How a Professor Trained as an Engineer Came to Write a History of Holocaust Survivors Who Found Refuge in Turkey


Mr. Reisman received his BS, MS, and PhD degrees in engineering from UCLA. He is a registered Professional Engineer in California, Wisconsin, and Ohio, and has published over 200 papers in refereed professional journals, along with 14 books. After 27 years as Professor of Operations Research at Case Western Reserve University, Reisman chose early retirement in 1994. During 1999-2003, he was an invited Visiting Scholar in Turkey at both Sabanci University, and the Istanbul Technical University. His current research interests are technology transfer, epistemology, meta research, and most recently, the history of German-speaking exiled professors starting in 1933 and their impact on science in general and Turkish universities in particular. Reisman is also actively pursuing his lifelong interest in sculpting. He is listed in Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, American Men and Women of Science, and Two Thousand Notable Americans, and he is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

While browsing through an Istanbul book store I came across “Turkey and the Holocaust.” Being a Holocaust survivor and considering myself somewhat knowledgeable about its history the book grabbed my attention. I knew nothing about what was so painstakingly documented by its author Stanford Shaw. Noticing my agitation the shopkeeper engaged me in a conversation. Suddenly I realized that this Turkish native was very familiar with a subject which, upon my return to Cleveland, I learned that stateside people teaching Holocaust history were as ignorant on the matter as was I. Dealing mostly with the Turkish government’s role in saving Turkey-connected Jews residing in both occupied and Vichy France, the Shaw book briefly touches on the subject of the German and Austrian intellectuals invited to Turkey by Ataturk for the purposes of creating a modern system of higher education. This peaked my interest. With the help of professional archivists worldwide and a number of friends who live in Turkey and in Israel, I set about researching and writing the story.

The book chronicles the story of a group of individuals caught at a crossroads and targeted in the crossfires of history. In 1933 events in their native Germanic lands presented them with a “Hobson’s choice”—leave if you can or die! Their lives were saved because Turkey was discarding the society and culture inherited from the Ottomans’ derelict and shattered empire while recognizing and addressing the need to modernize its society, culture, way of living, and system of higher education.

In the Spring of 1933 a German Jewish physician set up a Swiss-based organization to help place as many of the expelled German intellectuals and professionals (not all of them Jewish) as he could outside Nazi-dominated lands. One of the countries contacted was Turkey. Their success is the basis for this book. Many individuals and their families could not go to America because anti-Semitic hiring practices in universities and hospitals were rampant. Their problems were complicated by the fact that the State Department had little interest in granting visas to Jews. But Turkey needed the brains and skills these men and women possessed and offered contracts and accommodations to a group of almost 100. Those who were chosen could look to Turkey as a safe haven. This held true from 1933 until World War II's end in 1945. Many years later, these survivors came West and enriched all of our lives, directly or indirectly.

The Third Reich encouraged these emigrations until 1941. The process served several purposes for the Nazis. One was to increase German influence in Turkey. Though the Reich would have preferred to send Aryan and especially Nazi professors in the early 1930s, few were willing to go. German Jews and mischlings (mixed breeds, to use the Nazi term) were considered the next best choice of hostage, because many had property and relatives remaining in Germany. The latter, of course, could, and indeed were, be used to serve the Reich’s purposes. Also, Hitler wanted to keep Turkey neutral. All these maneuvers counted as chits to be invoked as and when necessary.

Using a collection of third-party archival documents, cotemporaneous family and collegial correspondence, memoirs, oral histories, photos, and other surviving evidence I documented the fears, the courage, the heartaches, and the determination of these brilliant people as well as their contributions to shifting established paradigms in several fields of knowledge.

As a sophomore at UCLA, I remember juniors and seniors excitedly discussing “the German professor’s” philosophy lectures. I couldn’t wait till I could take his course as an elective outside of my engineering major. Sadly for me, he died just before the semester I was to take his class. Little did I know then that, over half a century later, I would be learning about Hans Reichenbach’s life, talking via long distance to his 96-year-old widow, Maria, and his daughter, Elizabeth. As a first-year graduate student, I was not aware that Richard von Mises,William Prager, and Arthur von Hippel, authors of seminal texts I was reading, would appear in the course of my research for a book manuscript on their enforced exile years.

While moving away from mathematical dynamics of fluid flow and the highly experimental materials science and beginning to read for my dissertation in the fast-emerging field of Operations Research, I quickly learned about America’s pioneers in the science of management—the time studies of Frederick W. Taylor and the motions studies by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth (Cheaper by the Dozen, 1948). I was also impressed to learn that the modern American (as well as urban Turkish) home kitchen was designed to conserve limb motion and body movement. It was not until doing research for this book that I learned who had first converted these efficiency ideas into kitchen design blueprints. Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, an Austrian architect, integrated this concept into large multi-dwelling complexes that had been built in Austria and Germany for working-class families in the 1920s. I also learned that there was an anti-Nazi underground in Austria and that Schütte-Lihotzky, (and a fellow Austrian architect) left Turkey to join this movement. I did not understand that each time my doctoral advisor would invite me to have lunch at the UCLA Faculty Club, I would be sitting in the same room as the great Turkologist, Andreas Tietze, the superb sinologist/sociologist, Wolfram Eberhard, and the renowned theatrical producer and opera director, Carl Ebert.

Long after my student days, I listened to Paul Hindemith’s music being performed by the Cleveland Orchestra. By the time the children of my children had reached young adulthood, I had spent many a Saturday morning at the Atatürk Arts Complex in the Taksim Square of Istanbul where the music was always good, as was the company of my Turkish friends, and the ticket price always low, thanks to municipal subsidies. I have only recently found out that the original concert hall was designed by Clemens Holzmeister in collaboration with the very same Carl Ebert whose theatrical and operatic productions I had so enjoyed in Los Angeles back in the 1950s.  

In the late 1950s, I did not reflect on the possibility that the optical, solar, and radio telescopes I was helping design would be used over the coming decades by astronomers who, like me, had had to escape from the Nazis. Nor could I have known in the early 1940s that, in Istanbul, only one night’s voyage away across the Black Sea from Feodossiya, there were young displaced persons like me. But, unlike me, they were living fairly normal, happy lives surrounded by family, and each was receiving a good education. They were under the protection of the “barbarian” Turks while I was in Feodossiya and elsewhere often just trying to be on the “right side” of the battle between armies of the “proletariat” Russians and those of the “civilized” Germans. It was the Germans that I feared most.

I was keenly watching the news coming in from Europe when the Soviet Union cut off ground traffic in an attempt to starve the Allies out of Berlin during the first stand-off of the Cold War (1948), but I did not make the connection that Berlin’s mayor at that time was Ernst Reuter, whose life had been saved by a Turkish invitation to help set up their universities and city planning organizations.

As an amateur sculptor, I enjoyed seeing a Rudolf Belling sculpture every time I went to give guest lectures at the Macka campus of Istanbul Technical University. The older I become, the more I get X-rayed, CTed, and MRIed. So when that happens, I think of physicist, Friedrich Dessauer, an early X-ray researcher, and Carl Weissglass, his engineer. I also think of radiologist Max Sgalitzer, a victim of excessive exposure over a lifetime of pioneering this wonderful diagnostic medium, and his Istanbul wing mates, Walter Reininger,the engineer and inventor of an early dosimeter, and Margarethe Reininger, an early radiological nurse, one of a husband-and-wife team.

As I researched material for this book, I came to the conclusion that Erica Bruck’s research publications and laboratory manuals/standards have influenced the heath care I received in California, Wisconsin, and Ohio. The same is true for my children and grandchildren who are scattered around the globe. Also, with age, many more of my friends have to fight off cancer, a dreadful disease indeed. Each time the word comes up, I think that if a cure is ever found, zoologist Curt Kosswig will have played a role in that outcome.

Ignorant as I am of immunology, I cannot help but wonder whether the work in this field by immunologist Felix Haurowitz influenced the use of Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccine (BCG), a tubercular agent, widely used to prevent reoccurrence of bladder cancer. As I followed the controversy surrounding the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s exhibit entitled “The Crossroads: The End of World War II, the Atomic Bomb and the Cold War” and the uproar regarding the refurbishment of the warrior plane Enola Gay, all to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in 1995, I had no idea the museum’s director at the time was Dr. Martin Harwit, the son of Felix Haurowitz. And to my great, although pleasant, surprise, while in the final stages of getting the manuscript ready for the publisher, one of its guest copy editors, Jean Hull Herman who spent sixteen years as editor-in-chief of MÖBIUS, The Poetry Magazine, was shocked to learn that Erich Auerbach, one of her literary idols, wrote his classic account of the genesis of the novel,Mimesis, while in Turkey. 
Being interested in the history of science, I was delighted to read in Albert Einstein’s own words that astronomer E. Finlay Freundlich “was the first among fellow-scientists who has taken pains to put the [relativity] theory to the test.” But I was shocked to read Albert Einstein’s letter of May 2 1936, saying, “he was told explicitly that they did not want to hire Jews at Princeton [University].” On the other hand, as a survivor of the Holocaust, I was delighted to learn that an invitation from the Turkish government extracted dentistry professor Alfred Kantorowicz from nine months of concentration camp incarceration, that ENT specialist Karl Hellmann was able to yank his brother Bruno out of Buchenwald and bring him to safety in Turkey, and that pediatrician Albert Eckstein was influential in persuading ministers of Turkey’s government to let European Jews go through Turkey, thus saving over 20,000 Jews from extermination, including a train load of 233 souls that came out of Bergen-Belsen in July of 1944.

It is sad but true that when I contacted professionals teaching Holocaust history at the local schools, and colleges, as well as some of the rabbis who had given recent sermons on the subject, none had any knowledge whatsoever of Turkey’s role in saving so many intellectuals. Of the larger issue of Turkey and the Holocaust, they either had fragmentary knowledge (such as the sinking of the refugee ship Struma in the Black Sea with great loss of life), were grossly misinformed, negatively predisposed (particularly in the Struma incident), or all of the above. 

Likewise, each time I run into a Turkish intellectual, academic, or practicing physician, engineer, musician, artist, or lawyer, I can’t help but think about how profoundly their educations were influenced by their “German” professors.

But above all, I think of the men and women whose stories of enforced but life-saving exile are the very essence of this book. And, each time I read of a scientific or technological development affecting all of us, I can’t help but consider possible linkages back to the work of the émigrés in Turkey, their progeny, their students, and the ensuing generations of all of the above.

The work of these émigrés and their advancements, as well as the work they each inspired in their students and colleagues worldwide, boggles the imagination. Had that been lost, a whole range of disciplines would have certainly been impacted, some irreparably.

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Arnold B Reisman - 9/19/2006

Sudha is absolutely correct.
In addition to thew economist Wilhelm Ropke, & the sociologist Alexander Rustow there was Ernst Reuter who was the first mayor of post-war Berlin. In fact he was in that office when the Soviet army blockaded the city and the Allies did the airlift.
Incidentally another bit of little known history is that Turkey declared war on Germany not long before VE day. And, Turkey interned the Germans and Austrians intellectuals (the Aryans) who still held German passports. Read all about that and more in the book.

Sudha Shenoy - 9/19/2006

Many German liberals also found posts in Turkey. Two are the economist, Wilhelm Ropke, & the historian, Alexander Rustow.