04 October 2013

The Jews of Turkey

Recently, I posted about the records of Michigan, Detroit Manifests of Arrivals at the Port of Detroit, 1906-1954, available at www.familysearch.org.  In those records, well over 400 list themselves as being Jewish and having been born in Turkey. In addition, when one searches the records of border crossings into the United States from Canada and Mexico, there are also a good amount of people who come from Turkey.
The fact that Turkey had such an influence should not be surprising, as the Jewish history of Turkey is very long. As far back as biblical times, the people of Turkey were trading partners with the Israelites. During the time of the expulsion the Sultan Bayazid II of the Ottoman Empire offered refuge to the the Sephardic Jews being driven out of Spain and Portugal,  where they would be free from persecution. In fact, over hundreds of years before the expulsion, Jews fleeing many countries found refuge in the land. Some of them included;

  • Early 1300's. Karaites from Europe.
  • 1370's. Jews expelled from Hungary.
  • 1390's. Jews expelled from France by Charles VI.
  • 1400's. Sicilian Jews who were expelled.
  • 1530's. Jews from Italy arrived
  For hundreds of year after the expulsion, the Jews of the Ottoman Empire were able to flourish, perhaps like they had never flourished before. The majority of the Jews lived in four major cities, Istanbul, Izmir, Safed and Salonica. By 1500, there were more than 1,500 Jewish households in the city of Istanbul and by the middle of the 1500's that number was more than 7500. The Jews became prominent in medicine, politics, business, arts and literature. In fact the Jews established the first printing press in the Ottoman Empire in 1493.
 The country of Turkey became an independent state in 1923, and have been able to maintain its history of neutrality and of being a refuge for those that need help. During World War II, Turkey became a safe haven for those fleeing the Nazis. Today the Jewish population of Turkey, which is over 90% Sephardic, numbers about 20-25,000. The majority are in Istanbul, but smaller communities are in places such as Izmir.
The Knowles Collection - Jews of Africa and the Orient is now beginning to add some records from Turkey. The records of Altindag Jewish Cemetery in the city of Izmir, are now being entered. These incredible records, thousands of them will soon be available.

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