By Mark Meirowitz
On Thursday, November 11, 2010, Mesut Ilgim presented a lecture at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan, New York, entitled "The Educational Contributions of the German-Jewish Professors to Turkey".
Mr. Ilgim is a highly respected Turkish intellectual and former executive at Koç Holding. He serves on the boards of the Geyre Foundation, an organization dedicated to excavating the ancient city of Aphrodisias; the Koç Yonder Foundation; and the Alzheimer Foundation or Turkey and is a member of the University Board of Regents and the Olympic Committee of Turkey.
In 1933, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to then Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk offering the assistance of a group of recently expelled German intellectuals in modernizing the higher education system of the newly established Turkish Republic. Dr. Einstein suggested that "the majority of" the professors "possess vast experience, knowledge and scientific merits and could prove very useful when settling in a new country". Nearly two hundred academics subsequently emigrated to Turkey to work with academic and governmental institutions. The group, most of whom were Jewish, and were fleeing the Nazi regime, became known as the "Heimatlos Professors" (meaning the Professors without a "heimat", without a home). Many of these professors stayed in the country for the rest of their lives and were instrumental in the educational reforms of the 1930's. Mesut Ilgim began his research project ten years ago after discovering Dr. Einstein's letter in the Archives of the Republic of Turkey.
Mark Meirowitz, president of the Mens' Club of the synagogue, acted as moderator of the program. He noted that like the rescue of the Jews from Spain by Sultan Beyazid II following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, and the courageous actions of the Turkish Consuls who saved Jews during the Holocaust (the synagogue had previously shown the film "Desperate Hours" which describes these events, in a program also co-sponsored by the Turkish Cultural Foundation), the Turkish nation and the Jewish people have had a very close relationship. Mr. Ilgim's lecture shed light on another aspect of this vitally important history.
Mr. Meirowitz acknowledged the presence of a number of dignitaries in the audience, notably, Ayşe üzer, Consul, Turkish Consulate, New York; Nurten Ural, Director of the Detroit Office of the Turkish Cultural Foundation and Honorary Consul General of Turkey in Detroit (who had been instrumental in organizing the event on behalf of co-sponsor, the Turkish Cultural Foundation), Tomris Azeri, Regional Vice President of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA), Erhan Atay, Member of Advisory Committee and Vice Chairman of U.S. Relations Committee, Turkish American Business Association (American Chamber of Commerce in Turkey) and Kemalcan Alaeddinoğlu, President of the Istanbul University Alumni Association. Lawrence Kaye, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of the American Turkish Society (ATS) and Chair of the ATS Events Committee, made some remarks describing the activities of ATS, which also co-sponsored the event. Mr. Meirowitz also thanked Selen Uçak, Executive Director of ATS and Doğa Kayalar, Program Coordinator of ATS (and their staff), for their tremendous efforts in organizing the event.
Mr. Ilgim in his remarks and a fascinating powerpoint presentation, presented the remarkable story of the professors. He described how they came to Turkey and were able to re-establish their lives with their families after being expelled from Nazi Germany – Turkey was a welcoming haven to them. In the audience, remarkably, was someone whose mother had been taught by one of the "Heimatlos Professors".
Mr. Ilgim has undertaken the extraordinary effort to try to amass the information regarding this remarkable story of rescue of these professors by the remarkable founder, leader and visionary of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Mr. Ilgim is working with various universities to find a repository for this documentation so that what occurred can be preserved. It was noted that the day before the event, November 10th, was the anniversary of the passing of Atatürk.
A vibrant question and answer session followed Mr. Ilgim's talk. Refreshments were served including delicious baklava. There was a wonderful and collegial atmosphere at the event.
Mr. Ilgim should be commended and acknowledged with deep gratitude for his efforts in bringing to life the story of these professors and their families, and he has assured that this story of rescue by Turkey and Atatürk will never be forgotten.
The American Turkish Society, founded in 1949, is America's oldest not?for?profit organization seeking to enhance economic, political, and cultural ties between Turkey and the United States. The Society achieves its mission by bringing together leaders in government, including Prime Ministers, Ministers of State and Ambassadors, as well as business leaders, journalists, and scholars covering a spectrum of fields. It also initiates and sponsors a variety of education and arts & culture programs, providing fellowships, grants, and other opportunities for cultural exchange between the two countries.
The Turkish Cultural Foundation, established in 2000, works to promote and preserve Turkish culture and heritage worldwide through original programs and cooperation with like?minded organizations. The Foundation achieves its goals by supporting education, particularly in the area of humanities, for disadvantaged students in Turkey; supporting research, documentation and publication in the humanities related to Turkey; supporting the preservation of Turkish cultural heritage abroad; and helping to build cultural bridges between Turkey and other countries to support a better understanding and appreciation of Turkish cultural heritage.
Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, founded in 1872, is an orthodox synagogue situated on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The synagogue stands firmly for the proposition that it is a part of a larger community: a community not only of the Jewish People and the State of Israel, but also of our fellow New Yorkers, Americans and humankind. The Men's Club of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun sponsors a dynamic array of year?round events for the entire community, including lectures, films and cultural activities.
Mark Meirowitz is a business lawyer in Manhattan. He is studying Turkish and is a member of a number of Turkish-American organizations. He is president of the Mens' Club of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, which co-sponsored this event.