New home at the Bosporus: Traugott Fuchs remembers his first time in Istanbul
Traugott Fuchs, in protest against his dismissal by the Nazis and out of political convictions, followed his teacher Leo Spitzer into exile in Turkey, where he remained until the end of his life. In addition to his academic activities, Fuchs created a rich artistic and literary oeuvre throughout his life that testifies to how close he felt to the exile that became his home. In 1986 he wrote an outline of his life, an excerpt of which is shown here about his time in exile in Istanbul.
Evidently the intelligence level of our new Germano-fanatic ‘academic_ youth had sunken below zero. Under which evil bewtichment could this negative miracle of stupidification have happened? […] They had other, quite pronounced ambitions: the military conquest of the world under exclusively German-Aryan superiority. It wa just pitiful, and we knew how sadly this megalomaniac fever turned out – and one cannot stay indifferent when one hears what the new German racists, thos ugly, disgusting skins in northern Germany do: they kill their new scapegoat, … the Turks!
Spitzer 11Leo Spitzer, German Romance scholar, professor, and mentor to Fuchs, who was dismissed from the service by the Nazis because of his Jewish background. found a refuge in Istanbul – “Zuflucht am Bosporus” by Neumark! With many other outstanding immigrant professors, he helped to build up the modern Turkish University. He established the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures and personally taught and trained students. […] When I was invited to join him by a telephone call made by Professor Erich Auerbach, the author of Mimesis and his successor in Marburg, later on in Istanbul, without hesitation I accepted and followed this call with enthusiasm, felling this was a real chance for liberation — no compromises with the Nazis – I intended never to come back as long as Hitler was victorious. I would rather have gone to the end of the world, perhaps to ‘South Africa’. Here was a door to the future – at home a door to death, this was certain.
With two simple suitcases I arrived in Istanbul in February 1934. During the first years, together with the “big shots”, the famous professors, we, die kleinen Würstchen [the small sausages], to use Hellmut Ritter’s humoristic idiom that meant people of very much less importance, shared here in modern Turkey a Renaissance-like joy of a return to the conditions that existed in pre-Nazi Germany in certain highly intellectual circles both academically and culturally as well as socially. We felt the grateful happiness of being in one of the most beautiful cities and in one of the most interesting and fascinating countries of the World – Anatolia – and to be in the South. At first I taught Frencht at the Foreign Language School of Istanbul University (Yabancı Diller Mektebi). Soon after I started to teach German Philology, my special fields being Romantic and Modern Literatures, at the Faculty of Letters of the same university (1934-1978), and in addition from 1943 to 1971, German and French at Robert College, where finally I also lived. I had a beautiful big room in Hamlin Hall. The Master, Godfrey Goodwin, gave me room No. 13 – it was my lucky number – and he also named my cat, Traugotta – my lovely fine friend. I lived there with full maintenance, with a gorgeous view of the Valley of Küçüksü, in the good, brotherly proximity of a wonderful cedar, under the prominent personal protection of Atatürk, 22Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) founded the Republic of Turkey, which emerged from the collapsed Ottoman Empire after World War I, and was its first president from 1923 to 1938. Until today, he is admired as a symbolic figure of Turkish national self-assertion with a strong and mostly uncritical personality cult. He is best known for the uncompromising modernization course with which he led the young Turkish republic: As a path to modernization, he proclaimed a radical laicization and Europeanization of the state. so to say: his bust stood under my middle window, surrounded by luxurious wisterias. Certainly, it was one of the happiest periods of my life! And I was in love with the severe and soul-purifying beauty of Anatolia as yet unspoiled by tourism, which included some disadvantages and offered more important advantages – to travel there, even primitively, was always a personal adventure and experience, and I was always overcome by the most generous hospitality of the people everywhere.
During the years 1944-45, although I was a genuine immigrant, I was nonetheless interned in Çorum for thirteen months until Robert College arranged for me to be called back – hence the Çorum pictures. But before my internment, with some other immigrant German young men I was urged to go back to Germany in order to join the army. The same doctor who had previously treated me several times and had declared that I was unfit for military service, now, under the control of two Funktionaeren (officials of the Nazi Party standing on his right and left sides) attested that I was good for the reserve. But when the day came to take the train, I refused to fight for Hitler, that criminal man whom I hated so and who was the reason for my emigration, and besides, I was in Robert College and lived on good terms with the Americans! Internment then was a good and wise solution – İnönü was truly a wise statesman!
In 1971 when Robert College was transformed into Boğaziçi University, I continued teaching courses on Modern German literature there and moved house to a private flat in Rumelihisarı. I remained in this position until my retirement with a Turkish pension in 1983. So it came out that, often hating school when I was young in Germany, I taught myself for forty-nine years until I became old!
And still he sneaks around the Campus like an old cat around his old home, unhated, kindly supported and tolerated.
1Leo Spitzer, German Romance scholar, professor, and mentor to Fuchs, who was dismissed from the service by the Nazis because of his Jewish background.
2Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) founded the Republic of Turkey, which emerged from the collapsed Ottoman Empire after World War I, and was its first president from 1923 to 1938. Until today, he is admired as a symbolic figure of Turkish national self-assertion with a strong and mostly uncritical personality cult. He is best known for the uncompromising modernization course with which he led the young Turkish republic: As a path to modernization, he proclaimed a radical laicization and Europeanization of the state.
Traugott Fuchs (1906-1997) had studied under the Romanist Leo Spitzer in Cologne. When Spitzer was dismissed after the Nazi seizure of power, Fuchs began a protest in solidarity out of political conviction, making himself a target. In 1934, Fuchs followed his teacher into exile in Istanbul. There he taught French, German, and German language and literary history at the School of Foreign Languages, the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Istanbul, and at the American Robert College (from 1971 Boğaziçi University), among other places, and worked for Spitzer and later for the novelist Erich Auerbach. In addition to his academic activities, which lasted until 1978, Fuchs was unceasingly active artistically and as a writer. He wrote poems and elegies, translated Turkish literature into German, painted and drew. 11Cf. Dogramaci, Burcu, 2021: Traugott Fuchs. In: METROMOD Archive, https://archive.metromod.net/viewer.p/69/2949/object/5138-10832903, last modified: 14-09-2021 (08.11.2021).
Unlike many other German exiles, Fuchs chose to remain in Istanbul until his death. Even though he maintained intensive contacts with some of the exiled intellectuals and was involved in their networks, he did not limit himself to this social environment. He sought closeness to the Turkish population, learned Turkish, and dealt intensively with Turkish history, culture, and politics. His artistic and literary work is testimony to this engagement and to the close and warm view Fuchs had of his exile, which became his home. In portraits, landscape and city views, still lifes and everyday scenes, Fuchs’ view of Turkey unfolds over decades. In addition to Istanbul, he also depicted other cities and landscapes, including the small Anatolian town of Çorum, where he, like many other German exiles, was interned for 13 months beginning in 1944.
In this excerpt from his 1986 memoir, Fuchs also writes about this period of internment, which affected Germans in Turkey after it sided with the Allies late in World War II and thus made all Germans enemy aliens, regardless of their political stance of resistance to the Nazis. By that time, the life-saving Turkish exile had been his home for decades. Fuchs describes the motivations behind his flight, his affection for and activities in Istanbul, and how he became a “museum piece” there. He also makes the connection between the enthusiasm for National Socialist ideology that chilled him in the 1930s and racist murders in contemporary Germany.