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September 20: The Turkish Consul Who Saved Jews

September 19, 2016

Necdet Kent, who as Turkish vice-consul in France saved dozens of Turkish Jews living in France from being deported to Nazi death camps, died at 91 on this date in 2002. Kent served his government in Marseilles, a point of embarkation for many Jews fleeing Europe, from 1941 to 1944. In 1943, upon learning that eighty Turkish Jews had been loaded onto cattle cars in Marseilles, Kent demanded of the local Gestapo commander that they be released. When the Nazi refused, Kent and his assistant boarded the train and refused to get off. At the next station, German officers apologized to him and offered him transportation back to his consulate, but he “as a representative of a government that rejected such treatment for religious beliefs, I could not consider leaving them there,” he said. Ultimately, everyone was let off the train. Kent continued his heroism, reaching out to Jews without proper papers and providing the documentation they needed to escape France. When Jewish men were being stripped on the streets to see if they were circumcised, Kent objected, offering to strip himself to show that Muslim men, too, were circumcised. After the war, Kent served variously as ambassador to the U.S. (New York), Thailand, India, Sweden, and Poland. In 2001, he and two other Turkish diplomats were awarded Turkey’s Supreme Service Medal and Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations award. His son, Muhtar Kent, has been CEO of Coca Cola since 2008.

“I would never forget 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 Kent