Comparative Studies in Society and History

Research Article

Turk and Jew in Berlin: The First Turkish Migration to Germany and the Shoah

Marc David Baer 

History, University of California, Irvine


In this paper I critically examine the conflation of Turk with Muslim, explore the Turkish experience of Nazism, and examine Turkey's relation to the darkest era of German history. Whereas many assume that Turks in Germany cannot share in the Jewish past, and that for them the genocide of the Jews is merely a borrowed memory, I show how intertwined the history of Turkey and Germany, Turkish and German anti-Semitism, and Turks and Jews are. Bringing together the histories of individual Turkish citizens who were Jewish or Dönme (descendants of Jews) in Nazi Berlin with the history of Jews in Turkey, I argue the categories “Turkish” and “Jewish” were converging identities in the Third Reich. Untangling them was a matter of life and death. I compare the fates of three neighbors in Berlin: Isaak Behar, a Turkish Jew stripped of his citizenship by his own government and condemned to Auschwitz; Fazli Taylan, a Turkish citizen and Dönme, whom the Turkish government exerted great efforts to save; and Eric Auerbach, a German Jew granted refuge in Turkey. I ask what is at stake for Germany and Turkey in remembering the narrative of the very few German Jews saved by Turkey, but in forgetting the fates of the far more numerous Turkish Jews in Nazi-era Berlin. I conclude with a discussion of the political effects today of occluding Turkish Jewishness by failing to remember the relationship between the first Turkish migration to Germany and the Shoah.



  I was inspired to write this article after meeting Isaak Behar at the recently opened Sephardic synagogue in Berlin whose congregants are mainly Azeri Turks. I am indebted to the path-breaking research of Corry Guttstadt and Rıfat Bali and to their generosity in providing me with hard-to-find sources. I am grateful to Ulrike Freitag, director of the Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, for being my supportive host in Germany. My perspective was shaped by conversations with Leslie Adelson, Chanfi Ahmed, Manfred Backhausen, Hatice Bayraktar, Wolfgang Benz, Y. Michal Bodemann, Katrin Bromber, Matti Bunzl, Dyala Hamzah, Kader Konuk, Heike Liebau, Gilad Margalit, Esra Özyürek, Damani Partridge, Jeffrey Peck, Michael Rothberg, Deborah Starr, Peter Wien, Yasemin Yildiz, Gökçe Yurdakul, and Benjamin Zachariah. I thank the director and staff of the Landesarchiv Berlin for providing an exemplary archival experience. Versions of this article were presented at the ZMO, Jewish Museum Berlin, and Cornell University. I thank the three anonymous CSSH reviewers and editor Andrew Shryock for their criticisms and suggestions. All translations in this article are my own.