Interview with Corry Guttstadt Turkey, the Jews and the Holocaust.
Turkologist Corry Guttstadt has published a comprehensive study of the behaviour of the Turkish government towards its Jewish citizens during the Holocaust. In doing so, she has investigated a chapter of twentieth-century history that has thus far been all but neglected by international Holocaust research. Sonja Galler spoke to her about her findings
| Much is made of the fact that there are approximately 20,000 Jews in Turkey today, a figure that is frequently held up as evidence of the country’s tolerant attitude towards its Jewish minority. It is often claimed that this success story began when persecuted Sephardic Jews found refuge in the Ottoman Empire, the forerunner of the modern Turkish state …
Corry Guttstadt: Well, there are currently over 20,000 Jews in Iran too. A number alone is not necessarily a reliable indication of whether somewhere is safe or free from anti-Semitism. As far as Turkey is concerned, it is important to emphasise that only 20,000 Jews now live in the country. That’s in stark contrast to the estimated 120,000 to 150,000 that lived in the region at the end of the First World War. Both before and after the Second World War, and most particularly after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the vast majority of Jews left Turkey. This was a reversal of the trend of previous centuries.
Over the course of many centuries, the Ottoman Empire was an immigration destination for Jews fleeing the Reconquista in Spain and pogroms in Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, to portray the Ottoman Empire as a “multicultural paradise” is absurd and ahistorical. As non-Muslims, the Jews were subject to countless constraints. Like the Christians, they had to pay a poll tax and were obliged to behave in a submissive manner towards Muslims. Moreover, it must be said that there were numerous fluctuations in the fortunes of the Jews in the 600-year history of the Ottoman Empire.