Turkish academics attend Yad Vashem seminar

15-member delegation participates in week-long workshop on Holocaust education with goal of improving methods in Turkey

Members of a Turkish delegation explore the Learning Center: Reflection After the Holocaust, at Yad Vashem (photo credit: : Martin Sykes-Haas)
Members of a Turkish delegation explore the Learning Center: Reflection After the Holocaust, at Yad Vashem (photo credit: : Martin Sykes-Haas)

An exclusive seminar on Holocaust education was conducted for a delegation of Turkish academics this week at the Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies.

The week-long seminar, the first of its kind, came after an educational conference held at the Galatasaray University in Istanbul in October 2013.

Fifteen academics participated in the event, a joint Yad Vashem and Aladdin Project endeavor, also supported by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and the ICHEIC Humanitarian Fund.

Yad Vashem said the Turkish participants experienced in-depth tours of the museums, archives and monuments at Israel’s Holocaust memorial site, in addition to discussions with prominent historians and experts in Holocaust history, research and education. It was the first visit to Israel for most of the participants, most of whom hold PhDs in history, political science and international relations.

A follow-up session, set to explore concrete projects to educate the Turkish public on the Holocaust, is scheduled for later this year.

“We are very pleased to be hosting this impressive group of academics at our International School for Holocaust Studies,” Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said in a press release. “Given the significance of Turkish society in the Muslim world this is an important step. At Yad Vashem we are witnessing interest in the Holocaust that traverses countries, religion and language and are ready to meet the challenges ahead.”

Despite Turkey’s status as a neutral actor during World War II, Turkish diplomats independently saved tens of thousands of Jews from Nazi persecution in France, Eastern Europe and the island of Rhodes. One of them, Selahattin Ülkümen, was declared one of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1989.

Istanbul also served as a major conduit for European Jews traveling to Palestine by sea and rail.

The Turkish government, at the behest of Albert Einstein, opened its doors to tens of prominent German academics and their families after many were removed from their positions in the 1930s.

The mission was led by Ibrahim Bukel, director of textbook editing in Turkey’s Education Ministry, Ynet reported.

“We are grateful to Yad Vashem for their invitation. After acquiring this important information we will share it with the Turkish authorities,” he said. “We believe that teaching about the Holocaust will assist in raising awareness to it in Turkey.”

The Holocaust is only lightly touched upon in the Turkish education system today. Selin Nasi, a foreign policy analyst for Şalom, a Jewish weekly newspaper in Turkey, said that was due to multiple reasons.

“Religious circles in Turkey do not sympathize too much with the Jewish people’s suffering during the Second World War, and though it’s rare, there are even those who deny the Holocaust,” she told The Times of Israel. “But there is also a concern that the historical facts of the Nazi-perpetrated genocide would force the Turkish people to confront some of the realities of the Armenian genocide as well.”

It is too soon to say whether the Islamic AKP-led government will implement the ideas of this group of academics, but Nasi said that they’re hopeful.

“In my opinion, the individual consciousness by these faculty members and intellectuals will probably stimulate interest and research in the Holocaust,” she said. “In particular, private universities are the most likely to promote Holocaust education because they are able to develop an autonomous curriculum.”

One such example was Kadir Has University’s decision to host an event on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January 2014, which was attended by Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru and Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva.

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