‘Turkish Schindler’ dies at 97
A prominent figure of the Turkish Jewish congregation, well-known for his fight against the German Nazis in the 1940s to save the Jewish captives from concentration camps, has died in France at the age of 97.
Leaving behind a life full of struggle similar to the one depicted in the famous Hollywood movie “Schindler’s List,” Raphael Esrail will be laid to rest in funeral service in the French city of Biarritz next week.
Esrail was born in his family’s country house in the Aegean province of Manisa on May 10, 1925. A year later, his parents migrated to Lyon, France, with him, leaving all the properties in Manisa and the neighboring province of İzmir to the other members of the family.
“Esrail’s struggle against the Germans began in 1943 when he joined the resistance movement against the Nazis,” Pınar Kılavuz, a Turkish academic from the French Sorbonne University, told the daily Hürriyet on Jan. 25.
Kılavuz, who is also the Paris correspondent of Shalom, a Jewish weekly newspaper published in Turkey since 1947, said that “Esrail’s mission was to organize fake identification cards for the Jews to prevent them from being taken to a concentration camp.”
Nazis operated more than a thousand prison camps between 1933 and 1945 on their own territory and in parts of German-occupied Europe.
The exact number of the Jews he and his friends saved in movie-like operations is unknown. “Schindler’s List” is a 1993 Hollywood movie, depicting the life of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved more than a thousand Jewish refugees from the Holocaust by employing them in his factories.
According to Kılavuz, Esrail was captured on Jan. 8, 1944, by the Nazi police and was transferred to the Drancy camp, a prison camp outside of Paris, where he met Liliane, the “love of his life.”
The Nazis then took Esrail with hundreds of other Jewish captives to the Auschwitz camp in Poland. Of 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, 1.1 million were murdered. After a series of unsuccessful escape attempts, Esrail stayed in Auschwitz until May 1, 1945, when the Second World War was over and the camp was emptied.
Marrying with Liliane in 1948, Esrail penned an autobiography about his days in concentration camps in the 1980s and established the Association of the Auschwitz Expatriates.
“He passed away two years after his wife’s death in May 2020,” Kılavuz said.
The pavilion which was once his parents’ main house in İzmir’s Urla district is now being used as the local municipality’s guest house.