Turkey's Schindlers
1700 Words

Sulo Lahti and his wife Little Annie enjoy entertaining. They lived on a small farm just outside of Clatskanie in a locality called Quincy. Some years back, Sulo sheet rocked and paneled part of his barn. He thought it would be a great place to invite friends over to play cards and drink some of his home brewed wine. Annie had other Ideas. Their house was very small and Sulo's winery/barn provided the family with ample space to entertain.   

Toivo Kantor was tall and thin, he had red hair, cheeks full of freckles and a huge infectious grin.  Toivo worked at Port Westward as an Engineer. He was a fairly recent graduate of Minnesota's College of Science Engineering and Technology, and until last year had never been out of his home state. Toivo first met Sulo and Annie while buying a TV dinner at the Quincy store.  He quickly made friends with them. Annie was not about to let anyone, particularly bachelors, eat TV dinners. Annie decided that she and Sulo needed to help Toivo gain some weight and find himself an eligible lady friend. Toivo was unique in Clatskanie, a community with a large Finnish population. Toivo considered himself a Fin, but he was not a Lutheran or a Catholic. Toivo was proud to call himself a Finnish Jew.

Today, Toivo greeted the Lahti's with a lady friend of his own.
"Let me introduce you to a friend from Port Westward; Ayla Ülkümen. She's an engineer that works with me."

Ayla had pale skin with light brown, almost blond hair, and very blue eyes. She stood about five three. By comparison, tall, thin Toivo seemed to tower over her.

Ayla smiled and was greeted with smiles from both Sulo and Annie. 

"You just made it in time for dinner" beamed Annie, "I was just about ready to cut into a baked ham."

Ayla frowned. "Oh dear, I can't eat ham."

"Neither does Toivo" said Annie. "I bought a turkey ham. Are you Jewish like Toivo?"

Ayla laughed. "No, I'm not Jewish at all. My family is from Turkey and I'm Muslim. I think that my eating a 'turkey ham" would be most appropriate. I'm very pleased to be able to dine with you." 

Ayla was an instant hit with the Lahti's four year old daughter Emmi, who insisted on giving her a guided tour of her play room, which was also in the barn.

"You have two homes here" joked Ayla

"It almost seems like it" answered Annie. "I think we spend more time out here than in the house. Please come on in, we need to sit down for diner, before it gets cold."

A wonderful meal was enjoyed by all. After dinner, Annie served up a fresh baked apple pie. Sulo and Toivo sampled a bottle of Sulo's elderberry wine, while Ayla, Annie and the Lahti's four year old enjoyed strawberry lemonades. 

Sulo smiled at Ayla. "I have never met any Moslems before. I am rather surprised that you would have a Jewish friend."

Ayla giggled. "I have lots of friends, many of whom are Jewish. I even have a few Christian friends."

"Have you been to Turkey?" asked Annie?

"Many times," Ayla replied. "My parents were born there, and we have a large family; most of them still live in Turkey."

Ayla continued, "You asked me about my Jewish friends. Please let me give you a little history lesson. Turkey has historically been a friend of the Jewish people. Turkey has long been a secular nation. Under the Ottomans, Jews and Christians lived side by side with Muslims for centuries. Jews have lived in Turkey since well before the time of Jesus. Many came to our country after the fall of Jerusalem in ACE 70. Before the Inquisition, Spain, Portugal, Italy and other countries in Europe, expelled their Jews.  Turkey welcomed them. They set up our financial system, businesses, our universities, and even contributed to our system of laws. During the early 1930's Hitler suspended the academic credentials of many Jewish intellectuals. Germany and Austria's loss was our gain. Turkey welcomed them. We would have had Albert Einstein too, only the United States made him a better offer.
The thing that I am most proud of is what Turkey did for the Jews during the Second World War. I don't believe that it is common knowledge among people here in America about the role that Turkey played. Turkey, like Switzerland, was neutral during that conflict. I am very proud of my great uncle, Selahattin Ülkümen. Uncle Selahatin was Turkish Consul-General to the Island of Rhodes. Italy claimed Rhodes as part of their "empire" but this all changed when Mussolini was deposed in July of 1943 and Italy made peace with the allies. Germany then decided to seize control of land that used to belong to Italy. The first thing that the Germans started to do when they arrived in Rhodes was to round up the Jews. Many Jews were Turkish citizens. Uncle Selahatin was responsible for stopping the Germans from doing this. He demanded that all Turkish subjects be released, and he demanded that the spouses and families of Turks also be released. He said that under Turkish law, anyone married to a Turk was a Turk. No such law existed, but he managed to bluff the Germans into believing so. He was responsible for saving a number of families, but at great cost to himself. The Germans bombed his house and killed my great aunt as she gave birth to my cousin Mehmet.   
In June of 1990 my Great Uncle Selahatin was honored by Israel. A tribute to him was installed on the Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles at the Yad Vashem. He was the first Moslem ever to be honored in this manner.
There are a number of other stories of Turks who have helped the Jews during World War Two. There is a movie called "Desperate Hours" that documents how Turks assisted Jews to flee the Holocaust in France and Germany. In Marseilles, Turkish Consul-General Necdet Kent personally rescued 80 Jews who were being shipped to a death camp. He boarded a cattle train filled with prisoners and refused to get off the train until the people were released to him. He said that they were Turkish citizens and that they were under the protection of his county. The Germans compiled."

Ayla finished her strawberry lemonade. Annie asked "Would you like a refill?"

"I would love to have more" said Ayla. "Your lemonade is wonderful." 

Sulo interjected: "Next year, I plan to make strawberry wine.   
"Do you think that your great uncle and this Consul-General Kent were sort of like Germany's Schindler?"

"In some ways they were," said Ayla. I remember seeing Spielberg's Schindler's List. It was a very good movie. I cried when I saw it. Oskar Schindler saved over a thousand Jews, and he did it at great risk to himself. Have you ever heard the story about Ambassador Behiç Erkin? He was the Turkish Ambassador to Paris, both before and after the German Invasion.   
He was a brilliant man and had many talents. He was disabled and had to be given special authorization to join the Ottoman Army Officer Corps. As a military officer he was awarded the German Gold Cross (First Degree) for his actions in the Gallipoli War. He also was given the Legione D'Honneur (First Degree) by the French. He became the personal friend of Mustafa Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. He was appointed by Atatürk to head the Turkish Railroad Administration during our war of independence and was credited with providing brilliant logistic support to all fronts. He was awarded the "Independence medal" and took a place in the newly established Parliament. He later took charge of Turkey's Public Works Ministry. It was my understanding that he was successful at everything that he did. Mustafa Atatürk gave Behiç the last name of Erkin, which means "Independent." He was recognized as a man who could think for himself and be trusted to make proper and right decisions.   

President Mustafa Atatürk died in 1938; he was replaced by Ismet Inönü. President Inönü sent Erkin to France as Ambassador. After France fell to the Germans, the Vichy government started rounding Jews up to be deported to concentration camps. At that time there were about 10,000 Turkish Jews in France. There were also another 10,000 Jews whose origin could not be identified as to whether they were Turkish or not.   Ambassador Erkin refused to let the Vichy French or Germans deport anyone to concentration camps. He refused to let them confiscate property of Turkish citizens of Jewish origin and granted Turkish citizenship to anyone who called themselves a Turk. He wore his German Golden Cross and stood up to the German authorities. He personally arranged to transport almost 20,000 people (mostly Jews) to the safety of Turkey.

"That is amazing", said Sulo. I never knew anything about this. I am surprised that they have not made a movie or written any books about him."

"They have" said Ayla. "I have heard that Hollywood is planning to make a movie called "The Ambassador." It is based on a book written by Behiç Erkin's grandson." 

Annie looked at Sulo and then Ayla. "I remember seeing Schindler's list. Schindler saved a thousand people, Behiç Erkin saved almost 20,000. It appears to me that compassion is not limited just to Christians. I wonder if our country would do what Turkey did?" 

Toivo smiled. "I am sure that we would."

"Would we?" Asked Annie, "Would we be willing to accept 10 or 20,000 untrained Mexicans into our country, or any other nationality for that matter, just because they were not being treated right? These people were not even the same religion as most of the Turks. I am not sure that we would be that compassionate."

Sulo Lahti and his wife Annie enjoy entertaining. They enjoy people, and people enjoy visiting with them. They appreciate the diversity that God has blessed us with. If you ever come to Clatskanie be sure to look them up. 

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