Germany: Inspired by “Turkish Schindler”, Turks and Jews in Germany find common grounds

Germany: Inspired by "Turkish Schindler", Turks and Jews in Germany find common grounds

Selahattin Ülkümen, who died on 7 June 2003 in Istanbul aged 89, was the Turkish Consul General on the island of Rhodes, where he saved 42 Jewish families from being sent to a Nazi death camp during the Second World War.


Ülkümen's heroic acts have meanwhile become an inspiration for a completely different project. Germany's Jewish community, which only numbered 30,000 people after the Shoa, has seen substantial growth during the last 15 years due to the arrival of 190,000 Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In addition, roughly 2,5 million Turks live in Germany today. However, co-operation between the Jewish and the Turkish community has only recently been started by a group of young activists, who are intending to build on the long standing Turkish-Jewish friendship, which goes back to the days when Turkey admitted 150.000 Jews who escaped religious persecution in Spain in the year 1492.

The new turkish-jewish group, the "Ülkümen-Sarfati Society", which also seeks to actively support Turkish-Israeli relations, carries the names of the "Turkish Schindler" and Rabbi Itzchak Sarfati, who lived in the 15th century and became famous for his letter to the Jews of Europe asking them to leave Europe for Turkey to escape religious persecution by the Christian Church and medieval rulers.

The idea of a turkish-jewish co-operation was originally the brainchild of Kemal (24), a turkish student activist, and Marc (25), who was active in the jewish youth center in Cologne (Köln) and in the zionist youth movement in Germany. They were later joined by Daniela (24), a young German woman with excellent Hebrew language skills. She has worked and studied in Israel and has devoted her academic studies to international relations with a focus on Israel and the Middle East.

Among the main goals of this "joint venture" is the promotion of tolerance and dialogue between the different cultures in Germany as well as the furtherance of common interests of the Turkish and the Jewish community, like a successful absorbation of immigrants into German society and the strengthening of economic and political ties between Germany on the one hand side and Israel and Turkey on the other side. For this purpose, the society works with a variety of German academics and polticians from all major political parties. The society plans to bring Naim Avigdor Güleryüz, the Director of the Jewish Museum in Istanbul, to Germany for an inaugural lecture on the history of Turkish Jews and Turkish-Jewish relations in May 2006.

Currently, Turkey and Israel do a record $2 billion trade a year in non-military goods. In addition, 300,000 Israeli tourists annually spend about $250 million in Turkey. Military cooperation also remains strong and is a major factor of stability in the Middle East.

Nowadays, when friends are hard to find, the continuing close relations between Israel and Turkey are all the more remarkable, and welcome. The Jewish and Turkish diasporas are also natural partners. They are the link between two democratic states with unique peoples who are both not completely accepted in either the Middle East or Europe.

Source: Ulkumen-Sarfati, h/t Turkish Digest

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