Selâhattin Ülkümen (born
14 January 1914in Antakya- 2003) was a Turkish diplomatand his country's consulin Rhodesduring the Second World War, who assisted many local Jewsescape the Holocaustand was declared Righteous Among the Nations.
Turkish and Greek Jews alike were deported to the
death camps from the island of Corfu, but on the island of Rhodes, where Jews had prospered during 390 years of Ottoman rule until 1917 and under Italian occupation from then until 1943, Turkey’s Consul, Selâhattin Ülkümen, saved the lives of some 42 Jewish Turkish families, totaling more than 200 persons among a Jewish community of some 2000 after the Germans took over the island following Mussolini’s removal from power and Italy’s armistice with the Allies.
19 July 1944the Gestapoordered all of the island’s Jewish population to gather at its headquarters in order to register for 'temporary transportation to a small island nearby', but in fact to send them to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Ülkümen went to the German commanding officer, General Kleeman, reminded him that Turkey was neutral in the war, and asked him to release the Jews, including not only those who were Turkish citizens but also their spouses and relatives, even though many of the latter were Italian and Greek citizens. Some time earlier, Ülkümen had secured the release of thirty-nine Turkish and Greek boatmen who had been condemned to death for taking Italian soldiers to refuge in Turkeyfollowing the German occupation, but this time the commander at first refused, stating that under Nazi law all Jews were Jews and had to go to the concentration camps. Ülkümen responded by stating that ‘under Turkish law all citizens were equal. We didn’t differentiate between citizens who were Jewish, Christian or Muslim’ [Stanford J. Shaw, Turkey & the Holocaust]
He went on to inform Kleeman that ‘I would advise my Government if he didn’t release the Jewish Turks it would cause an international incident. Then he agreed’. [Ibid] The Jews protected by Ülkümen were released, though not until they were subjected to considerable additional harassment by the Nazi authorities. Ülkümen, however, continued to provide protection and moral support to those whom he had rescued and who remained on the island, all of whom were in mortal fear that they would also suffer the same fate since they still were required to report to the Gestapo daily and never knew whether or not they would be able to return to their homes. Soon afterwards, the Greek Jews on Rhodes, numbering 673 in all, were deported to
Greece, and from there onward to extermination, with only one hundred and fifty one surviving the war.
In retaliation for his assistance to Rhodes’ Jews, immediately after Turkey joined the Allies and declared war on the Axis, German planes bombed the Turkish
consulate, killing Ülkümen’s pregnant wife Mihrinissa Hanim as well as two other employees and deported Ülkümen to Piraeus, on mainland Greece, where he spent the remainder of the war in confinement. During the next six months, the Jewish Turks remaining on Rhodes were subjected to almost constant harassment by the Gestapo which often detained them for long periods of time, though it did not deport them as planned, presumably because of the disorder which spread throughout the Third Reichduring the last days of the war.
Finally, early in January, 1945, when the German commander learned that representatives of the
International Red Crosswere about to visit Rhodes to look into the situation of its population, most likely to avoid the very damaging testimony as to their treatment which would have been given, he ordered the remaining Jews to go to Turkey, which they did the next day, in small boats across a stormy sea to safety at the port of Marmaris.
After the war
The head of the thirty-five person Jewish community that remained in Rhodes following the war, Maurice Sauriano, recently stated "I am indebted to the Turkish consul who made extraordinary efforts to save my life and those of my fellow countrymen" [Ibid] . Thanks to the help of the Quincentennial Foundation Vice President, historian Naim Guleryuz, who amassed the necessary testimony from those survivors who were still living, Ülkümen was declared
Righteous Among the Nationsby the Yad VashemFoundation of Israel on 13 December 1989, with his name being inscribed and a tree planted in his honor at the "Path of the Righteous."
Ülkümen died in his sleep on
July 7, 2003in Istanbul, Turkey. He was 89.
List of Turkish diplomats
* [http://www.ulkumen.net Official Selâhattin Ülkümen web site]
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