Rescue with Reservations: Istanbul since 1933

For many refugees in the 1930s, the metropolis on the Bosporus became an important, if often forgotten, city of transit and refuge. As a connection point to the Asian continent, Istanbul played a special role for many Jews on their way to the British Mandate territory of Palestine, for instance. However, the increasing pressure on those persecuted by National Socialism and pressured to emigrate also coincided with the nationalist self-interest of the young Republic of Turkey, which welcomed and even encouraged immigration of parts of the expelled intellectual elite to support its modernization program. This synergy transformed Istanbul into a rescue center – albeit, for many, with reservations. Today, this chapter of flight migration is seen partly as a stellar moment of humanitarian reception policy, partly as a decisive phase of the Turkish nationalist modernization program, partly as an encroachment with orientalist and colonial motives, 11Regine Erichsen, 2021: “Bildungshilfe” oder “postkolonialer Übergriff'”? On the State of Previous Research. https://regineerichsen.com/forschungsrahmen (Sept. 20, 2021). but it is mainly not remembered at all. If it is remembered, it is primarily equated with certain representatives of the German elite. But flight migration can by no means be limited to them. The refugee community was ethnically heterogeneous and represented all social classes. In Istanbul, it was part of a centuries-old history of migration and increasingly became a pawn in the intense German-Turkish relations.

    Footnotes

  • 1Regine Erichsen, 2021: “Bildungshilfe” oder “postkolonialer Übergriff'”? On the State of Previous Research. https://regineerichsen.com/forschungsrahmen (Sept. 20, 2021).
Traugott Fuchs, Istanbul before 1945, from index charcoal drawings, 05 © Hermann Fuchs.

When about 1000 exiled scientists from Nazi Germany came to Turkey over the years, the republic was only 10 years old. In October 1923, Mustafa Kemal, who post-1935 was given the nickname Atatürk – Father of the Turks –, proclaimed the republic. As its first president, he radically implemented the modernization course. The Kemalist policies named after him included uncompromising secularism, the pursuit of a “unified Turkish nation” – at the expense of the minorities living in Turkish territory –, the introduction of a Turkish alphabet based on Latin letters, and the restructuring of education along European lines. The latter was intended to produce a new generation of Turkish leaders who would implement the restructuring of all areas of Turkish society and the state. 22Klaus Kreiser, 2014: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. BpB (11.08.2014). https://www.bpb.de/internationales/europa/tuerkei/184970/atatuerk (16.09.2021).

In a deliberate move away from the Ottoman past, Ankara – and not Istanbul – was declared the capital of the young Turkish Republic. However, the metropolis of Istanbul continued to retain a central political, cultural and economic position and was also included in the educational reform program: with the establishment of the İstanbul Üniversitesi as part of the Kemalist modernization program in 1933, the Turkish government began to search for and recruit experts.

The assumption that “modernity” could best be imported from Europe or the “West” and copied into the Turkish Republic directed the focus to European experts. At the same time, National Socialism gained power in Germany. The “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” of April 7, 1933 dismissed civil servants of “non-Aryan descent” from their jobs. This also affected many employees of universities who were dismissed as Jews or because of their political views and were persecuted by National Socialism. They desperately sought ways to escape persecution and leave the country. They were supported in this by the interdenominational and anti-racist self-help organization “Notgemeinschaft deutscher Wissenschaftler im Ausland” (“Emergency Society of German Scholars in Exile“) founded in 1933, 33P. Schwartz (ed. and introduced by Helge Peukert), 1995: Notgemeinschaft. Zur Emigration deutscher Wissenschaftler nach 1933 in die Türkei, Marburg. which from 1933 onward focused on mediating refugees to Turkey. This synergy of Turkish national interests and those of the German refugees transformed Istanbul into a rescue center – albeit, for many, with reservations.

Istanbul as a metropolis of immigration and a city of refuge

As a multicultural city, a political center and an economic and intellectual hub, Istanbul has always been a destination and transit point for migration of various groups and individuals.

Many thousands of Russian refugees who fled the Soviet territories after the 1917 revolution and the ensuing civil war tried to find refuge in Istanbul. Among them were many artists and publicists who established a lively cultural and intellectual life, especially in the Beyoğlu district. 44See Ekaterina Aygün, 2021: A Walk Through the Russian “Montparnasse” in Istanbul. https://walks.metromod.net/walks.p/17.m/istanbul (Sept. 16, 2021).

Germans from different political backgrounds had also increasingly come to Istanbul after the founding of the Republic in 1923: they resumed the old economic and political relations between Germany and Turkey and were already at that time specifically recruited for the modernization program. 55Cf. Sabine Mangold-Will, 2014: Germans in Turkey, 1933-1945. Bpb (05.09.2014). https://www.bpb.de/internationales/europa/tuerkei/184978/deutsche-im-exil-tuerkei (16.09.2021).

From 1933 onwards, a growing number of former employees of German universities, who had been dismissed as Jews or because of their political stance and were now looking for ways to escape persecution by National Socialism, looked to Istanbul, among other places, for salvation, and in some cases found it there.

For many, Istanbul was a career opportunity. The privileges that came with emigration to Turkey simultaneously increased the battered self-esteem of many – Turkish utilitarianism notwithstanding. This was the feeling of the jurist Ernst Eduard Hirsch, for example, who was one of the youngest emigrant professors to be appointed to the University of Istanbul:

There I stood, a “Réfugié” disregarded in the German homeland as a Jew, chased out of his offices because of his “inferior” race, emigrated under abandonment of home and hearth into the foreign exile “further back in Turkey,” in the midst of a former throne room bursting with crystal, alabaster, marble, porphyry, inlays, furnished with precious furniture, carpets and paintings as a German professor counted among the upper thousand! It was a great moment that I had the privilege of experiencing right at the beginning of my Turkish years. 66Ernst E. Hirsch at a Turkish government reception on October 28, 1938, Ernst E. Hirsch, 1982: Aus des Kaisers Zeiten durch die Weimarer Republik in das Land Atatürks. An untimely autobiography, J. Schweitzer Verlag: Munich, p. 191.

Yet, despite rescue, Hirsch, too, was aware of the fact that the Turkish migration regime was neither altruistic nor static. It was not a matter of rescuing politically and racially persecuted persons, but of attracting highly qualified professionals, scientists and already respected cultural workers and artists (especially men) for the state’s own benefit, while at the same time being able to maintain (economic) relations with Germany. 77For 1939, the head of the Economic Policy Department of the Foreign Office put the number of Germans working in “official and semi-official” positions in Turkey at 2000. Here, emigrants were counted and appropriated for the prestige of ‘Germanness’ abroad – even if they were expatriated at the same time because of political activities and because of their Jewishness, or rather because of the German ‘racialized legislation.’ Cf: Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 261-63. As a result, German exiles in Istanbul initially appeared as a fairly homogeneous group of the intellectual elite. A second look, however, reveals a more heterogeneous picture.

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

 

Exile Community in Istanbul: Homogeneous and Diverse at the Same Time

The historian Corry Guttstadt calculated that from 1933 to 1945 a total of 85 scientists persecuted in Germany or Austria – they were exclusively men (69 Jews and those persecuted based on antisemitism and 16 political oppositionists) – worked as professors, heads of institutes, advisors to Turkish government agencies or in comparable positions. Another 72 persons (63 Jews and 9 political refugees) found employment as lecturers, assistants, lecturers, laboratory assistants etc. 112 Jews worked in the private sector or supported themselves with various jobs. Including all family members who had moved to Germany, the total number of all Jews persecuted by the German Reich amounted to 500 to 600, who found legal refuge in Turkey.

In addition to Jewish refugees and recruits, however, “politically” marked Catholics and Protestants as well as liberals, social democrats and communists also found themselves in Istanbul from 1933 onward. 88Fritz Neumark, 1980: Zuflucht am Bosporus. Deutsche Gelehrte, Politiker und Künstler in der Emigration 1933-1953, Verlag Josef Knecht, Frankfurt am Main, p. 23-27. They formed a separate community of emigrants alongside the already existing German community of so-called “Reich Germans,” diplomats, missionaries, conservatives, National Socialists, and economic migrants. 99Corry Guttstadt, 2008: Turkey, the Jews and the Holocaust, Association A: Berlin, Hamburg, p. 220; cf. Sabine Mangold-Will, 2014: Germans in Turkey, 1933-1945. Bpb (05.09.2014). https://www.bpb.de/internationales/europa/tuerkei/184978/deutsche-im-exil-tuerkei (16.09.2021). Thus, displaced new emigrants, forced or voluntary members of the anti-Hitler movement, had to live and “work side by side with Nazi scholars” alongside Turkish colleagues at the universities. 1010Kemal Bozay, 2001: Exile Turkey. Ein Forschungsbeitrag zur deutschsprachigen Emigration in der Türkei (1933-1945), Münster, p. 97; Kader Konuk, 2010: East West Mimesis. Auerbach in Turkey, Stanford, p. 175.

The new German community of Jewish and political refugees was classified by Turkish authorities as “emigrants” and self-deprecatingly referred to themselves as “Colony B” as a way to distinguish themselves from “Colony A” of so-called “Reich Germans,” who often harbored National Socialist sympathies and were openly antisemitic. But the classification also had a considerable impact on their legal status and on the possibilities of any kind of new start. Those who counted as “emigrants” had to pay “Reich flight tax” and their property was confiscated in Germany, later expatriation often followed. Although the Nazi Germans in Istanbul tried to prevent contacts with the exiled Germans and the latter kept away from them for fear of surveillance, there were still interactions, for example in the German club “Teutonia,” which reopened in 1924, or the pub of the innkeeper Hans Fischer. 1111Cf. Sabine Mangold-Will, 2014: Deutsche in der Türkei, 1933-1945. Bpb (05.09.2014). https://www.bpb.de/internationales/europa/tuerkei/184978/deutsche-im-exil-tuerkei (16.09.2021).

Map of Istanbul with Galata. From: Ernest Mamboury, Stambul Travel Guide, Istanbul: Rizzo, 1930. Private collection, courtesy of Burcu Dogramaci.

Many of the German academics settled on Istanbul’s European side, close to the institutions to which they were appointed for teaching and research: the Academy of Fine Arts, Istanbul University and the Technical University. In the district of Beyoğlu and Pera, with its “European” and international atmosphere, within walking distance of embassies, foreign schools, cultural institutions, and familiar restaurants and bookstores, well connected to urban transportation and at the same time across the street from the old city of Stambul, many German emigrants sought a home. They took advantage of the structures that had already been created for centuries in the important international trade district. In the more peripheral Bebek district, where the Ottoman elite had built a semi-enclosed bourgeois world from the 19th century onward, some emigrants also found a home alongside other immigrant and often well-off minorities, living in close proximity to one another. 1212See Burcu Dogramaci; Rachel Lee, 2019: Refugee Artists, Architects and Intellectuals Beyond Europe in the 1930s and 1940s: Experiences of Exile in Istanbul and Bombay. ABE Journal (14-15). https://doi.org/10.4000/abe.5949 (17.09.2021). The view of the Bosporus and the Marmara Sea became the defining impression and spiritual mirror of Istanbul exile in the contemporary descriptions and memories of the émigrés:

But I sit here in the hotel, soon in our pretty house, otherwise during the day in my hall in the academy. When you come in there, you see the Sea of Marmara behind six giant windows, as if the waves could crash into it, the boats, cormorants, seagulls, and I see the Hagia Sophia from my seat / Like the boats outside, so my furniture floats in the hall, and so I float in my office. 1313Letter from Bruno Taut to Isaburo Ueno, 29.11.1936. Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts), Berlin, Bruno Taut Collection, (Bruno Taut Collection), No. 9, 439.

Letter from Bruno Taut to Tokugen Mihara, August 8, 1938. Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts) Berlin, Bruno-Taut-Collection, Nr. 145

But the German exilés did not only fit into the urban spaces, they also helped shape them: those who had been brought in to “modernize” Turkish urban planning and architecture left architectural traces in these functions that continue to shape the image of the city today. They included, above all, representatives of the New Building movement such as Bruno Taut (1880-1938), Martin Wagner (1885-1957) and Franz Hillinger (1895-1973).

Istanbul’s urban spaces reflect(ed) the diversity of the city’s population: the various neighborhoods East and West of the Bosphorus – on the Asian and European sides of the city – differed greatly in their architecture, infrastructure and atmosphere. Thus, they also offered different points of contact, living environments, and contact zones for the emigrants, who met and formed networks at their places of work, in cafés, private apartments, and so on. In a certain sense, like the city itself, the refugee community was also divided into two parts.

For, of course, it was not only academic professionals officially recruited by the Turkish government who emigrated to Istanbul. (German-speaking) men, women and children of different classes and strata also came on horseback, by ship, train, canoe, bicycle – or they crossed the Turkish border on foot. An example of this is the escape story of Susanne Friedmann-Kirsch, who as a teenager fled from Vienna through southeastern Europe erratically for several years with her family, spent a few restless and poor months in Istanbul, and ultimately ended up in an internment camp in Palestine.

Privileges, Networks and Their Dark Sides

During October [1933, author’s note] almost all of my friends arrived with their families, sisters, mothers, mothers-in-law – and assistants. They were seen everywhere, about 150 people, on TaksimSquare, Istiklal Caddesi, in the mosques, museums, on ships, on the islands and especially on the beaches. They came directly from Germany, where they left their often old patrician houses, despised and persecuted; or from modest boarding houses of England, from overpopulated, cheap Parisian boarding houses, in which they stayed as harassed emigrants. Now, in happy excitement, surrounded by a hospitable people, they lived freely, as revered, nay, pampered immigrants. In the evenings they gathered on the terrace of the Park Hotel (Park Oteli), their headquarters, absorbed in endless conversation about happy experiences of the day, or in silent, devout admiration of the Bosporus, the Asia Minor coast, the Seray, the Marmara, the stars twinkling strongly, and the waxing moon, which here – as in the Byzantine and Turkish miniatures – floated horizontally, like a barque, in the dark blue sky. 1414Philipp Schwartz, Istanbul 1933. Horst Widmann quotes Philipp Schwartz in: Exile and Educational Aid. Die deutschsprachige akademische Emigration in die Türkei nach 1933, Peter Land: Frankfurt a. M., 1973, p. 60.

Letterhead of Park Hotel, Istanbul, 1938. Source: Private Archive.

The exclusively male, German-speaking so-called emigrant professors at Istanbul University were able to begin a secure life in Istanbul and formed a group of “pampered” elite emigrants with employment contracts that guaranteed them a fixed income and thus also a right of residence – at least “for a limited time” – that they could perpetuate by accepting Turkish citizenship. This intellectual elite often tried to continue their “German” life in a kind of parallel world. And an “emigrant mentality” developed “of grumbling about the customs and traditions of the foreign country,” Ernst E. Hirsch recalled, coupled with a “will to hold on to what is customary ‘with us.'” 1515Ernst E. Hirsch, 1982: Aus des Kaisers Zeiten durch die Weimarer Republik in das Land Atatürks. Eine unzeitgemäße Autobiographie, J. Schweitzer Verlag: Munich, quote p. 195. He saw in the German professors’ colony a ‘foreign,’ at first not integrated and, as became apparent in the course of the years, not integrable small minority, which appeared all the more objectionable to the Turkish public because it not only stood out ethnically and religiously from the mass of the people and, with regard to its employment contracts, from their Turkish colleagues, but also retained their language, customs and manners and neither wanted nor could assimilate, even if they had wanted to.

We were ‘the foreign professors’ and remained so for the mass of the people even when some of us – including myself – were granted Turkish citizenship after ten years of service. 1616Ernst E. Hirsch, 1982: Aus des Kaisers Zeiten durch die Weimarer Republik in das Land Atatürks. An Untimely Autobiography, J. Schweitzer Verlag: Munich, p. 196.
Understandably, many found their exile difficult and burdensome, but while refugees in Paris, for instance, thought they would find themselves in the much-vaunted capital of Western civilization, or fleeing Yiddishists in Vilnius imagined themselves in the myth-enshrouded “Jerusalem of Lithuania,” the widespread attitude toward Istanbul testifies to deep-seated feelings of cultural superiority and Orientalist stereotypes: It was precisely the recognition they received as members of the intellectual, “Western” elite and the logics of European leadership behind the Turkish program that confirmed many professors in this perception of themselves and others. In this sense, Fritz Neumark was able to come to a conclusion that only applied to a certain group of refugees in Istanbul:

But I believe that nowhere else has the relative importance of emigrants from the ‘Third Reich’ been so great and their work so lastingly effective as in the Turkish Republic. 1717Fritz Neumark, 1980: Zuflucht am Bosporus. Deutsche Gelehrte, Politiker und Künstler in der Emigration 1933-1953, Verlag Josef Knecht, Frankfurt am Main, p. 8.

Fritz Neumark with students © Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933-1945, Frankfurt am Main

Absurdly, this view was initially shared by the National Socialist authorities, who saw in the admission program a useful prestige project of German propaganda abroad and the view that the ‘superior’ German cultural and knowledge assets had to be carried into the world. 1818Sabine Mangold-Will, 2014: Germans in Turkey 1933 – 1945. More than a History of Exile and Unilateral Modernization Transfer. https://www.bpb.de/internationales/europa/tuerkei/184978/deutsche-im-exil-tuerkei (05.05.2021). Escaped émigré professors, on the other hand, hoped that the National Socialist rule would come to an end soon and that they would be able to return to Germany, with which they continued to feel connected. Thus, the urban planner Martin Wagner described his stay in Istanbul as a “first-class waiting room.” 1919Letter Martin Wagner to Ernst May 1935. HL 7/510x-7/511x, Istanbul, Kadiköy-Moda, Moda-Köskü, on 2 Dec. 1935.

The German-speaking community of new immigrants took advantage of the infrastructure already in place and created their own academic, musical, and friendship networks. This cannot be explained only by the unwillingness to open up to Istanbul society. For a new beginning in Istanbul exile, this was very important for many reasons: the country under Atatürk was undergoing radical change and was dominated by an atmosphere of tension and all-round mistrust, as emigrant Lieselotte Diekmann describes. Constant surveillance by the Reich German authorities as well as the Turkish secret police was the rule. The modernization policy, which entrusted Germans with executive positions without preparing the Turkish environment, did the rest to spread further distrust and favoritism. The privileged treatment of Turkish staff, who were paid less or even dismissed to make room for German professors, led to resentment among these colleagues.

“The hospitals were Turkish, the nurses, the under-doctors, the assistants were Turkish – only at the top enthroned and suffered lonely the foreign professor, who was mostly a capacity, but whose instructions all silently resisted.” 2020Liselotte Dieckmann: Akademische Emigrantenin der Türkei, In: Egon Schwartz/Matthias Wegner (eds.) 1964: Verbannung. Aufzeichnungen detuscher Schriftsteller im Exil.Hamburg: Christian Wegner Verlag, pp. 122-126, quote p. 124.

Cultural networks also often replaced political activism, which the Turkish side expressly prohibited. For the country had long tried to remain neutral during World War II and not to see the admission program for those displaced from Germany as an expression of its opposition to (Nazi) Germany. After all, the German Reich was Turkey’s most important economic partner and political ties remained close. Expulsions in case of non-observance of the ban on leaving the country were not only threatened, but also carried out. But activism could not be completely suppressed. Thus, the communist circle around the politically active architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897-2000) became politically active despite the dangers.

Figure 4: Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky and Wilhelm Schütte in Istanbul, 1938. © Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, Erinnerungen aus dem Widerstand, ed. by Chup Friemert, Berlin: Volk und Welt, 1985, p. 49.

Within Istanbul’s German-speaking community life, support systems for a wide variety of social groups were established in the 1930s. The Emigrant Aid Committee of the Jewish Community in Istanbul is a prominent example here. But it was often individuals who helped new arrivals find job opportunities, housing, and often necessary psychological support. For example, a Jewish emigrant from Vienna, who owned a large textile store on Grand Rue de Pera in Istanbul, got involved by hiring emigrants or giving away clothing to needy refugees. Another individual example is the director of the German Hospital, Dr. Quincke, who provided financial support and free treatment.

However, wives of emigrant professors also often offered support in solidarity – in addition to the obligatory housework and care work. For the newly arrived (married) women, there were central contact persons in Istanbul who helped with the introduction to everyday life in Istanbul and employed emigrant women with sewing or other household chores. The couple Leonore and Kurt Kosswig, in whose house in Bebek emigrants regularly gathered for cultural events or “private academies,” is repeatedly mentioned as a central social hub. Here Kurt Kosswig also founded, together with other emigrants such as Ernst Reuter and contrary to the requirement not to engage in political activities, the “German Freedom League,” in which, among other things, a pamphlet entitled “What is to become” was prepared for the restoration of democracy in Germany. 2121Burcu Dogramaci; Rachel Lee, 2019: Refugee Artists, Architects and Intellectuals Beyond Europe in the 1930s and 1940s: Experiences of Exile in Istanbul and Bombay. ABE Journal (14-15). https://doi.org/10.4000/abe.5949 (Sept. 17, 2021); Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 257.

 

The house of the Kosswigs in the background. Private collection, courtesy of Burcu Dogramaci.

While support networks, as in Paris and Vilnius, are an expression of migrant resistance, they also point to the flip side of refugee migration: economic and legal insecurity, which only intensified as Turkish migration policies radicalized. “There were two kinds of emigrants,” Elfriede Alfandari, daughter of the Jewish bookseller Anton Karo, whose Deutsche Buchhandlung am Tünel was a permanent meeting place for exiles and anti-fascists, reminds us.

There were the rich, and there were the poor. […] The professors, […] they had it good, apart from the fact that they were certainly homesick or that they didn’t find the job opportunities they had in Germany. […] But there were so many who were doing very badly. And I also met them at my father’s. […] Many came, read the newspaper from morning to night, warmed themselves in the store. There were many who tried to commit suicide because they could go no further. […] People came here by paddle boat, went across the border, somehow they came. So you don’t know what it was at that time: this fear, this fear of life. No, you can’t even imagine it. 2222Interview by Anne Dietrich with Elfriede Alfandari, née Karon, Istanbul 02.12.1991. in: Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 264.

Precarity

While about 40 of the prominent Jewish and dozens of non-Jewish refugees and their relatives stayed in Turkey for less than two years, many of these non-celebrity refugees do not appear in Turkish statistics. All newly arrived foreigners:however, were required to register with the Aliens Police and apply for a personal identity card. “Obtaining such a card posed no difficulties for foreign professors appointed by the government,” recalled Jewish émigré Fritz Neumark, “but it did for some émigrés living in less favorable positions.” Restrictive regulations that required only Turkish candidates for many professions forced many refugees to stay illegally. People who (forcibly) evaded formalities faced constant arrest and expulsion. 2323Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 263. For all those who did not receive a permanent employment contract were practically permanently threatened with unemployment and thus deportation. 2424Sabine Mangold-Will 2014: Germans in Turkey 1933 – 1945. More than a History of Exile and Unilateral Modernization Transfer. https://www.bpb.de/internationales/europa/tuerkei/184978/deutsche-im-exil-tuerkei (05.05.2021).

The situation of the unprivileged worsened immensely from 1938 – the year of Atatürk’s death – when anti-Semitic and egalitarian policies in National Socialist Germany came to a head, increasing foreign policy pressure on Turkey. A marking obligation in passports of Jews was enacted. 2525Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 307. From now on, emigrants living in Turkey had to prove that they were not Jewish. This was the case, for example, of a teacher at the German School in Istanbul whose contract had expired in 1936 and who could only remain unmolested in the city and at the Galatasaray Lisesi thanks to the Istanbul bishop Roncalli: Roncalli had issued him a false baptismal certificate. Only “specialists” could obtain an exemption to stay in Turkey according to Article 3 of the secret decree. Thus, many emigrant professors were largely spared. 2626Corry Guttstadt, 2008: Turkey, the Jews and the Holocaust, Association A: Berlin, Hamburg, p. 231-32. But the fact that Turkey’s acceptance of German and Austrian persecutees was always vacant now became more than obvious.

With Secret Decree No. 2/9498, the Turkish government also prohibited “foreign Jews who are subject to restrictions in their home countries” from entering Turkey. From that point on, Jewish fugitives carrying the Nazi-stamped “J” in their passports could be intercepted at the border and turned away. A notorious no-man’s land was created in which many fugitives wandered for days until they eventually managed to cross the border and found (temporary) refuge on the Bosporus. 2727Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 283. Yet the fact that relatively little is known about their history underscores both Turkey’s lack of humanitarian helpfulness toward those persecuted under National Socialism and classist and fetishizing tendencies in the description of intellectual exiles in general refugee-migrant historiography.

The privileged German-speaking émigré professors had brought with them their families and often collaborators, including many women, who often lived in precarity. 2828Sabine Mangold-Will, 2014: Germans in Turkey 1933 – 1945. More than a History of Exile and Unilateral Modernization Transfer. https://www.bpb.de/internationales/europa/tuerkei/184978/deutsche-im-exil-tuerkei (05.05.2021). Even among the academic middle class in Turkey originating from Germany and Austria, there were only a few female emigrants, including medical-technical assistants, laboratory managers, and nurses. Chemistry, biology and various medical subjects were the fields in which most women worked. 2929Regine Erichsen mentions the number of 300 emigrated women in total, although these were not only academics. Erichsen estimates the number of the German emigrants in Turkey at a total of about 1000, including a total of about 300 academics. Regine Erichsen, 2005: Turkish Exile as a History of Women and their Contribution to the Transfer of Science to Turkey from 1933 to 1945, Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte 28(4): 337 – 353, see 339-341.

But there were also exceptions: Rosemarie Heyd-Burkart (1905-2002) established the Chair of Romance Philology and the Language Institute of the İstanbul Üniversitesi with Leo Spitzer (1887-1960). She also translated lectures by emigrant professors into French, which was common in Turkey, until they knew Turkish (or Turkish assistants with language skills provided translation help).

For some emigrant women, marriage to Turkish men was the only chance to acquire the right of residence. 3030Corry Guttstadt, 2008: Turkey, the Jews and the Holocaust, Association A: Berlin, Hamburg, p. 223. Many others, however, tried to find a way to get to the United States via Istanbul. Lotte Löwe (b. 1900), an associate of the Breslau chemist Fritz Arndt (1885-1969) in the Department of General Chemistry at Istanbul University, gave the following reason for these efforts:

My young colleagues and I, we had mostly been dismissed from assistant positions at German universities, which we had often held for a long time – I, for example, during 6 1/2 years – whereby I had been appointed as a civil servant for revocation after the first 2 years as a scheduled assistant. In Istanbul we were classified as ‘ilmi yardimci’ (scientific assistants). But we young German scientists – about 40-50 in number – had, with few exceptions, practically no chance of advancement as guest workers. 3131Regine Erichsen, 2005: Turkish Exile as a History of Women and their Contribution to the Transfer of Science to Turkey from 1933 to 1945, Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte 28(4): 337 – 353, see pp. 344-345, quote 344.

While, among other things, the poor career opportunities for women gave reason to leave Turkey independently, the situation worsened in 1941, when the majority of Jewish emigrants lost their German citizenship: “A not inconsiderable number of them were expelled from the country on mostly flimsy charges”. 3232Fritz Neumark quoted in Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 308.

When the second five-year contracts for foreign scholars expired in 1943, a large group was again expelled from the country by scholars who had become stateless in the meantime. 3333Corry Guttstadt 2008: Turkey, the Jews and the Holocaust, Association A: Berlin, p. 233; Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 307.

With the termination of Turkish neutrality and the official declaration of war in the fall of 1944, all diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany were severed. 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.

More fortunate ones had already turned their backs on Istanbul by this time, mostly to make a new start in the USA, Palestine or Russia. In fact, the worsening migration policy had a particular impact on the duration of the period of refuge in Istanbul. Some of the Nazi refugees stayed forever in the country that offered them protection from persecution and new opportunities; for others, Turkey was only a stopover. Some lost their residence status, others were deported, especially after the war began. There were also deaths due to illness or old age, as occurred, for example, for the architect Bruno Taut, or (attempted) suicides. The majority of those who had waited out the end of the war in Turkey in one of the three internment camps to which they were resettled after Turkey later took sides against Germany in the war, mostly went back to Germany or Austria after 1945. Some, like Erich Auerbach, only then migrated further to the USA. 3434Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 261.

Istanbul transfer port: uncertain transit to Palestine

Turkey, like the overwhelming majority of states around the world, did not allow unimpeded immigration of Jews and also allowed transit through the country only under conditions. Nevertheless, Turkey became a major transit country to Palestine even before the war began. Seemingly independent of the homogeneously diverse, German-Jewish elite refugees, Jewish aid organizations worked for Jewish refugee groups from Eastern and Southern/Eastern Europe, who increasingly sought to escape an imminent or existing German occupation – also via Istanbul and from here increasingly to Palestine.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC or Joint for short) in Istanbul worked, among other things, to support Jews stranded here from Romania, where many Polish Jews were also trying to continue their journey, Bulgaria, Hungary, the Balkans, Ukraine or Italy, and, if possible, to smuggle them on to Palestine. 3535Linda G. Levi, 2020: “Family Searching and Tracing Services of JDC in the Second World War Era,” in Levi, Linda G.; Panek, Isabel; Borggräfe, Henning; Höschler, Christian (eds.): Tracing and Documenting Nazi Victims, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, p. 59-94, here: 69. The Joint also advocated for non-Jewish Russian refugees who, as mentioned, had come to Turkey as a result of the Russian Revolution and Civil War in the early 1920s. 3636JDC Archives, NY_AR3344_1047_2of2-1052_1of2_00743. While most moved on to the West during the 1920s, others stayed. In what was supposed to be a thoroughly secular Turkey, they now came under pressure in the 1930s and 1940s to convert to Islam for Turkish citizenship. 3737For more on this, see Pınar Üre, “Remnants of empires: Russian refugees and citizenship regime in Turkey, 1923-1938,” Middle Eastern Studies 56:2 (2020): p. 207-221.

Traugott Fuchs, Istanbul before 1945, Boats, from index charcoal drawings, 25 © Hermann Fuchs.

The escape route to Palestine usually led across the Black Sea, the Bosporus dividing Istanbul, across the Sea of Marmara to the Mediterranean. At first, the “refugee business” flourished for the captains of the Black Sea ships. The start of the war made this immensely difficult, as the Turkish government refused to allow any more refugee ships to pass through the Bosporus or enter its ports. The Turkish side feared an “onslaught” of refugees who might decide to stay, triggering a “refugee crisis.” 3838JDC Archives, NY_AR3344_1047_2of2-1052_1of2_00658. The Struma disaster must not go unmentioned here: On February 24, 1942, a Soviet submarine sank the ship MV Struma with nearly 800 Jewish refugees on board. It had arrived in Istanbul from Constanţa, Romania, to continue its journey to the British Mandate of Palestine. Turkish authorities towed the Struma back out through the Bosphorus to the coast of Şile in northern Istanbul, where disaster struck shortly thereafter.

Nonetheless, fugitives continued to make their way toward Istanbul on small unsafe boats. This was – as it is today – exceedingly dangerous. Henriette K. Buchman, the secretary of the Joint’s Committee on Poland & Eastern Europe, alerted the United Roumanian Jews of America Foundation in October 1942:

Dear Mr. Sonnenreich:

Knowing of your interest in problems affecting Roumanian Jews, we wish to inform you of a cable we received from the grand Rabbi of Turkey concerning the situation of two groups of 144 Roumanian Jews now in Turkey. One group of 120 fled from Roumania on a small vessel which was shipwrecked near Istanbul on October 4th. The passengers were saved by the Turkish authorities, but have lost all of their possessions and are in desperate straits. The remaining 24 refugees were likewise shipwrecked on the Turkish coast two months ago, and are in the same situation. The Grand Rabbi appealed for assistance in [sic] their behalf, and I am sure you will be glad to know that the Joint Distribution Committee appropriated an emergency grant of $5,000. to meet the immediate requirements of these unfortunate people. What further aid we may be able to extend in this situation, naturally depends upon our income from the United Jewish Appeal and other appeals for aid which confront us from all parts of the world. 3939JDC Archives, NY_AR3344_1047_2of2-1052_1of2_00864.

In February 1941, at the urging of the Joint 4040JDC Archives, NY_AR3344_1047_2of2-1052_1of2_00658. and others, the Turkish National Assembly had passed a transit law that allowed Jewish aid organizations to smuggle Jews through Turkey if they had entry permits for Palestine or other countries. An internal report of the Joint in the spring of 1941 recorded the following:

During the eight months from August 1940 to April 1941 over 3800 immigrants arrived in Palestine via Turkey, 1688 coming from Rumania, 1100 from Kaunas, 273 from Yugoslavia, 90 from Moscow and 250 from Istanbul itself. 4141NY_AR3344_1047_2of2-1052_1of2_00658.

Historian Stanford J. Shaw increased these numbers to probably too modest 4,400 people who were routed through the country in 1941 under the control of the Turkish police on their way from Constanza via Istanbul, but without being granted a longer stay. The War Refugee Board, with the help of Ira Hischberg, built and secured rescue routes through Turkey. 4242Kurt R. Großmann, 1969: Emigration. Die Geschichte der Hitler-Flüchtlinge 1933-1945, Frankfurt a.M., p. 288. In this context, Istanbul, along with Geneva, is mentioned as one of the largest rescue centers during World War II and even shortly after 1945. 4343Cf. Stanford J. Shaw, 1993: Turkey and the Holocaust: Turkey’s Role in Rescuing Turkish and European Jewry from Nazi Persecution, 1933–1945. New York: New York University Press, p. 255.

In Conflict: Nationalist Interests and the Stubbornness of Migrant Life

Thus, productive and destructive forces collided in the metropolis on the Bosphorus during the 1930s/40s: Western Orientalism and scientific excellence, emigration pressure, Jewish transnational aid structures and local migrant activism, as well as Turkish nationalism and utilitarianism, restrictive migration and transit policies, urban infrastructure and helpfulness created a space that meant salvation for many, producing, among other things, unique cultural and scientific products, but was also accompanied by persecution and a rise in anti-Semitism.

Emigration was conditioned by the nationalist self-interests of Turkey and Germany and their tensions; refuge, as also analyzed in the case of France and Lithuania, was often tied to its usefulness in the host state. But migrant life also took place and continues to take place independently of these specifications, against them or bypassing them. It is self-willed and at times difficult to govern and control.

 

    Footnotes

  • 2Klaus Kreiser, 2014: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. BpB (11.08.2014). https://www.bpb.de/internationales/europa/tuerkei/184970/atatuerk (16.09.2021).
  • 3P. Schwartz (ed. and introduced by Helge Peukert), 1995: Notgemeinschaft. Zur Emigration deutscher Wissenschaftler nach 1933 in die Türkei, Marburg.
  • 4See Ekaterina Aygün, 2021: A Walk Through the Russian “Montparnasse” in Istanbul. https://walks.metromod.net/walks.p/17.m/istanbul (Sept. 16, 2021).
  • 5Cf. Sabine Mangold-Will, 2014: Germans in Turkey, 1933-1945. Bpb (05.09.2014). https://www.bpb.de/internationales/europa/tuerkei/184978/deutsche-im-exil-tuerkei (16.09.2021).
  • 6Ernst E. Hirsch at a Turkish government reception on October 28, 1938, Ernst E. Hirsch, 1982: Aus des Kaisers Zeiten durch die Weimarer Republik in das Land Atatürks. An untimely autobiography, J. Schweitzer Verlag: Munich, p. 191.
  • 7For 1939, the head of the Economic Policy Department of the Foreign Office put the number of Germans working in “official and semi-official” positions in Turkey at 2000. Here, emigrants were counted and appropriated for the prestige of ‘Germanness’ abroad – even if they were expatriated at the same time because of political activities and because of their Jewishness, or rather because of the German ‘racialized legislation.’ Cf: Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 261-63.
  • 8Fritz Neumark, 1980: Zuflucht am Bosporus. Deutsche Gelehrte, Politiker und Künstler in der Emigration 1933-1953, Verlag Josef Knecht, Frankfurt am Main, p. 23-27.
  • 9Corry Guttstadt, 2008: Turkey, the Jews and the Holocaust, Association A: Berlin, Hamburg, p. 220; cf. Sabine Mangold-Will, 2014: Germans in Turkey, 1933-1945. Bpb (05.09.2014). https://www.bpb.de/internationales/europa/tuerkei/184978/deutsche-im-exil-tuerkei (16.09.2021).
  • 10Kemal Bozay, 2001: Exile Turkey. Ein Forschungsbeitrag zur deutschsprachigen Emigration in der Türkei (1933-1945), Münster, p. 97; Kader Konuk, 2010: East West Mimesis. Auerbach in Turkey, Stanford, p. 175.
  • 11Cf. Sabine Mangold-Will, 2014: Deutsche in der Türkei, 1933-1945. Bpb (05.09.2014). https://www.bpb.de/internationales/europa/tuerkei/184978/deutsche-im-exil-tuerkei (16.09.2021).
  • 12See Burcu Dogramaci; Rachel Lee, 2019: Refugee Artists, Architects and Intellectuals Beyond Europe in the 1930s and 1940s: Experiences of Exile in Istanbul and Bombay. ABE Journal (14-15). https://doi.org/10.4000/abe.5949 (17.09.2021).
  • 13Letter from Bruno Taut to Isaburo Ueno, 29.11.1936. Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts), Berlin, Bruno Taut Collection, (Bruno Taut Collection), No. 9, 439.
  • 14Philipp Schwartz, Istanbul 1933. Horst Widmann quotes Philipp Schwartz in: Exile and Educational Aid. Die deutschsprachige akademische Emigration in die Türkei nach 1933, Peter Land: Frankfurt a. M., 1973, p. 60.
  • 15Ernst E. Hirsch, 1982: Aus des Kaisers Zeiten durch die Weimarer Republik in das Land Atatürks. Eine unzeitgemäße Autobiographie, J. Schweitzer Verlag: Munich, quote p. 195.
  • 16Ernst E. Hirsch, 1982: Aus des Kaisers Zeiten durch die Weimarer Republik in das Land Atatürks. An Untimely Autobiography, J. Schweitzer Verlag: Munich, p. 196.
  • 17Fritz Neumark, 1980: Zuflucht am Bosporus. Deutsche Gelehrte, Politiker und Künstler in der Emigration 1933-1953, Verlag Josef Knecht, Frankfurt am Main, p. 8.
  • 18Sabine Mangold-Will, 2014: Germans in Turkey 1933 – 1945. More than a History of Exile and Unilateral Modernization Transfer. https://www.bpb.de/internationales/europa/tuerkei/184978/deutsche-im-exil-tuerkei (05.05.2021).
  • 19Letter Martin Wagner to Ernst May 1935. HL 7/510x-7/511x, Istanbul, Kadiköy-Moda, Moda-Köskü, on 2 Dec. 1935.
  • 20Liselotte Dieckmann: Akademische Emigrantenin der Türkei, In: Egon Schwartz/Matthias Wegner (eds.) 1964: Verbannung. Aufzeichnungen detuscher Schriftsteller im Exil.Hamburg: Christian Wegner Verlag, pp. 122-126, quote p. 124.
  • 21Burcu Dogramaci; Rachel Lee, 2019: Refugee Artists, Architects and Intellectuals Beyond Europe in the 1930s and 1940s: Experiences of Exile in Istanbul and Bombay. ABE Journal (14-15). https://doi.org/10.4000/abe.5949 (Sept. 17, 2021); Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 257.
  • 22Interview by Anne Dietrich with Elfriede Alfandari, née Karon, Istanbul 02.12.1991. in: Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 264.
  • 23Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 263.
  • 24Sabine Mangold-Will 2014: Germans in Turkey 1933 – 1945. More than a History of Exile and Unilateral Modernization Transfer. https://www.bpb.de/internationales/europa/tuerkei/184978/deutsche-im-exil-tuerkei (05.05.2021).
  • 25Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 307.
  • 26Corry Guttstadt, 2008: Turkey, the Jews and the Holocaust, Association A: Berlin, Hamburg, p. 231-32.
  • 27Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 283.
  • 28Sabine Mangold-Will, 2014: Germans in Turkey 1933 – 1945. More than a History of Exile and Unilateral Modernization Transfer. https://www.bpb.de/internationales/europa/tuerkei/184978/deutsche-im-exil-tuerkei (05.05.2021).
  • 29Regine Erichsen mentions the number of 300 emigrated women in total, although these were not only academics. Erichsen estimates the number of the German emigrants in Turkey at a total of about 1000, including a total of about 300 academics. Regine Erichsen, 2005: Turkish Exile as a History of Women and their Contribution to the Transfer of Science to Turkey from 1933 to 1945, Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte 28(4): 337 – 353, see 339-341.
  • 30Corry Guttstadt, 2008: Turkey, the Jews and the Holocaust, Association A: Berlin, Hamburg, p. 223.
  • 31Regine Erichsen, 2005: Turkish Exile as a History of Women and their Contribution to the Transfer of Science to Turkey from 1933 to 1945, Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte 28(4): 337 – 353, see pp. 344-345, quote 344.
  • 32Fritz Neumark quoted in Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 308.
  • 33Corry Guttstadt 2008: Turkey, the Jews and the Holocaust, Association A: Berlin, p. 233; Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 307.
  • 34Anne Dietrich, 1998: Deutschsein in Istanbul. Nationalization and Orientation in the German-Speaking Community from 1843 to 1956. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 261.
  • 35Linda G. Levi, 2020: “Family Searching and Tracing Services of JDC in the Second World War Era,” in Levi, Linda G.; Panek, Isabel; Borggräfe, Henning; Höschler, Christian (eds.): Tracing and Documenting Nazi Victims, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, p. 59-94, here: 69.
  • 36JDC Archives, NY_AR3344_1047_2of2-1052_1of2_00743.
  • 37For more on this, see Pınar Üre, “Remnants of empires: Russian refugees and citizenship regime in Turkey, 1923-1938,” Middle Eastern Studies 56:2 (2020): p. 207-221.
  • 38JDC Archives, NY_AR3344_1047_2of2-1052_1of2_00658.
  • 39JDC Archives, NY_AR3344_1047_2of2-1052_1of2_00864.
  • 40JDC Archives, NY_AR3344_1047_2of2-1052_1of2_00658.
  • 41NY_AR3344_1047_2of2-1052_1of2_00658.
  • 42Kurt R. Großmann, 1969: Emigration. Die Geschichte der Hitler-Flüchtlinge 1933-1945, Frankfurt a.M., p. 288.
  • 43Cf. Stanford J. Shaw, 1993: Turkey and the Holocaust: Turkey’s Role in Rescuing Turkish and European Jewry from Nazi Persecution, 1933–1945. New York: New York University Press, p. 255.