NEW YORK - In accepting an award from the Anti-Defamation League on behalf of diplomats who saved Jews during the Holocaust, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan strongly condemned anti-Semitism and stressed his country's close relationship with the modern State of Israel.
"Anti-Semitism has no place in Turkey. It is alien to our culture," Erdogan said in accepting the League's "Courage to Care Award," which pays tribute to those who risked their lives to save thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. Erdogan accepted the honor at ADL's National Headquarters in New York City at a ceremony attended by various high-level Turkish government ministers, U.N. diplomats and leaders of the Turkish and American Jewish communities.
"The Turkish nation has been living for centuries with the Jewish people and will continue its close and friendly relations with them in the future and will struggle together with them against any racism with determination," Erdogan said. "It is the task of leaders around the world to join me in condemning the spread of hatred, whether through publications or otherwise. Our consistent policy towards anti-Semitic diatribes can be nothing short of zero tolerance."
Erdogan reaffirmed his nation's commitment to maintaining strong ties with the U.S. and the State of Israel. He said that while few Jews still live in Turkey, "They are cherished and prized elements of the Turkish society."
In presenting the award, Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor, said that Turkey's role in saving Jews has been ignored for too long.
"With the millions upon millions of words that have been written about the Holocaust, and about those who upheld the honor of humanity at a time when that word had become utterly grotesque, Turkey's role in the forefront of those few nations who provided refuge and rescue to the tragic Jews of Europe has been largely omitted or overlooked," Foxman said. "While millions were murdered before the eyes of an indifferent world, Turkey was one of the tiny handful of nations who acted in the name of conscience and community."
Bernard Turiel, a Holocaust survivor from isle of Rhodes, recalled how he and his family were rescued as the island's community of about 1,700 Sephardic Jews was rounded up by the SS in July 1944. The Turkish consul in Rhodes, Selahattin Ulkumen, intervened on behalf of Turkish subjects and saved 42 Jews from deportation to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz.
Ulkumen, who also attempted in vain to save other Jews from being deported, received the ADL's fourth Courage To Care Award in 1988.
"On behalf of my family and on behalf of all Turkish Jews, thank you for opening up your shores and your homes and welcoming the Sephardic Jews of Rhodes to your wonderful home," said Turiel, an attorney who now lives in New Jersey. Turiel's family immigrated to the United States in July 1946.
The League's Courage To Care Award was established to pay tribute to those men and women of courage and honor who, in the midst of the Holocaust, risked their own lives to save Jews.