Namık Kemal Yolga
Namık Kemal Yolga (1914 – 2001) was a Turkish diplomat and statesman, known as the Turkish Schindler. During World War II, Yolga was the Vice-Consul at the Turkish Embassy in Paris, France. His efforts to save the lives of Turkish Jews from the Nazi concentration camps earned him the title of "Turkish Schindler", and he received recognition from the Turkish and Israeli governments in the late 20th century.
Namık Kemal Yolga was posted to the Turkish Embassy in Paris in 1940 as the Vice-Consul, his first diplomatic post in a foreign country. Two months later the Nazis invaded and occupied France. They forced the roundup of Jews, sending those from the Paris area to the Drancy deportation camp. From there they were to be sent east to concentration camps.
Young Yolga saved Turkish Jews one by one from the Nazi authorities, by picking them up from Drancy, driving them in his own car and hiding them in safe places. In his autobiography, Yolga described his efforts as:
|“||Every time we learnt that a Turkish Jew was captured and sent to Drancy, the Turkish Embassy sent an ultimatum to the German Embassy in Paris and demanded his/her release, specifically pointing out that the Turkish Constitution does not discriminate its people for their race or religion, therefore Turkish Jews are Turkish nationals and Germans have no right to arrest them as Turkey was a neutral country during the war. Then I used to go to Drancy to pick him/her up with my car and put them in a safe house. As far as I know, only one Turkish Jew from Bordeaux was sent to a camp in Germany as the Turkish Embassy was not aware of his arrest at the time.||”|
In fact, according to Serge Klarsfeld's "Mémorial de la Déportation des Juifs de France", 1300 Turkish Jews, among which 939 officially recognized as Turkish by the Nazis, were deported.
Their fate depended entirely of the versatile decision of the Turkish bureau staff. According to the restrictive and anti-Jewish laws edicted by Turkey during the 30s, all the emigrated citizens who did not register regularly at the Consulates, or did not fulfill their military duty, lost their Turkish nationality, and this was the situation for the majority of the Jews.
Thanks to the efforts of the well known Auschwitz survivor Haim Vidal Sephiha, a Turkish Jew deported from Belgium, monuments, plaques and listings of Turkish Jews names are now present on the main extermination sites.
See also Benjamin Schatzma's "Journal d'un interné, Volume II", the works of historian and university scholar Esther Benbassa, and the article by Claude Wainstain on Necdet Kent, another "Turkish Schindler", whose biography seems also legendary.
Legacy and honors
- Yolga was honored by the "500. Yıl Vakfı" (Quincentennial Foundation) in 1998.
- Yolga, Selahattin Ülkümen and Necdet Kent were honored with Turkey's Supreme Service Medal for rescuing Jews during the Holocaust.
- Israel gave Yolga a special medal to recognize his work to save Jews during World War II.
- Gopin, Marc (2002). Holy War, Holy Peace. Oxford University Press. p. 242. ISBN 978-0-19-514650-9. Retrieved 2009-07-31.
- Tütüncü, Mehmet (2001). Turkish-Jewish Encounters. SOTA. p. 312. ISBN 978-90-804409-4-4. Retrieved 2009-07-31.
- Stanford J. Shaw, Turkey and the Holocaust: Turkey's Role in Rescuing Turkish and European Jewry from Nazi Persecution, 1933-1945, New York: New York University Press; London, MacMillan Press, 1993
- Stanford J. Shaw, The Jews of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic, New York: New York University Press