J. D. B. News Letter: Position of the Jews in Turkey
Menu JTA Search

J. D. B. News Letter: Position of the Jews in Turkey

Download PDF for this date

There is no anti-Semitism in Turkey today, but the attitude to the Jews is, nevertheless, as to an inferior race. A Jew in Turkey can serve in the army but cannot carry arms, even during service. He cannot hold either government or municipal office. He is not permitted to be a teacher of the Turkish language. He cannot be a librarian and is also deprived of the right to be a manager of any business firm.

All these discriminations exist today in Turkey, not because there is a spirit of anti-Semitism in the ranks of the government, but because the Jew in Turkey is considered a person who is not sufficiently educated and qualified to have the same rights as a Moslem citizen. He is being looked down upon just as is the negro in the United States. It is not that the average Turk holds a grudge against the Jew; he simply considers him a creature who has not reached the level of intelligence to merit equal treatment.

Strange as it is, the Jews in Turkey do not fight or resist this attitude. The Turkish Jew considers this treatment as very natural. No efforts have been made on the part of the Jewish leaders in Turkey to counteract this tradition. No complaint has ever developed for equal rights. No Jewish delegation has ever appeared before Kemal Pasha, the present modern dictator of Turkey, to submit to him any complaints with regard to the unjustified treatment against the Jews.

One need not live long in Turkey to realize that there is no Jewish leadership there at all. The Jewish community in Turkey,— once the highest and most flourishing Jewish community in the entire East,— has now been degraded to a point where no one takes an interest in organizing Jewish life. Istanbul, once counting eighty thousand Jews now is but a small, lifeless community, having no Rabbinate, no Jewish central organizations and even no Kehillah.

Similarly is the situation in Smyrna, now called Izmir. Only a few years ago there were forty thousand Jews in Izmir having eleven Synagogues and numerous philanthropic Jewish organizations in addition to the great number of educational institutions. Today Smyrna counts about fifteen thousand Jews only, one-half of its Synagogues being closed down and most of its institutions have no means of existence.

The Jews in Turkey today are all living with the hope of migrating some day to other countries. Many of them, the more prosperous ones especially have

(continued on page 4)

already left ; some for France, some for Italy and some for the United States. Others are migrating to the Balkan countries and to the countries of the near East.

There was a time, — right after the occupation of Palestine by the British Government, — when Zionism was a movement highly despised by the Turkish Jews. The average Turkish Jew being a Turkish patriot could not digest the fact that Palestine was actually taken away from Turkey. Even the Balfour Declaration which promised to establish Palestine as a Jewish National Home could not make the Turkish Jew change his mind in favor of England controlling Palestine. To him, Palestine was his country only when controlled by Turks. Today this hostile attitude towards Zionism and towards British rule in Palestine is gradually disappearing among the Jews in Turkey. The average Turkish Jew, even though remaining a Turkish patriot, is forgetting his grouches against Zionism and is only too glad of an opportunity to migrate to Palestine. The Turkish government, too, is not opposed to the existence of the Zionist movement in Turkey any more as it was the right after the war. The degradation of Jewish life in Turkey side by side with the upbuilding life in Palestine is therefore stimulating more nationalistic feelings among the Turkish Jews. They do not now see their future in Turkey but many of them see it clearly in the neighboring Palestine. Every steamer which sails from Istanbul and Smyrna is therefore carrying several Jewish families from these places to Palestine.

The superior attitude practiced in Turkey with regard to the Turkish Jew as an inferior creature is, however, not practiced with regard to the several thousand Russian Jews who have now made their homes in Turkey. These Russian Jews, most of whom had fled from Soviet Russia and the Communist revolution are being treated in Turkey as Europeans. They are looked upon, not as Jews, but as Germans, Frenchmen or any other of the European nations. They, too, cannot occupy public positions, but this is not because they are considered inferior, but simply because they are not Turkish citizens.

The several thousand families of Russian Jews meeting no hostility on the part of the government or the population is, nevertheless, not in normal relations with the Turkish Jew. The average Turkish Jew openly hates the intrusion of the Russian. The average Turkish Jew will never agree to his daughter marrying the son of a Russian Jew. He would not buy from a Russian Jew. He considers the Jew from Russia as a member of a different race and does not want to admit any racial connections, notwithstanding the fact that the Russian Jew is more intelligent and culturally superior to the Turkish Jew.

The several thousand families of Russian Jews which are residing in Turkey are therefore living an isolated life. They are isolated from their home country, Russia, and they are also isolated from the Jewish community of their new country — Turkey. They, too, are therefore thinking of migrating. They, too, are therefore, little by little, leaving; some for Palestine, others for France and other European countries.

The Jewish community of Turkey — once the most flourishing in the East — is now dying. The Jewish population is decreasing. Kemal Pasha, in modernizing Turkey for the Turks has failed to modernize life there also for the Jews. Kemal Pasha, modernizing life in Turkey has also failed to educate his people to understand that the Jew is not an inferior creature and that he may be allowed to carry arms, as long as he is taken into the army.

The installation services for Rabbi Paul Reich, a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and recently elected as spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Judah of Ventnor City, New Jersey, will take place this Sunday afternoon. Many leaders in Jewish life will participate.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund