because all three have died since they were interviewed. She hopes the message of Desperate Hours is that simple decency can transcend religious differences among people and make a huge difference in even the darkest of times.

If I dont do anything else in my life, I am proud of this,she said.

The film also reveals that Muslim Turkey, under president Kemal Attaturk, recruited hundreds of expelled German mostly Jewish scientists, academics and other professionals after the Nazis came to power; that leaders of the Yishuv in British-Mandate Palestine, including David Ben-Gurion and former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, who is interviewed, co-operated with Turkey in saving Jews; and, perhaps, most surprisingly, that the Vaticans wartime envoy in Istanbul, Msgr. Angelo Roncalli, who in 1958 became Pope John XXIII, worked with the Yishuv leaders to rescue eastern European Jews.

Turkeys geographical proximity to both Europe and British-Mandate Palestine made it an ideal base for rescue operations. The film indicates that a total of 20,000 Jews may have survived by the co-operation between the Yishuv, the Catholic Church and the Turkish government.

The film stresses that the Jews and Turks are both ancient peoples with a long history of co-existence and suggests the Turksaid during World War II was similar to the earlier Ottoman acceptance of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492.

The match between Bnai Brith Canada and the Turkish government was made by Erol Araf, a Turkish-born Jew who has lived in Montreal since 1980.

Araf told The CJN his aim is to show that not all of Islam is about suicide bombers. Turkish Islam is forgiving, compassionate and loving& While the rest of the world was celebrating the triumph of the will, Turkey was celebrating the triumph of the conscience.

Araf, who was born in 1949, traces his familys presence in Turkey back to 1492 and has been involved with a number of projects since the 500th anniversary of the Spanish Expulsion to make the world and especially the Jewish community aware of the friend it has in Turkey.

Whatever hope we have in the Middle East, it is through this model of co-operation between a Muslim and Jewish state.

Araf is back full-time in Montreal after living in Turkey for most of the past four years, but continues to maintain his Turkish citizenship.

For 500 years, Jews lived in peace and prosperity in Turkey. I am compelled to honour this legacy. I am going to go all-out on this. I am very passionate about this. It comes straight from the heart,he said.


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