Necdet Kent was a Turkish diplomat who saved dozens of Jews during the Holocaust, at great risk to himself.
Born in Istanbul in 1911, Necdet was educated in the United States and attended law school at NYU. He returned to Turkey and entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1937. He was appointed vice consul to Greece, and then transferred to German-occupied France in 1941.
In 1943, Necdet heard that the Germans had loaded 80 Turkish Jews living in Marseilles onto a cattle car for transportation to a concentration camp. Necdet hurried to the Gestapo commander and demanded that the Jews be freed, since they were Turkish citizens and Turkey was neutral. The officer refused, saying the people didn’t count as citizens of any place because they were just Jews.
Desperate, Necdet and his assistant boarded the train themselves. The Gestapo officer told them to get off, but Necdet adamantly refused, saying “As the representative of a government that rejects such treatment for religious beliefs, I cannot consider leaving them here.”
Finally, not knowing what else to do, the Gestapo let everybody off the train. “I would never forget,” Necdet later said, “those embraces around our necks and hands … the expressions of gratitude in the eyes of the people we rescued … the inner peace I felt when I reached my bed towards morning.”
Necdet reached out to the community of Turkish Jews in France and supplied them with false Turkish identity documents, allowing them to escape the Nazi death camps.
Necdet heard that the Gestapo were stripping men and boys on the street to see if they were circumcised and therefore Jewish. Necdet informed the German officers that circumcision didn’t necessarily mean somebody was Jewish; he was Muslim and circumcised and offered to take his clothes off to prove it.
After the war, Necdet continued his career in the Turkish foreign service. He served as ambassador to the US, Thailand, India, Sweden and Poland. In 2001, shortly before he died, Necdet was honored by Israeli Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem as “Rightous Among the Nations.”
For sticking his neck out – and more! – to save Turkish Jews in France, we honor Necdet Kent as this week’s Thursday Hero at Accidental Talmudist.
With thanks to Yasemin Ozkafa
Get the best of Accidental Talmudist in your inbox: sign up for our monthly newsletter.