Asylum on the Bosphorus

“Asylum on the Bosphorus” is about the life of two German refugee children living in Istanbul during the Nazi era, a hitherto little known chapter in the history of German-Turkish relations. In this short excerpt of 83 minutes documentary film, Adelheid Scholz and Cornelius Bischof talk about their experiences with their family, in the internment camp and Nazi youth camp.

From autumn 1933, a considerable number of oppositional and Jewish professors, scientists and artists fled with their families to Istanbul and Ankara. The Kemalist republic founders needed scholars to complete their revolution, and academics fleeing from the Nazis needed a place of refuge. “Love at first sight” for both sides. Over 800 German refugees spent the war years in Turkey.

Based on this background, “Asylum on the Bosporus” actually tells the stories of its main protagonists: Adelheid Scholz, who was 75 years old at the time of the shooting, and Cornelius Bischoff, who had completed his 73rd year. In Istanbul – a vast, fascinating place for adventure for both children – Adelheid attended the German school there, Cornelius, the Austrian Catholic school.

Adelheid’s father, Prof. Gerhard Kessler, was an economist and was appointed to the University of Istanbul. He laid the foundations for rural cooperatives in Turkey and contributed significantly to the establishment of modern trade unions in the country. Meanwhile, the family went to pieces. His wife became bedridden, Adelheid’s older sister returned to Germany and became an official of the Nazi girls’ organization “League of German Girls” (Bund Deutscher Mädel). Afterwards, together with Nazi diplomats in Istanbul, she organized the “liberation” of the mother and Adelheid – the two sons of the family were resolute Nazi opponents. The three women arrived in Germany on 1st September 1939, the beginning of the Second World War.

Cornelius didn’t know that his mother was Jewish until he came to Turkey. His father, a social-democratic carpenter, found work in a shipyard in Istanbul. As Cornelius depicts, the Bischoff family was well off: “The world is on fire. While people were dying all over the world, we were enjoying ourselves on the Bosporus.” But when Turkey, after long hesitation, declared war in on former ally Germany in 1944, all German citizens, including the Bischoff family, were interned to the steppes of Anatolia, in the remote places of Kırşehir, Yozgat and Çorum.

The post-war experiences of Adelheid and Cornelius and cinematic encounters with their offspring also underline: “Once an exile, always exile”.

Written and directed by Nedim Hazar Bora

Director of photography: Pavel Schnabel

Produced by Troja Film Produktion, ZDF, Goethe Institut

The whole film can be watched on Youtube.

With kind permission from director Nedim Hazar for We Refugees Archive