German Scientists' Exile in Turkey

The picture of Turkey in the mind of the German public is still largely dominated by the labor migration of the 1960s and 1970s. The integration performance of these so-called "Gastarbeiter" and their families is generally considered to be quite problematic, thereby  creating a negative image of their country of origin.

Plus, for many years, especially in the 1990s, Germany was a mayor destination for asylum seekers from Turkey, especially for individuals of Kurdish origin.

Architect Clemens Holzmeister.

This development underlined the negative image of Turkey in German media and society. It has largely been forgotten that only a few decades before, the development totally went in the opposite direction. Turkey gave asylum and work to Germans in a very generous way.

The policy of the National Socialist-Regime had several phases. The repression against Germans of Jewish heritage started directly after Hitler's seizure of power in 1933 through the banning of all "non -Aryans" from the German civil service.

Thus began the exclusion of Jews from all areas of political, social and cultural life. So the wave of emigration in question, which mainly consistent of scientists formerly employed by German universities, started as early as 1933.

At the same time, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was running his modernization Program in Turkey. As a result of such a modification, secularism, one of the fundamentals of Kemalism, signifying the complete separation of government and religious affairs, was adopted. Until the beginning of the 19th century, several educational systems existed in the Ottoman Empire.

Ataturk observed that such systems dominant at Muslim theological schools did not meet the needs of the society. It was essential to establish a new educational system similar to western models. Thus the existing system was changed.
Fritz Neumark, formerly Professor of Economics at Frankfurt University, joined the staff of Istanbul University.

In 1933 a university reform was introduced, and here, the emigration of the Jewish Germans was a development perfectly fitting the intention of the Government in Turkey. The Germans were needed to push the reform of the University system in Turkey forward.

After Ataturk's death in 1938, his successor Ismet Inonu continued his policy. Turkey as a target for emigrating German scientist, artists and architects, often of Jewish origin, tends to be widely unknown not only on the international level, but also by the German public.

The names that are linked to the story are nevertheless well known: Physician Rudolf Nissen, Orientalist Helmut Ritter, Ernst E. Hirsch, economist Dankwart Rustow, Fritz Neumark, later he became mayor of Berlin, Ernst Reuter, composer Paul Hindemith, architect Clemens Holzmeister - they all not only survived the Third Reich in Istanbul and Ankara, but also helped to realize Kemal Atatürks ambitious modernization program for the Turkish state and society.

It was only in 1945, after the end of the Second World War, that fundamental political changes took place in Turkey: The opening to a multiparty system and the turn towards democracy. For the German emigrants in Turkey, a new phase began as well. Most of them left the country.

Some of them returned to Germany, but the majority received chairs at universities abroad, especially in the U.S. Only few scholars stayed in Turkey.

One should not only consider the contributions of these scholars to the development of the Turkish university system and society, but also the benefits they themselves received from their stay.

The Centre for Studies on Turkey has edited the most important historical document on the exile of Germans in Turkey during the Nazi era, the so called "Scurla Report". 
Famous musician Paul Hindemith.

Herbert  Scurla was sent to Istanbul and Ankara in 1939 by the government of the Third Reich to report on the activities of the German scientists in Turkey.

This document gives the most detailed information on the work these Germans were doing in Turkey and is, despite its original purpose, of great value to get a picture about the large extent to which modern Turkey was influenced by the exile of German scientists and artists.

This story needs attention, especially in a time when the "clash of Civilizations" often is promoted in public opinion.

(May 2006, 20th Issue)

Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07
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