Tributes paid to late ‘Turkish Schindler,’ Selahattin Ulkumen

ISTANBUL (Combined reports) – Government officials and religious leaders in Turkey yesterday paid tribute to a retired Turkish diplomat – known as the «Turkish Schindler» for saving dozens of Jews from being sent to Nazi concentration camps during World War II – who died of cardiac arrest at the age of 89 on Saturday. Selahattin Ulkumen, who was buried on Monday in Istanbul, has received various acknowledgements from Jewish organizations for preventing German occupying officers from deporting 42 Turkish Jewish families to Auschwitz when he was Turkey’s consul-general on Rhodes in 1944. The 30-year-old Ulkumen had demanded that the particular individuals be released after convincing Gestapo officers that, according to Turkish law, spouses of Turkish citizens had equal citizenship rights. But Ulkumen paid for his initiative and bravery when German forces – on discovering that no such law existed and that he had fabricated it in order to save Jews from deportation – bombed his home in retaliation, seriously injuring his heavily pregnant wife who died a week after giving birth to the couple’s son Ufuk. The remaining Jews on the island, some 1,700, were deported to Auschwitz. Speaking to reporters at Ulkumen’s funeral, Ufuk quoted his father as saying: «I carried out my duty as a human being. If I were to live my life again, I would do exactly the same thing.» The heroism displayed by Ulkumen and another two Turkish diplomats, Necdet Kent and Namik Kemal Yolga, were honored with the Supreme Service Medal – Turkey’s highest honor – as well as a special medal for saving Jews from deportation to concentration camps. The three diplomats were known as the «Turkish Schindlers» – after Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist whose efforts to save more than 1,000 Jews from Nazi death camps were recounted in Steven Spielberg’s film «Schindler’s List.» In 1990, Ulkumen was awarded the title of Righteous Among Nations by the Jerusalem Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. «By showing courage, self-sacrifice and exemplary attitude, and for saving from sure death a group of our Jewish citizens from the Nazis… he has put his name in history,» Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul wrote in a letter of condolence to Ulkumen’s son – chief of protocol at the United Nation’s office in Geneva – which was made public yesterday. Ulkumen displayed «superior efforts to save Turkish Jews despite the difficult conditions… at great risk to his own life,» according to a statement from the Chief Rabbi’s office on behalf of Turkey’s tiny Jewish community. (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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