Israeli team finds bodies of Turkish Jewish community leader and wife in quake ruins

After locating Saul and Fortuna Cenudioglu’s bodies under collapsed building in Antakya, rescue workers commence operation to pull them from the rubble

Undated photo of Saul Cenudioglu, leader of the Jewish community in the southern Turkish town of Antakya. (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Undated photo of Saul Cenudioglu, leader of the Jewish community in the southern Turkish town of Antakya. (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Israeli rescue workers found the bodies of the leader of a small local Jewish community in Turkey and his wife who were missing since a devastating earthquake hit the region earlier in the week, the ZAKA emergency rescue organization said in a statement Thursday.

Saul and Fortuna Cenudioglu had been missing in the southern Turkish town of Antakya since Monday’s earthquake hit, causing widespread damage and killing over 16,000 in Turkey and Syria. They were finally found on Wednesday, though remained under the rubble as rescue workers commenced a complex extraction operation.

Their deaths are the first confirmed reports of fatalities among the Turkish Jewish community.

Saul Cenudioglu was the head of the local Jewish community, which reportedly numbered just a dozen elderly people.

An IDF delegation of army rescue specialists as well as civilian rescue organizations have been operating in Turkey to help with efforts to locate thousands of people feared still trapped under collapsed buildings.

“After three days of efforts and attempts to arrive by complex routes, a special rescue team made up of [IDF] Home Front Command soldiers and ZAKA volunteers arrived in Antakya, Turkey, last night,” the ZAKA statement said.

Rescuers headed to the building where the Cenudioglus lived and set to work trying to find them “for many hours and in difficult conditions,” ZAKA said. “Unfortunately the trapped people were found lifeless.”

“At this stage, the volunteers of the Israeli delegation in Turkey continue their efforts to locate signs of life and rescue more civilians from the ruins,” the statement said.

A man walks through the rubble of destroyed buildings in Antakya, southern Turkey, February 8, 2023. (Khalil Hamra/AP)

On Tuesday, a leading rabbi in the Turkish Jewish community, Mendel Chitrik, said the local synagogue in Antakya “is not in a good condition, but it has not been completely destroyed. There are cracks and dramatic damage.”

Chitrik posted a video of himself helping remove Torah scrolls from the damaged synagogue in an effort to save them.

A photo posted by another user on Twitter showed the damaged Torah storage room.

“The end of a 2,500-year-old love story,” the user wrote.

There has been a Jewish community in Antakya for over 2,500 years, although there are thought to only be 12 elderly members left, including the couple who died

Chitrik has reported that as far as he knows, there were no other fatalities or missing people among Turkish Jewish communities, though some were rescued from collapsed buildings.

Israel’s ambassador to Turkey has said that so far no Israeli casualties have been reported either.

The confirmed death toll across the two countries has soared above 16,000 after a swarm of strong tremors near the Turkey-Syria border — the largest of which measured at a massive 7.8-magnitude on Monday.

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