Saturday, April 12, 2014


In and around 1933 a strange confluence of events was taking place.  The western world was watching the changes in Germany as Hitler came to power.  And with that power came a Reestablishment of the Civil Service Law, which rules were designed to enable speedy dismissal of professors with Jewish lineage and others considered politically suspect from all positions in German universities and institutes.  Those professors included the great minds of philosophy, mathematics, science, psychology, physics, economics, medicine, music, architecture, languages and others.  These professions were filled mostly with German Jews, many Nobel Prize winners.  And in 1933 they found themselves without a job.

At the same time, Kemal Ataturk had come to power in Turkey. A visionary, he wanted to modernize Turkey's education system that at the time was mainly working with military and bureaucratic systems;  He knew that big changes would have to be made in the educational system, and he set out to start at the top: dismantle the one major university in Istanbul in that city and select individuals with the highest of academic credentials in disciplines and professions most needed in Turkey.  The Turkish professors weren't going to like it, but Ataturk knew it had to be done.

The catalyst for this confluence of events was in the hands of Hungarian born Frankfurt pathologist Dr. Philipp Schwarz, who was one of the first professors to be fired from his job in Germany. Through a connection – his father-in-law who was a friend of a man who had been called to Turkey by Ataturk to set up a plan for finding and hiring top professionals to staff what would be the new University – Dr. Schwartz set up "The Emergency Assistance Organization for German Scientists."  A comprehensive contract was drawn up that covered all kinds of contingencies – and Turkey extended  invitations to those men and woman who best fit the bill.  Altogether, approximately 300 academicians and 50 technicians and supporting staff went to Turkey.  Including family members, this meant more than 1000 persons. 

Most of you who know me know that I am very interested in both Judaism and things Turkish, having lived in Istanbul for two years and having married into a Jewish family.   I always have an ear (and an eye) open for new stories and new information.  Had it not been for a short interview with the author I watched on BookTV several months ago (filmed sometime before his death in 2011) I would never have known of either this book or this story.  The book was published in 2006, so it's been around a while, but I certainly never heard of it.  It is not another holocaust book.  The author has not only told the story and documented every word of it, but he also has included memoirs and reflections by some of those very scientists and their families.  You will laugh when you read the pitfalls of learning to speak Turkish, and the author includes a very funny story of Ataturk, Shah Reza Pahlavi and one of the dentist emigres over the quality of false teeth he could make. 

Don't pick up this book thinking it is going to be fast read.  It probably is not going to appeal to people who don't have a strong interest in the historical events in that part of the world at that time.  But it is a powerful book, and it shouldn't be kept hidden.

1 comment:

Olga Hebert said...

This sounds like a book written for you.