Turks are aware of the Holocaust

Turks are aware of the Holocaust

The airing on Turkish state television of Claude Lanzmann’s “Shoah,” the famous documentary on the Holocaust, elicited a lot of interest from the international media.

One might easily get the impression from what was written that Turks were unaware of what happened to the Jews and are only now learning about it. The fact is, however, that Turks have known about the Holocaust for a long time both academically and in terms of popular knowledge by means of films like Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” for example, which hit the big screen in Turkey in March 1994, shortly after it was released in 1993. Likewise, Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” was shown in 2003. These are just two films we mention here for the sake of brevity. 

But there is more to it than that. More and more Turks are aware of the Holocaust through works like Ayse Kulin’s 2002 novel “Nefes nefese” (Breathless), or Burak Cem Arlıel’s 2011 documentary, “Türk Pasaportu” (Turkish Passport), both about Turkish diplomats who helped save Jews during World War II. 

One of those, Selahattin Ülkümen, is honored today as one of the “Righteous among the Nations” at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial. Other Turkish diplomats who helped Jews in peril were Necdet Kent (Father of Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent), Namik Kemal Yolga and Behiç Erkin.

Neither have Turks forgotten the “Struma Tragedy” – which some even in Israel use against Turkey today out of anger, even though it is known that it was Britain that pressed the Turkish government at the time not to allow Jewish refugees on that ill-fated ship to land on the grounds they would move to Palestine from there. Turkish TV has also aired documentaries on this. 

In fact, looked at from the perspective of those concerned about preserving the memory of the Holocaust, it is developments in Europe, and especially in Germany, that should be worrying. A recent survey in Germany has shown that “one in five young Germans has no idea that Auschwitz was a Nazi death camp.” According to the German magazine Stern, Auschwitz also means nothing to 21 percent of 18 to 29 year olds.

Meanwhile AFP informs us that, according to a report by independent experts commissioned by the German Parliament, “one in five Germans is latently anti-Semitic.” If there is any truth to these findings it means that it will take just one generation or two before Germany starts rewriting the history of the Holocaust under public pressure, unless, that is, measures are taken against this ignorance. 

In the meantime Austrian neo-Nazis have created outrage among the Jewish people and their sympathizers for organizing a ball for their European ilk on the very day that the Holocaust was being commemorated. Yes, there were protests in Austria, but the number of those who spoke out against the ball was so small compared to the gravity of the situation that this in itself is appalling in a country with a Nazi past like Austria’s.

Incidentally, how many people today know that the first show of force by the Austrian Nazi party was in 1933, on the 250th anniversary of 1683, when the Ottomans failed to conquer Vienna? Interesting that the anti-Semites of the past have turned into the Turk-hating neo-Nazis of today (who are apparently no less anti-Semitic than their fathers and grandfathers).

Neither is it clear why Germany has allowed a quarter of its young population to remain ignorant about the Holocaust and why the Austrian authorities are allowing neo-Nazism to spread like this. 

So the real surprise vis a vis Holocaust remembrance is not in what is happening in Turkey but what is happening in Europe.