About Ernst Hirsch’s efforts to learn and use the Turkish language

In March 1933, Ernst Eduard Hirsch was dismissed from his position as a life judge in Frankfurt am Main and as a private lecturer because of his Jewish origin. In October 1933, he accepted a call from the University of Istanbul to the chair of commercial law. Ernst E. Hirsch describes his efforts to learn the Turkish language and thus comply with his contract clause to teach in Turkish.

Ernst Eduard Hirsch with his students. Private archive, with the kind permission of Enver Tandoğan Hirsch.

[Seite 197]

„Der Professor verpflichtet sich, sein möglichstes zu tun, um nach dem dritten Jahr in türkischer Sprache zu unterrichten.“

Eine derartige Klausel war für Verträge mit ausländischen Spezialisten etwas völlig Neues. Schon das Osmanische Reich hatte zahlreiche Ausländer als Spezialisten beschäftigt, aber niemals die Erlernung und den Gebrauch des Türkischen von ihnen verlangt. Auch von den 17 deutschen Wissenschaftlern, die im Ersten Weltkrieg zwischen 1915 und 1918 in Darülfünun lehrten, wurde die Erlernung der türkischen Sprache nicht erwartet, geschweige denn als vertragliche Verpflichtung gefordert, ebensowenig von den drei französischen Professoren und einem Schweizer, die zeitlich einige Jahre vor 1933 engagiert worden waren. Erst in den durch die Notgemeinschaft deutscher Wissenschaft im Ausland vermittelten Verträgen mit den deutschen Emigranten findet sich die oben wiedergegebene Sprachklausel.

[Seite 198]

Dank der gemeinsamen Bemühungen hatte ich nach 6 Monaten die Fähigkeit erworben, türkische Zeitungen und Gesetzestexte ohne Inanspruchnahme fremder Hilfe, wenn auch noch unter Benutzung des Wörterbuches, unmittelbar zu begreifen. Auch außerhalb der Sprachstunden auf der Überfahrt von Kadiköy zur Köprü und zurück zwang mich Halil, mich mit ihm türkisch zu unterhalten. Sogar auf dem Markt, wenn ich frische Fische oder Obst einkaufen wollte, bemühte er sich mit dem Befehl „Türkçe konuşun, Hocam!” (=Sprechen Sie türkisch, Professor!) mich an die Sprache des Volkes zu gewöhnen. Als eines Tages ein Verkäufer, der in mir den Ausländer erkannte, mir auf französisch antwortete, fuhr Halil den Verkäufer wütend an: „Warum antwortest Du nicht auf türkisch, wenn mein ausländischer Professor Dich auf türkisch anspricht?!“
Auch wenn ich nun schon auf eigenen Füßen stehen konnte, so haperte es noch immer mit dem Gehen. Trotz intensiver Bemühungen gelang mir das zusammenhängende frei Sprechen in der Vorlesung erst dann, als Rhythmus und Logik des türkischen Denkens sich so bei mir eingenistet hatten, daß ich begann, nicht mehr deutsch sondern türkisch zu träumen. Aber immerhin konnte ich die Sprachklausel meines Anstellungsvertrages einhalten und mit Beginn des vierten Studienjahres am 1. Nov. 1936 ohne Übersetzer meine Vorlesungen und sonstigen Lehrveranstaltungen in türkischer Sprache halten.

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“The professor undertakes to do his utmost to teach in Turkish after the third year.”

Such a clause was something entirely new for contracts with foreign specialists. The Ottoman Empire had already employed numerous foreigners as specialists, but had never required them to learn and use Turkish. Also from the 17 German scientists, who taught in Darülfünun during the First World War between 1915 and 1918, the learning of the Turkish language was not expected, let alone demanded as a contractual obligation, just as little from the three French professors and a Swiss, who had been engaged temporally some years before 1933. It is only in the contracts with the German emigrants, arranged by the Notgemeinschaft deutscher Wissenschaftler [Emergency Society for German Scholars in Exile] im Ausland, that the language clause reproduced above is found.

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Thanks to the joint efforts, after 6 months I had acquired the ability to comprehend Turkish newspapers and legal texts directly without recourse to outside help, although still using the dictionary. Even outside the language lessons on the crossing from Kadiköy to Köprü and back, Halil forced me to converse with him in Turkish. Even at the market, when I wanted to buy fresh fish or fruit, he made an effort with the command “Türkçe konuşun, Hocam!” (=speak Turkish, Professor!) to get me used to the language of the people. One day, when a salesman, recognizing in me the foreigner, answered me in French, Halil angrily drove at the salesman, “Why don’t you answer in Turkish when my foreign professor addresses you in Turkish?!”
Even though I was now able to stand on my own two feet, I still struggled with walking. Despite intensive efforts, I only succeeded in speaking freely and coherently in the lecture when the rhythm and logic of Turkish thought had become so ingrained in me that I began to dream in Turkish rather than German. But at least I was able to comply with the language clause of my employment contract and, at the beginning of the fourth academic year on Nov. 1, 1936, I was able to give my lectures and other courses in Turkish without a translator.

In March 1933, Ernst Eduard Hirsch was dismissed from his position as a life judge in Frankfurt am Main and as a private lecturer because of his Jewish origin. In October 1933, he accepted a call from the University of Istanbul to the chair of commercial law. Ernst E. Hirsch was probably the youngest of all those appointed to the University of Istanbul and the only one who succeeded in making the leap from Privatdozent (still without a professorial title) to full professor.

He was one of the few who, in a relatively short time, learned the Turkish language in such a way that they were able to use it first in examinations, then also in lectures, and soon after to write their own books in the national language. After acquiring Turkish citizenship in 1943, he moved to the University of Ankara, where he taught not only commercial law but also the philosophy and sociology of law. In addition to his teaching activities, he devoted himself to building up the law faculty library in Istanbul, which he reported on in his autobiography. Although a library already existed there, it consisted of specialist literature on Ottoman law in Arabic script, but not on the law of the Republic of Turkey, which was founded in 1923, and on international law.

In this excerpt from his memoirs, Hirsch describes his efforts to learn the Turkish language and thus comply with his contract clause to teach in Turkish.

In 1952, Hirsch returned to Germany to help establish the newly founded Freie Universität (Free University) of Berlin as a full professor of commercial law and sociology of law, rector, and prorector.

 

 

 

 

 

Excerpts from the autobiography: Ernst E. Hirsch, 1982: Aus des Kaisers Zeiten durch die Weimarer Republik in das Land Atatürks. Eine unzeitgemäße Autobiographie, J. Schweitzer Verlag: München.

Translation from German to English: Minor Kontor.