Pictures and Stories from Çorum – Traugott Fuchs’ Zeugnisse aus der anatolischen Internierung
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. When Turkey belatedly abandoned its neutrality in World War II in the fall of 1944 and sided with the Allies, all Germans and Austrians – including those who had fled the Nazi regime – were interned as enemy aliens in the Anatolian towns of Çorum, Yozgat, and Kirsehir. Traugott Fuchs also spent 13 months in internment in Çorum, but continued his artistic work there very intensively: to accompany the pictures he created there, he wrote short stories expressing his lively and enthusiastic sympathy for the landscape and the life of the people in the Anatolian province.
The Way leading to Hıdırlık
Hıdırlık ist he name of the hill on which are situated a mosque, a türbe (mausoleum) and a cemetery. The whole area is dedicated to Hıdır.
Who is Hıdır actually? He is a saint, venerated in Turkey and in the other Moslem countries of the Middle East who wears green clothes and fulfills people’s whishes. In the Legend of Alexander the Great (Die Alexandersage) he is the cook of Alexander and is the one who, by mere chance, finds the water of life which was vainly sought by Alexander himself in the country of darkness and becomes immortal. The name Hızır, Chıdr or Khıdr is a derivation from al-Khadir- green man – thus the green clothes worn by this saint.
On Fridays Hıdırlık was taboo for men because on that day women went there to pray and execute certain rites in order to be fertile and have children. They took their ablutions in the brook nearby before their prayers, since all this was done in strict privacy, I did not have a chance to learn more about these mysteries.
Professor Hellmut Ritter, with whom I shared a flat in Bebek for a year my return from Çorum, related to me an interesting story. It seems that during the First World War while he was an officer on the General Staff in Palestine, some German soldiers met a woman who told them that she had met Chıdr (Hıdır) dressed in green and that he had granted all her wishes. This incident was recorded in the army files.
Even today in Istanbul the same belief holds true. My neighbour in Rumelihisar, Handan Hanım, told me that that one of her friends once praying in Hagia Sophia, still a mosque then, suddenly saw Hıdır dressed in green in front of her. He asked her a few questions on the Koran, but since she was too shocked by the appearance of this stocky, short man, she could not answer him. Nevertheless, Hıdır understood her state of mind and granted her her wish.
Do you think Hıdırlez (Hıdır-Ilyas ‚Elies, Elias‘) day still celebrated on the 6th of May is a Moslem tradition? On that day very early in the morning one goes down to the shores of Bosphorus after having prayed for forty hours and pronounces ones wish facing the water, within one year the wish will come true (water-green-immortality).
Another version of the legend told me by Nurten Hanım is that on Hıdırlez (Hıdır-Elies) day two immortal saints, Hıdır and Elies, move in the air. Hıdır is especially very fast, and if you write your wish down on a piece of paper and bury it under a rose bush near the roots very early in the monring, the two sublime specialists will take care of its realization.
After such a long speech, let us now take a short walk to the Hıdırlık and see hot it looks in ist simplified dimensions.
Evening View from a Window of Our Old Turkish House
Evening view from one of the windows of the old Turkish house with carvel and painted doors and decorated ceilings which I shared with Mrs. Kantorovicz.
In the evenings the mountains and the skies glowed in various shades of purple which changed from minute to minute like alpenglow (Alpenglühen). At this time of the day women came to the fountain, some carrying in both hands enormous copper vessels which they washed there, others filling up their kettles which they carried home. Since their hands were busy, they were unable to properly cover the lower part of their faces with ther kerchiefs. Therefore they tucked one end of their kerchiefs in their mouths, thus covering their faces, but surprisingly completely disregarding their bossoms.
Once in another street we saw a beggar-woman whose breasts were uncovered. Is it an archaic custom for women to display their bossoms to awaken pity in others? According to Tacitus, once when German women saw that their men had become tired and were ready to abandon fighting, they demonstrated in womanly fasion, revealing their breats to maker their men resume the battle.
And today – in the beaches in the sumer? Even in Kuşadası! I am afraid the modern topless fashion to some extent really originated in Çorum year ago.
At an exhibition party given by Mrs. Nermin Streeter-Muvaffak at her house in Ankara, Freya Stark liked this painting because of ist perspective, especially the way the street leads from the front tot he back as seen from above.
The Courtyard of a Sawmill near Çorum
For quite a while at the beginning of our internment we were allowed to take walks everywhere we wanted to. Then one day some problems arose due to the womenfolk, and we were not allowed to leave the premises of the town any more. This was too bad for me because my heart lived on these never very far, but free excursions. Therefore, though it was going to be done in utter decrecy, I welcomed with great joy the opportuniy to go to this interesting and rich sawmill not very far from Çorum with the father of one of my students, my privat circle then. The man, who was a carpenter, had some business to do there. He had also made me a wonderful portable bed of walnut. A few other people joined us in our adventure, which had the sweet taste of forbidden (innocence), pleasure and one day very early in the morning we slipped out, ducked down in wooden horse-cart and were driven away to this indeed charming place, which we had enough time to inspect while our carpenter worked. Unfortunately I was not allowed to follow my special instinct and go out of the courtyard to see the wonderful row of poplars behind the building opposite us and the mill brook which I knew for certain to be there and running fast.
But, anyway, the peaceful details of the courtyard were enough to compensate for this hindrance.
Hudud at Hıdır‘s Door
I thought that, if, on the one hand, Hudhud, sneaking around rather unnoticed on the fields of Çorum, according to his classical glory in the old Persoan literature (e.g. Farīdūn Attār) was able to teach and lead the birds longing for their King, Sīmurgh (=God) through many dangers to their destination and if, on the other hand, again as in the old Persian love poetry and Goethe’s Westöstlicher Divan being the favourite of King Solomon, was appointed by him to be the messenger of eternal love between the lover and the beloved as it once acted between King Solomon and The Queen of Sheba then. Imflored by my heart to go to Hıdır, and, remembering his old rank of a high plenipotentiary, he could easily ask the fulfiller of wishes to help and improve the health of the man who knows him quite well so that he can write again beautiful, competent and eloquent things about him. That is why Hudhud came to knock at Hıdır’s door.
Such a gorgeous Anatolian headdress suggests and needs a monumental painting: a handsome and somewhat mysterious Anatolian man, the type that can still be seen in an Anatolian desert, such as the one near Çorum, riding on a white horse under a gray sky with the most phantastic mountains in the background, wrapped up in a long, large, brown woolen cape.
A cow Being Sold at the Weekly Market
Do I see it correctly? The man lifts up the tail of the patient animal to prove that it is still young. Of course, after such a suggestive demonstration, no doubts can remain for the connoisseurs. One can start bargaining now!
At this market I bought two equally pretty, young geese highly recommended as a very promising couple. The one with the funny little tuft on the head was surely male. They grew up to become so beautiful with heavenly blue eyes encircled by orange and golden rings that I baptized them Isis and Osiris. This beautiful couple inspired me with a whole chain of wonderful dreams just as Perrette‘s was in the famous fable of La Fontaine. Firstly, a fine familial life in my little garden – an idyll! Then, going on in the same sequence as in the fable, a nest …. Eggs … sweet little ones, and so on, and finally one day, like Perrette’s the pot of my sweet anticipations cruelly broke down, when, at the time of the maturity of my divine geese, the nights became so noisy that I could not sleep any more. Goodness, is this the way geese make love without any results? A neighbour called in to give me advice, smilingly bringing his own ordinary, ugly female goose. It turned out that with or without a tuft, Isis and Osiris were both normal or perhaps eben super normal male geese, for they immediately startet to fight with each other as rivals. They flapped their wings and furiously tried to hew their beaks into each other’s breats in ordert o kill. Immediately I gave them away under the condition that they would not be killed for food. Due to their strength and fighting abilities they were gladly accepted and turned into fighters. Indeed the next Sunday I saw them in a square outside the town standing facing each other, with an army of ordinary, ugly geese behind one of them, ready to fight at a sign from ther new owner for a large crowd of people. No, no more Isis or Osiris for me! Denying my former love for them, I left the ugly show.
I often thought that this is my best Çorum painting. I wonder why – is it because of the details?
The hamamcı (owner or caretaker of a Turkish bath) was past his sixties. I admired his white, complete, perfect teeth at that age! I said to myself, „You see, how people living close to nature, away from the unhealthy and corrupting atmosphere of the cities, could still be handsome even at their advanced age.“ But, oh, what do I see! Hearing my pathetic compliments, the man suddenly took out his well-done false teeth and laughing, showed me his empty mouth – the effect of nature.
His kese work (skin scrubbing) was perfect, and he used a different method from the one I had experienced in Istanbul. The person getting a scrubbing lies down, and the hamamcı first scrubs one side of the body completely and then the other, always carefully covering the orivat parts with a towel. What a great feeling! At the same time one has enough time to watch and enjoy the light beams streaming through the holes of the dark copula and crossing the room, and even to have a touch of metaphysical feeling. The boy in the painting is, of course, imaginary. A second later he will burst out laughing because the hamamcı will soon start professionally scrubbing his heel with his kese and this tickles irresistibly.
Caved and Painted Doors
For a while I shared this old Çorum house with „Mother Kantorovicz.“ „Frau Kantor“ = Annemarie Kantorovicz, the first wife of the Jewish immigrant professor of dentistry, Alfred Kantorovicz, from whom she was later divorced.
She used to live in a very simple room in a house up on a hill in Bebek owned by a friendly Turkish widow. In her loneliness she created the most charming doll-houses, which would have created a tremendous sensation in the most pretentious European art galleries and which she gave away as gifts mostly to simple people living around.
Every Christmas she invited me for succulent roast meat and huge portions of a delicious meal. She was indeed very generous, and I used to decorate her pretty little doll-houses and furniture with dots and other colourful designs. We used to have lots of fun in her cosy room.
School Children Praying to the Dede
In the türbe (mausoleum) below the Hidirlik, primary school children used to ask the dede (a saintly person) of they would pass their class. Of course there was a certain technique for doint this. In front of the sepulcher they picked up little stones from the floor and pressed them into the not too deep little holes on the front side of the tomb, which was higher than the back, and quickly prayed. If the little stone stuck, this meant that the dede had granted their wish and they would pass. But if not? Well, let us try again or perhaps just help a little bit?
Song Recital Evening of the Emigrants
“There was also this”
Explanation by Hermann Fuchs: In the background you can see a funeral procession carrying to the grave a Muslim wrapped in a green shroud. In the foreground a heaped up grave can be seen in front of the cemetery wall. Whether the dead man was not allowed to be buried in the cemetery because he committed suicide or was not a Muslim remains open. It may be the grave of an emigrant.
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.
This internment was a consequence of the termination of Turkish neutrality in World War II and the official declaration of war in the fall of 1944, which broke off all diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany. A completely new time began for all German and Austrian nationals. Either they allowed themselves to be transported back to the “Third Reich” or they were interned together with the Jewish and political refugees who remained in the country in three places in Anatolia: Çorum, Yozgat, and Kirsehir.
Fuchs’ pictorial and literary testimonies from the internment period, a selection of which is shown here, testify, however, to how strongly he developed a connection during his time in Çorum not only to the Anatolian landscape and his fellow internees, but also to the Turkish inhabitants of the village, whose everyday life and customs he observed and participated in with fascination. His pictures and the accompanying stories illustrate local legends, Fuchs’ experiences at the market and in the hamam, secret excursions to sawmills, and much more. In the process, the gaze of the “stranger” merges into that of the one at home.