(Ab)using the Holocaust: Commemoration and Politics of Denial in Turkey*

by Azad Alik
Commemoration of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo: courtesy of Șalom newspaper in Turkey)

Commemoration of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo: courtesy of Șalom newspaper in Turkey)

Corry Guttstadt

This year marks the first time that the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the day of the  liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army, was commemorated in Turkey in a semi-official manner.[1] The Deputy Foreign Secretary, Naci Koru, attended a ceremony at Kadir Has University; Foreign Secretary Ahmet Davutoğlu and the secretary in charge of EU membership negotiations, Mevlüt Çavușoğlu, sent statements but were not present in person. It is astounding that both the Turkish-Jewish newspaper Șalom and several English-language newspapers and blogs reported almost gushingly on the ceremony. Yet, if one reads these politicians’ statements, it becomes evident that the Holocaust Remembrance Day is misappropriated here in order to – once again – deny the existence of anti-Semitism, as well as of racism and discrimination in general, in Turkey, to celebrate the myth of Turkey’s “rescue of the Jews,” and to deny the Armenian genocide. Mevlüt Cavusoglu, for example, declares in his statement:[2]

Just as the Ottoman Empire took in the Jews driven out of Spain in 1492, Turkey prevented its Jews being sent to concentration camps during the Second World War and became a safe haven from persecution for Jewish academics and Jews of all social classes. (…) There is no genocide in our history. (…) In our civilization there is no hostility against others or the powerless…

But the extreme right that is on the rise, along with xenophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, in Europe show that unfortunately, there are still circles that have not learned from the bitter experience of history.

In light of the fact that circles within the AKP government, too, have played their part in fueling anti-Semitism, this declaration is outrageous. Neither the denial of the Armenian genocide nor the downplaying and “relativization“ of the Holocaust are anything new in Turkey, but to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, of all days, as a stage set for such statements is doubly outrageous.

Still, Turkey cannot claim to have come up with the blueprint for this distortion of history. For quite some time now, remembrance of the Holocaust and the crimes of the Nazis during World War II have been a contentious space in which a “war of memory”[3] is played out that is marked by competition among the victims, the rewriting of history, and the reversal of guilt (the depiction of perpetrators as victims and of victims as perpetrators). The following considerations cannot comprehensively interpret these complex discourses, nor are they meant to; rather, they are meant to be understood as an invitation for debate.

January 27: the liberation of Auschwitz 

On January 27, 1945, the Red Army reached Auschwitz and liberated about 7,000 prisoners, most of them sick inmates whom the SS had left to fend for themselves when they had abandoned the camp.[4] In the preceding days, the SS had forced about 60,000 prisoners on death marches west.

Auschwitz at the time of the liberation of the camp (Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum**, courtesy of Philip Vock.)

Auschwitz at the time of the liberation of the camp (Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum**, courtesy of Philip Vock.)

“Auschwitz” became a symbol of the Germans’ genocide of the Jews. About one million of the more than 5.6 million Jewish Holocaust victims were murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the centers of industrial extermination. The vast majority of them – 900,000 people – were killed in gas chambers immediately after their arrival. In November 2005, the UN General Assembly declared January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Holocaust was more than one of the genocides of the 20th century. It differed not only in in the unparalleled number of victims and the modern, industrial mode of extermination. It constituted “persecution and murder wholly beyond conflict, opposition, or political enmity.”[5] “All other genocides were local, i.e., the genocide took place within a particular geographic region. In the case of the Holocaust, however, Germany targeted every single Jew on the entire planet.”[6]

Shifts in remembrance

Friends from Turkey, when criticizing Turkey’s politics of denial, like to point out Germany’s “exemplary” Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with its past). This policy, however, is owed to – among other factors – battles fought by Jewish survivors and anti-fascist and democratic activists and academics. In the decades following the war, most Nazi criminals and mass murderers returned unperturbed to positions in politics and the economy. The Holocaust and the Nazi crimes in their entirety were not on the radar of public awareness in West Germany. In the anti-Communist climate of the Cold War, the majority of Germans saw themselves as victims of the Red Army and mourned their expulsion from the “lost Eastern territories.”

Jewish survivors in Germany met with ignorance and hostility. The Jewish Auschwitz survivor and historian Joseph Wulf, who attempted in vain to bring the crimes of the National Socialists to the consciousness of the West German public through numerous books and document collections, committed suicide in resignation in 1974. In his farewell letter to his son, he said:

“I have published 18 books about the Third Reich here, and none of this has had any effect. With the Germans, you can document everything to death, you can have the most democratic government in Bonn – and the mass murderers walk around free, have their little houses, and grow flowers.”[7]

Im May 1945, former prisoners assemble outside for a ceremony with red and white flags in the newly liberated Dachau concentration camp. (Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Colonel Alexander Zabin.)

In May 1945, former prisoners assemble outside for a ceremony with red and white flags in the newly liberated Dachau concentration camp. (Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Colonel Alexander Zabin.)

Internationally, too, in the decades following the war the Holocaust was not recognized and understood as the great crime in human history. This was partly due to the fact that the genocide of the European Jews was only one of the crimes of immense proportions committed by the Germans – that there were millions of victims, particularly among the Slavic peoples, who, in keeping with the Nazis’ racist ideology, were likewise murdered or decimated. From the countries of Western Europe, too, hundreds of thousands of people had been hauled off to forced labor, killed as hostages, or maltreated.[8] Even at the Nuremberg trials, which comprised a total of 13 trials,[9] the genocide of the Jews was treated as a secondary issue.

An added factor was the ideological front lines drawn by the Cold War: leftists and the democratic opposition in Western European countries saw themselves in the tradition of anti-fascist resistance. In the 1960s and 1970s, this was initially true of the so-called “New Left” as well: identification with the heroic anti-fascists was more appealing and easier than coming to terms with the murder of the Jews. On an international level, too few people outside the communities of Jewish survivors were prepared to grasp the Holocaust in its full scope, thus demonstrating a kind of refusal of the human psyche to understand crimes of such enormous and unimaginable magnitude. Internationally, the full dimension of the Holocaust was not comprehended until the late 1980s and 1990s.

In the Western world, the Holocaust has by now become – in the humanities, but also in culture in general, in literature, art and film – the definitive negative point of reference of the modern age. The academic literature alone comprises more than 10,000 works. Memorial sites and museums have been established at many of the former sites of extermination, and countries far from where the murderous events took place – among them South Africa, Argentina, Spain and Japan – have established memorial sites, regardless of whether or not there are Jews living in those countries.

This shift in historical perception and remembrance has by now resulted in an omission from public consciousness of other victim groups; for example, of political opponents of the Nazi regime, who were the first to be thrown into concentration camps in 1933, or the millions of murdered Russians and Poles. During the siege of Leningrad and the German Wehrmacht’s attempt to starve the city’s inhabitants into obliteration between September 1941 and January 1944, more than one million people lost their lives.[10] At the same time, the “ubiquity” of the Holocaust as a setting or backdrop for feature films, for example, leads to its trivialization and consigns it to the realm of museum displays.

Hierarchies of victims

This reduction to museum status expresses itself, for instance, in the fact that in films and novels the Jewish victims are almost invariably members of an educated upper class who have “enriched” German – or European – culture. (This gives the sentiment of regret over their murder a certain utilitarian slant.) In fact, most of the Jews deported from the countries of Central and Western Europe were immigrants, the majority of whom were by no means affluent, and their situation was in many respects not dissimilar to that of the immigrants of today. The continuation of racist thought in the hierarchy of remembrance in Germany is illustrated by the fact that the genocide of the Roma and Sinti was not acknowledged by the Federal Republic of Germany until the mid-1980s. For decades, German government agencies and courts denied the Roma victims recognition and compensation. Long after 1945, the discrimination and exclusion of Roma in Germany continued, with the German authorities making use, for example, of the “Gypsy indices” compiled by the Nazis.

A blind eye to colonial crimes

The genocidal crimes committed in the former colonies remain likewise unrecognized and excluded from remembrance in most European countries. This is the case in regard to the first genocide of the 20th century, the genocide of the Herero and Nama, committed in 1905 by German colonial troops in what is today Namibia. Statements by German government representatives “regret the events,” but recognition of them as a genocide as well as reparations are refused to this day.

With regard to World War II, non-European victims are more or less ignored. This is true of inhabitants of the French and British colonies who took part in the fight against Nazi Germany as members of the respective colonial power’s (France and Britain) troops and who, unlike their white comrades-in-arms, became subject to specifically racist crimes when captured by the Nazis.[11] With regard to France and its colonial policy, competing layers of memories manifest themselves in the date of May 8, 1945: in France, the date marks the surrender of the German troops in France and is celebrated as the anniversary of liberation; in Algeria, it commemorates a brutal massacre committed by French colonial troops in which hundreds of Algerians were killed.[12] This bloodbath was prompted by a demonstration in the Algerian city of Sétif in celebration of Germany’s surrender in which Algerian flags were flown.

Political-historical tides of remembering: the rewriting of history and the reversal of victims and perpetrators

With increasing “recognition” and the globalization of remembrance, the Holocaust has become a major locus of political and ideological debate in which the significance of memories is contested and competition among different groups of victims is played out. Particularly drastic rewritings of history have taken place in the new nation states of Eastern Europe that emerged following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Several of these countries have seen the rise of nationalist, reactionary forces that in their indictment of the Soviet era go so far as to recast anti-Communist groups and individuals who collaborated with the Germans and took part in the murder of Jews as national “freedom fighters”: in Ukraine, statues were erected of the Nazi collaborator and anti-Semite Stepan Bandera, and in Lithuania, the state-funded “Museum of the Victims of Genocide” in Vilnius exclusively commemorates repression by the Soviet police and secret service agencies while not even mentioning the German occupation, under which about 95 percent of the previously 200,000-strong Jewish population of Lithuania was killed.[13]

The Terror Háza Múzeum (House of Terror Museum) in Budapest engages in a similar manipulation of history: “the Hungarians” – among them undoubtedly anti-Semitic perpetrators – are cast as victims of Soviet terror, while the crimes of the Nazis and the Hungarian fascists who collaborated with them are ignored. This year, the Jewish community in Hungary, acting in protest against the government’s historical revisionism, refused to take part in commemorative events, claiming that a monument the government plans to erect in remembrance of the German occupation in March 1944 serves to deflect attention from Hungary’s involvement in the persecution of the Jews.

In Germany, too, attempts by certain circles to present themselves as “victims“of history are by no means a phenomenon of the past: in Dresden, the anniversary of the aerial bombing raids on February 13, 1945 that destroyed large parts of the city was for years used as a vehicle for events with a nationalist and revisionist agenda, with the claimed number of victims exaggerated tenfold. The successful mobilization against these events on the part of anti-fascists and democrats in Dresden (and similarly in Magdeburg) serves an example that taking an oppositional stance to historical revisionism is possible and can be effective.

Discursive shifts – the deflection of guilt

Another worrying discursive shift shows itself in the intertwined debates on the relationship of “the Muslims” with National Socialism and on “Holocaust remembrance in the immigrant society,” which began at about the same time. Beginning in the early 2000s, the relationship of “the Arabs” with Nazi Germany and the role of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Mohammed Amin el-Husseini, became a much-discussed topic.[14] There is no doubt that the Grand Mufti was a committed anti-Semite who collaborated closely with the Nazi regime. He aided the Germans in disseminating their anti-Semitic hate propaganda in the Middle East and made appearances as a preacher in training camps for Muslim SS recruits. But the political climate following September 11 fostered the idea in German (and Western) public consciousness that “the Arabs” or “the Muslims” had essentially all been Nazi sympathizers and collaborators. In German collective consciousness, pointing out Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism serves as a welcome decoy in “relativizing” German guilt. This is particularly absurd in light of the fact that the officials at the Foreign Office and in other German agencies in charge of disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda in the Middle East (i.e. the “superiors” of the Mufti and his cronies) were never brought to justice but continued in their careers until retirement.

This displacement of guilt is exacerbated by a debate that started at about the same time about Holocaust remembrance and modalities for addressing anti-Semitism among migrants to Germany. On the one hand, pedagogically framed discussions aimed at conveying an understanding of the Holocaust among “youth with migration background” (as they are called in Germany) reinforce the alienation of youths who have been socially excluded and cast as “immigrants“ on the basis of their family roots. On the other hand, the impression is conveyed that Muslim immigrants and their descendants are more prone to anti-Semitism than “fully” German children. This is not confirmed by reputable surveys and has been belied in France, for example, by mass demonstrations led by French anti-Semites at the end of January 2014.

Holocaust reception in Turkey

In Turkey, the Holocaust has to date not received any scholarly attention. Neither have Turkish academics done any research on the topic nor have seminal works on the Holocaust been translated into Turkish.[15] Apart from my own book, which only examines a particular aspect of the Holocaust, the only academic work on the subject published in Turkish is Yehuda Bauer’s Rethinking the Holocaust.[16] The only other works on the topic available in Turkish are autobiographies and literary essays.[17]

The picture is likely to be much the same in other Muslim, and non-European countries. Still, in the case of Turkey, this is a surprise, since culturally and intellectually, the country is very oriented towards the West, which can be seen in the number of works of fiction and of an academic nature translated into Turkish, as well as Western films. This lack of interest in the Holocaust is also evidenced by the fact that publications by critical historians and Jewish newspapers in Turkey reveal a lack of basic knowledge about the Shoah.

The indifference of the majority of Turkish society is illustrated by its lack of interest in its Jewish fellow citizens, even though nearly all Jewish families in Turkey had relatives in Europe who lived through the Shoah or became victims of it. Several survivors and descendants of victims of Turkish origin in Germany, Belgium, and especially in France have published autobiographies or memoirs. To date, not one of these more than ten works has been translated into Turkish.

The Holocaust and propaganda

There is, by contrast, a wealth of trashy or pulp literature (novels and pseudo-academic works) on the Holocaust in Turkey. Many of these books celebrate the purported heroic feats of Turkish diplomats who allegedly rescued Turkish and non-Turkish Jews from the clutches of the Nazis, risking their own lives in the process. Since I have disproved these claims elsewhere, I will refrain from repeating my arguments here.[18] Not only are those stories melodramatic and false, they also make a mockery of the suffering of the Jews who were deported and murdered, as well as of those who managed to survive. The authors of these books are not interested in the fate of the Jews; the claims of rescue merely serve to bolster international propaganda in favor of Turkey, and to make an impression on Jewish organizations in order to win their support for the denial of the Armenian genocide.[19]

The blueprint of this rescue myth goes back to American professor Stanford Shaw, who was not only controversial in the U.S. as a historian but who was also one of the few non-Turkish deniers of the Armenian genocide. His book, Turkey and the Holocaust – Turkey’s Role in Rescuing Turkish and European Jewry from Nazi Persecution, 1939-1945, has been criticized sharply in international Holocaust research circles since the time of its publication. In addition to making numerous chronological and methodological errors, Shaw deliberately ignored documents he had seen (and made available to the USHMM, where they can be viewed). It is all the more astonishing that 20 years after its initial publication in English, this book, with all its errors intact, was translated into Turkish.

Shaw’s engagement in Turkish politics was not limited to denying the Armenian genocide. In the 1990s, when U.S.-led investigations aiming to locate the gold stolen from Jews by the Nazis looked into the involvement of the neutral countries, Turkey came under suspicion as one of the countries (alongside Switzerland) that aided the Germans in transferring the looted gold. It was Stanford Shaw who gave testimony in favor of Turkey to the inquiry commission and suggested, successfully, that the investigation should be closed.

Turkey is by no means the only country that, for international propaganda purposes, has fabricated a myth about its purported rescue of Jews. Soon after World War II, Spain developed a similar line of propaganda aimed at breaking its international isolation during the years of the Franco dictatorship. Argentina did the same during its era of military dictatorship. But in contrast to Turkey, critical scholars in those countries have begun to dismantle those myths.[20] An international conference slated for November 2014 in Madrid (Bystanders, Rescuers or Perpetrators? The Neutrals and the Shoah: Facts, Myths and Countermyths) will provide a platform for comparative discussion of this idealization of the politics of history.

The Turkification/Muslimization of the Jewish victims 

The indifference of Turkish governments since 1945 to the fate of the Turkish-Jewish victims of the Shoah is illustrated by the fact that from 1945 to this day, Turkish government agencies have not compiled the names of the victims to ascertain their fates. In the years immediately after the war, this meant that Turkish-Jewish survivors were hindered in their ability to sue Germany for compensation.

Mourning ceremony at the memorial site of the Bergen-Belsen on December 9, 2012. (Photo : Lower Saxony Memorials Foundation /Memorial Bergen-Belsen)

Mourning ceremony at the memorial site of Bergen-Belsen on December 9, 2012.
(Photo : Lower Saxony Memorials Foundation /Memorial Bergen-Belsen)

In December 2012, after decades of disinterest, the Turkish Embassy in Germany organized, in cooperation with other Turkish organizations, a mourning ceremony at the memorial site of the former concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen. During the event, a memorial plaque “for the Jewish and non-Jewish Turkish citizens who were murdered in Bergen-Belsen” was unveiled, and an imam (in addition to a rabbi) said a prayer. At first glance, one might see in this gesture a belated willingness on the part of Turkey to take an interest in the fate of its Jewish citizens during World War II. But it seems that neither the embassy nor any of the Turkish organizations involved had any real interest in the fate of the victims of Bergen-Belsen. None of them took any steps to research the life stories and the fates of the victims with Turkish background who perished in Bergen Belsen.

My own research shows that at least twelve people who were born in Turkey in the Ottoman Empire or held Turkish citizenship lost their lives in Bergen-Belsen (their names are followed by the year and city of birth): Perla Behar-Behar (1872, Edirne), Raphael Bilé (1893, Smyrne), Jacques Castoriano (1902, Istanbul), Ribca Chochou (1892, Safed, Palestine), Iso Cory (1920, Izmir), Jacques Nahoum (1894, Istanbul), Dr. Jakob J. Neubauer (Leipzig), Max Neumann (1892, Vienna), Marco Ojalvo (1886, Istanbul), Elyo Sarfati (1921, Istanbul), Garabed Tachdijan (1906, Urfa), Lisa Ladrer Mayer (1900, Istanbul), Chaim Levy (1896, Jerusalem).

Apart from the Armenian Garabed Tachdjian, who survived the genocide in 1915, and who later went to Soviet Armenia and fell as a Soviet soldier at the hands of the Germans, all of them were Jewish. The Holocaust as the largest-scale genocide in human history was a crime against Jews; the victims were Jews. To label these persons as “Jewish and non-Jewish Turkish citizens” (as it is written on the Turkish memorial plaque) is an attempt to “Muslimize” the Jews (and the Armenian) posthumously. The commemorative event in Bergen-Belsen appears as a self-serving attempt to recast the Turkish-Muslim majority as victims, as well. This is nothing short of historical revisionism.

) Memorial plaque for “Turkish victims” at Bergen Belsen. (Photo: Lower Saxony Memorials Foundation /Memorial Bergen-Belsen)

Memorial plaque for “Turkish victims” at Bergen Belsen.
(Photo: Lower Saxony Memorials Foundation /Memorial Bergen-Belsen)

It should be mentioned here that all of the above mentioned victims (including those who were born outside of Turkey) at one point held Turkish citizenship. Several had been stripped of their citizenship by the Turkish government and denied entry into the country, which would have saved their lives. (This is not to say that Germany was not responsible for these people’s deaths.)
Most of these Jews were shipped to Bergen Belsen by the Germans from camps in Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany in the summer of 1944 as part of a much bigger group of Turkish Jews. The majority of this group (105 persons) were liberated from Bergen-Belsen in March 1945 to take part in a civilian exchange between Germany and Turkey. It is noteworthy that, when the ship arrived in Turkey on April 11, 1945, the Turkish authorities initially did not permit these rescued Jews to enter Turkey. Only after tough negotiations did international Jewish representatives convince the Turkish authorities to allow these people to leave the ship and be interned in three hotels in Istanbul, with the Jewish Agency covering the costs .

eport in the Swedish press on the arrival of the Turkish Jews liberated from Ravensbrück and Bergen Belsen concentration camp in Gothenburg before their depart for Turkey.

Report in the Swedish press on the arrival of the Turkish Jews liberated from Ravensbrück and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Gothenburg before their departure for Turkey.

The political calculation of “casting Turks as victims of the Holocaust,” which was the aim of the memorial act in Bergen-Belsen, is obvious. Already in June 2005, the Association of Turks in Europe (ETU) placed a memorial plaque (bearing the red and white Turkish flag) on the memorial site of the Dachau concentration camp “in memory of the Turks” imprisoned there during the Nazi years[21]. The date was by no means accidental: one week earlier, the German parliament, the Bundestag, had held a debate on the Armenian genocide (while avoiding the word “genocide”). The ETU openly admitted that the plaque in Dachau was laid in response to this debate .

Turkish memorial plaque at the memorial site of Dachau (Photo: Corry Guttstadt)

Turkish memorial plaque at the memorial site of Dachau (Photo: Corry Guttstadt)

Thoughts on the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide

As the examples above illustrate, any mention of the Holocaust triggers an almost reflexive negative association with the Armenian genocide on the part of Turkish government representatives and spokespeople for the official line. Their fixation on denying the suffering of Armenians seems to be the main factor in blocking an empathetic response to the suffering of the Jewish victims of the Shoah. This constitutes a tragic psychological obstacle.

As an article by Wolf Gruner shows,[22] the memory of the Armenian genocide loomed large in the minds of Europeans Jews early on. International lawyer Raphael Lemkin, the “father” of the UN Genocide Convention, grappled intensely with the events of 1915 and 1916. Witnessing the NS regime’s brutal intensification of anti-Semitic measures in the years 1938 and 1939, which preceded systematic extermination, international Jewish aid organizations warned repeatedly that the Jews were “headed for the same fate as the Armenians.”

The point here is not – nor should it ever be – the equation of the two historical events. Still, without meaning to relativize the Holocaust in any way: there are certain similarities as well as differences between the two events that are worth examining and discussing.

One fundamental difference is the fact that the proportion of Jews in the German population, even before 1933, was significantly smaller (500,000 people – 600,000, if all individuals are included who were discriminated against under the Nazis’ racial laws) than the proportion of Armenians in Anatolia.

There are, however, also similarities that the deniers of the Armenian genocide tend to purposefully distort. Turkish negationists always stress that the Jews had been “innocent,” murdered just because they were Jewish. This is doubtless true. But the statement is not really intended as a comment on the Jewish experience of the Shoah, in which such a commentator is not really interested: what he or she means to convey, explicitly or not, is that the Armenians were not “innocent” – as illustrated recently in a statement by Turkish author Ayse Kulin: “We did not butcher the Armenians without a reason.”

Just like the Young Turk leadership of the early twentieth century, negationist publications today are suffused with the idea that “the Armenians” – collectively – had made pacts with the Russian enemy or the European powers. In this aspect in particular, there is a remarkable similarity with the image of the Jews held by the Nazis, who were downright obsessed with the idea that “the Jews” collaborated with all their war enemies.[23] The mass arrests of Jews in occupied France in the second half of 1941 and the first deportation transport (ordered by the military, not by the Gestapo!) from France in March 1942 were conceived as retribution for French resistance activities, since according to the Nazis’ view, there was a Jew behind every member of the resistance.

Historical research shows that the genocide of the Jews took an entirely different shape in different locations. At the beginning of 1942, the Jews of Central and Western Europe were being deported to the death factories established in Poland, while the Jews of Lithuania and Latvia, of today’s Ukraine and of Romania (Bessarabia and Bukovina), were murdered right where they lived, with the active participation of fascist groups among the local population. These latter territories were previously under the Soviet occupation which followed from the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939, and, in the case of the Romanian territories, from 1940. For the Jews living in those regions, this meant an improvement in their situation for the duration of the occupation, but it also provided a rationale for the local gangs of murderers who accused them of fraternizing with the Soviet (Russian) enemy – yet another clear parallel with the Armenian genocide.

By no means does the existence of these and other parallel aspects allow the conclusion that the two historical events can be equated. But a comparative discussion of these points should provide an important impetus for further research on the Armenian genocide.[24] This implies not only an end to the politics of denial with regard to the Armenian genocide, but also serious engagement with and debate about the Shoah.

The year 2015, a dual anniversary year – with the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, and the 70th anniversary of the end of WW II and the liberation of the camps – could provide an appropriate occasion for such an undertaking.

*A prior version of this article was published in Turkish in Birikim Vol. 299-300, April 2014.

**The views or opinions expressed in this article and the context in which the images are used do not necessarily reflect the view or policy of, nor imply approval or endorsement by, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

I would like to thank Ari Joskowicz, Susan Miller, Julia Timpe and Rob Williams for critical reading and valuable comments. Azad Alik editors Ayda Erbal & Burcu Gürsel edited and prepared this version and the new Turkish versions.

[1] Already since 2011 the Jewish community in Turkey had organized commemoration ceremonies in the Neve synagogue, which were attended by Turkish Ambassador Ertan Tezgör (representing Turkey in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance -IHRA) or the Governor of Istanbul, Hüseyin Avni Mutlu. One of the conditions of full membership in the IHRA – to which Turkey aspires – however, is to hold public commemorations on January 27th. It is as a result of the initiative of the Jewish community of Turkey, which is obviously eager to help Turkey acquire full membership in the IHRA, that this year’s ceremony was held outside of the Jewish community and was prepared in cooperation with the Turkish Foreign Ministry was, according to an article by Ertuğrul Özkök (in Hürriyet of 22 January 2014; Turkey has been a candidate for membership for several years.)

[2] http://www.abgs.gov.tr/index.php?p=49393&l=1. Almost identical to the statements made by Ertan Tezgör and Naci Koru.

[3] Such is the title of a volume edited by Harald Welzer: Der Krieg der Erinnerung: Zweiter Weltkrieg, Kollaboration und Holocaust im Europäischen Gedächtnis (The War of Memories: The Second World War, Collaboration, and the Holocaust in European Memory.) Frankfurt/M. 2007, one of several publications regarding the topic. Translated into Turkish (and therefore recommended for reading): Karşıt Hafızalar: Soykırımın Önemi ve Etkisi Üzerine, İletișim, 2011.

[4] Among those who in the infirmary of Auschwitz and who were liberated by the arriving Soviets was Primo Levi, whose account, If This Is a Man (Turkish: Bunlar da mı insan? Can Yayınları, 1996), is one of the most impressive depictions of Auschwitz.

[5] Dan Diner, Gegenläufige Gedächtnisse: Über Geltung und Wirkung des Holocaust, Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht Verlag, Göttingen 2008, p. 15. (Karşıt Hafızalar: Soykırımın Önemi ve Etkisi Üzerine, çev. Hulki Demirel, İletişim, 2011).

[6] Yehuda Bauer, “Der Holocaust und andere Genozide,” in: David Bankier (ed.): Fragen zum Holocaust: Interviews mit prominenten Forschern und Denkern, Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2006, p. 88.

[7] Klaus Kempter, Joseph Wulf: Ein Historikerschicksal in Deutschland. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013, p. 384.

[8] Victims of all atrocities committed by the Nazis were simply labeled “victims of war” in the former occupied countries. Documents in archives in these countries regarding Jewish Holocaust victims are therefore to be found under the classification “War.”

[9] The first of these trials was the International Military Trial; the 12 successive trials were led by the American military. During the main trial the Holocaust was part of the accusation regarding Charge 4 (crimes against humanity); within the 12 successive trials the crime of the Holocaust was dealt with in Trial Nr. 9, the Einsatzgruppen trial (Einsatzgruppen are mobile death squads operating behind the front line in Eastern Europe.)

[10] The encirclement and blockade of the city, which aimed to systematically starve the population of Leningrad, was one of the biggest war crimes committed by the German army.

[11] See: Rafael Scheck, Hitler’s African Victims: The German Army Massacres of Black French Soldiers in 1940, Cambridge University Press, 2006. Also, a general standard work on this topic is Rheinisches Journalist Innenbüro: “Unsere Opfer zählen nicht:” Die Dritte Welt im Zweiten Weltkrieg (“Our victims don’t count:” The Third World in World War II), Assoziation A, 2005.

[12] During the first days of the turmoil several hundred French colonizers were killed as well, but despite controversy regarding the development of the events and the number of casualties, there is no doubt that the figure of victims on the Algerian side was a hundred times higher than on the French side.

[13] On the contrary, the Lithuanian State Prosecutor’s Office investigated former Jewish partisans who had fought against the Nazis during the occupation.

[14] See for example Martin Cüppers / Klaus-Michael Mallmann: Halbmond und Hakenkreuz: Das Dritte Reich, die Araber und Palästina, (The Crescent and the Swastika: The Third Reich, the Arabs, and Palestine), Darmstadt, 2006. Recent research paints a more nuanced picture and demonstrates that in several countries in the Near East there was a rejection of Nazi policy among parts of the Muslim population, as well as empathy with Jewish victims. See for example Gilbert Achcar, Les Arabes et la Shoah, Arles, 2009; René Wildangel, Zwischen Achse und Mandatsmacht: Palästina und der Nationalsozialismus (Between the Axis and the Mandate Power: Palestine and National Socialism). Berlin, 2007.

[15] The only examples of scholarly work on the Holocaust done by Turkish scholars are: Ayşe Sıla Çehreli, Chelmno, Belżec, Sobibór, Treblinka: politique génocidaire nazie et résistance juive dans les centres de mise à mort (novembre 1941 – janvier 1945) [dissertation submitted to Université de Paris I, 2007] and Izzet Bahar, Turkey And The Rescue Of Jews During The Nazi Era: A Reappraisal Of Two Cases; German-Jewish Scientists In Turkey & Turkish Jews In Occupied France [dissertation submitted to the University of Pittsburgh, 2012]. Both of these works are written by scholars from Turkey, but not at institutions in Turkey and are not known in Turkey.

[16] Corry Guttstadt: Türkiye, Yahudiler ve Holokost, İletișim, 2012; Yehuda Bauer: Soykırımı Yeniden Düşünmek, Phoenix, 2004.

[17] Such as the memoires or diaries of Anne Frank, Primo Levi , Claude Lanzmann. Other works concern the history of reception. (Annette Wieviorka: 60 Yıl Sonra Auschwitz, İletișim, 2006.)

[18] For the validity of these claims in general, see Corry Guttstadt: Türkiye, Yahudiler ve Holokost, İletişim, 2012. About the film Turkish Passport, see http://sephardichorizons.org/Volume3/Issue1/guttstadt.htm. For an article about the book Büyükelçi (Goa Publications, 2007; The Turkish Ambassador, self published, 2011) by Emir Kıvırcık, see “Hakikaten ‘inanılmaz bir öykü’” in Toplumsal Tarih, No. 168, December 2007. Emir Kıvırcık is the great-nephew of Behiç Erkin, Turkish Ambassador to France and Vichy, August 1939 – August 1943. In this biographical novel largely based on fictional scenes, Kıvırcık claimed that Erkin saved more than 20.000 Turkish Jews from France.

[19] For instance, in 2008 Kıvırcık participated in a trip to the United States with Turkish President Abdullah Gül, with the hopes of winning the support of American-Jewish organizations for Turkey’s politics of denial of the Armenian genocide. During this journey, Kıvırcık boasted, “The story of my Grandfather is the best weapon against the ADL.”

[20] About Spain, see for example several publications by Alejandro Baer; about Argentina: Uki Goñi.

[21] In the Turkish Dachau ceremony as well, Turkish-Jewish victims of the Shoah who perished in Dachau and whose fate never ever interested Turkey, were amalgamated with former Turkic (Turkmenian, Azerbaijanian, etc.) Soviet citizens.

[22] Wolf Gruner: “‘Armenier-Greuel:’ Was wussten jüdische und nichtjüdische Deutsche im NS-Staat über den Völkermorde von 1915/16?” (“’Armenian atrocities:’ What did Jewish and non Jewish Germans in Nazi-Germany know about the genocide of 1915/16?”) in: Sybille Steinbacher (ed.), Holocaust und Völkermorde: Die Reichweite des Vergleichs (Holocaust and Genocides: The Scope of Comparison), Yearbook 2012 of the Fritz-Bauer-Institute. Turkish translation published in Birikim Vol. 299-300, 2014.

[23] This became evident for example in Hitler‘s speech of January 30, 1939 where he accused “international Jewry” of dragging Germany into war.

[24] An example of reasonable comparative scholarship is the volume edited by Hans-Lukas Kieser und Dominik J Schaller: The Armenian Genocide and the Shoah, Zürich: Chronos, 2002.

One Comment to “(Ab)using the Holocaust: Commemoration and Politics of Denial in Turkey*”

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