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Turkey has legal mechanisms to address Holocaust-era property returns, although with no known current cases, these mechanisms remain untested.  As a country that was not occupied by Axis powers during World War II (WWII) and that maintained a policy of active neutrality during the war, Turkey played a role in facilitating the transportation of Jews fleeing Europe, while also maintaining business relationships with Nazi German firms.  Turkey has no known immovable or movable property cases from this period.

There are approximately 16,000 Jews in Turkey, according to the Jewish Community of Turkey, the primary organization representing the community.  No Holocaust survivors are currently living in the country.

The Jewish community notes that, while there are no known Holocaust-era immovable property claims within Turkey itself, individual Turkish Jews who reside in European countries once controlled by Nazi or Nazi-allied governments (some of whom were rescued through the efforts of Turkish diplomats) may present their claims through the appropriate mechanisms in those countries.  Local scholars were only aware of a handful of cases, mostly in France, in which Turkish Jews sought and received compensation for damages to property and goods during the war.  They are not aware, however, of any current claims being pursued by survivors or their descendants.

Turkish Holocaust scholars and sources within the local Jewish community are unaware of any claims related to Nazi-looted art or other movable property in Turkey.  While admitting the possibility that private individuals may hold such property and recognizing that Nazi‑confiscated and looted art is a global problem, these sources were neither aware of the presence of such pieces in the country nor of their transit through it.

One known instance relates to movable property seizures from the Holocaust era and the use of Nazi gold to buy war materials from Turkey during WWII.  The U.S. National Archives documented the sale of looted gold provided by Germany’s then-Central Bank, the Reichsbank, for foreign currency to fund diplomatic, espionage, and propaganda activities.  Under its policy of “active neutrality,” Turkey supplied materials to both Axis and Allied countries during the war.  American experts estimated Nazi Germany transferred to Turkey between $10 and $15 million (approximately $140-$215 million in current value) in gold during the war.

Post-war efforts to locate Nazi Germany’s external assets, including gold, indicated as much as $71 million worth of assets were in Turkey in 1946.  Turkey’s eventual declaration of war against Nazi Germany complicated the Allies’ ability to liquidate those assets to aid in the reconstruction of Europe.  Shifting geopolitical priorities and prolonged negotiations eventually led to a 1952 agreement to settle the Allies’ claims on German assets (particularly gold) in Turkey with the government for $1 million.  In return, Allied governments relinquished their claims on Nazi German assets in Turkey.

According to the members of the local Jewish community, there are no known Judaica or Jewish cultural property items in Turkey looted from Europe during the Holocaust era.  The community emphasized that any potential claims could be pursued with the government – specifically, with the Ministry of Culture as the first point of contact – in the event an item was brought to their attention.  Representatives from the Jewish Museum of Turkey emphasized they can account for all items in their collection and trace items’ origins to communities in Turkey or reputable partners.

Local representatives are unaware of any challenges in accessing archival documents from Turkish sources that would be relevant to proving ownership of looted immovable, movable, or Jewish cultural properties.  Jewish community representatives noted that Ottoman-era records and genealogical data provided through Turkish population registers are available and can be helpful when conducting lineage research.  Other contacts note that Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ records for the WWII period largely remain closed, citing security grounds.  They add that opening them could provide additional details about Turkish Jews and non-Turkish Jews who traveled to or through Turkey during that time, as well as shed new light on the role Turkish diplomats played in aiding Jews escaping from Europe.

Turkey was one of the co-sponsors of the 2005 UN resolution designating January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The government commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, participates in several other acts of remembrance, and is an observer in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

There is no official Holocaust-related curriculum in Turkey.  Former participants in Turkey’s delegations to IHRA point to this absence as one of the reasons Turkey has not moved beyond observer status in the organization.  These contacts also indicated that the Foreign Ministry attempted to work with the Ministry of Education at various points to develop a Holocaust education curriculum.  However, the efforts did not result in tangible progress.

Private organizations supported by external donations initiated a number of programs to directly reach students and train teachers in Holocaust education, but these programs are limited in scope.  Recently, the Civil and Ecological Rights Association (SEHAK) neared completion on a three‑year project with the Anne Frank House to design a Holocaust education curriculum in Turkish, hold regional trainer and educator seminars, host educational exhibitions, and organize an international conference.  Several contacts also said reading lists, particularly in private secondary schools, include Holocaust-related material as part of their recommended (but not required) reading options.  Despite these positive steps, the absence of a systematic Holocaust education curriculum is a significant shortcoming, and existing activities only reach a limited number of teachers and students.

There are no known permanent Holocaust memorials in Turkey.  For the past five years, the Governor of Istanbul hosted a commemoration ceremony to mark the sinking in 1942 of the Struma, a ship with nearly 800 Jewish refugees transiting the Black Sea from occupied Romania to then‑Mandatory Palestine.  Turkish officials attend that commemoration event along with Jewish community representatives, including the Chief Rabbi and members of the diplomatic community.  In addition, for the past five years, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs co‑hosted an annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day event with Ankara University.  Similar events take place in Istanbul where the country’s Jewish community is largely centered, and the government releases a public statement each year to mark the day.

The Jewish Museum of Turkey primarily focuses on the cultural history of the community.  In doing so, it also commemorates the actions of Turkish diplomats who saved the lives of Turkish Jews as well as others during WWII.  According to the curators of the exhibition, more than 100,000 Jews passed through Turkey while fleeing Europe, and Istanbul was an important center of rescue activity.  The exhibition features the story of Selahattin Ulkumen, recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, as well as other Turkish diplomats who provided Turkish passports to citizens and possibly noncitizens as they escaped from Europe.  The museum also features an educational outreach program.

Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report: Turkey
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