Necdet Kent : biography
İsmail Necdet Kent (1911 – September 20, 2002) was a Turkish diplomat who risked his life to save Jews during World War II. While vice-consul in Marseilles, France between 1941 and 1944, he gave documents of citizenship to dozens of Turkish Jews living in France who did not have proper identity papers, to save them from deportation to the Nazi gas chambers.
Legacy and honors
In 2001, Kent, Namık Kemal Yolga and Selahattin Ülkümen, also Turkish diplomats who had worked in Europe and saved Jews during World War II, were honoured with Turkey's Supreme Service Medal, as well as a special medal from Israel, for rescuing Jews during the Holocaust.
Early life and education
Necdet Kent was born in Istanbul, Turkey and got his secondary education from Galatasaray Lycee, as did some of his colleagues in the foreign ministry. He travelled to the United States for his university studies, earning a degree in public law from New York University.
Returning to Turkey, Kent entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1937. He was first posted as vice consul to Athens, Greece. In 1941, he was appointed to the post of vice consul at Marseilles, France, a post which he held until 1944. Many refugees gathered in southern France during the war, and Marseilles was a major port of embarkation.
At some time in 1943, an assistant at the Turkish consulate told Kent that the Germans had just loaded 80 Turkish Jews living in Marseilles into cattle cars for immediate transport to probable death in Germany. Kent later recalled, "To this day, I remember the inscription on the wagon: 'This wagon may be loaded with 20 heads of cattle and 500 kilograms of grass'.", Bleublancture.net, 21 Sep 2000, accessed 3 Dec 2009 Kent approached the Gestapo commander at the station, and demanded that the Jews be released, as they were Turkish citizens and Turkey was neutral. The official refused to do so, saying that the people were nothing but Jews.
Kent and his assistant quickly got on the train, too. The German official asked him to get off, but Kent refused. At the next station, German officers boarded and apologized to Kent for not letting him off at Marseilles; they had a car waiting outside to return him to his office. Kent explained that the mistake was that 80 Turkish citizens had been loaded on the train. "As a representative of a government that rejected such treatment for religious beliefs, I could not consider leaving them there," he said. Surprised at his uncompromising stance, the Germans ultimately let everyone off the train., The Daily Telegraph, London; reprinted on Sydney Morning Herald.com, 1 Oct 2002, accessed on September 25, 2008
"I would never forget," Kent 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."
Kent's heroism was not limited to this one action. In contrast to some of other foreign representatives stationed in Marseilles, Kent reached out to the Jewish community, issuing Turkish identity documents to scores of Turkish Jews living in southern France, or those who had fled there and did not hold valid Turkish passports.
Kent went to Gestapo headquarters to protest against their latest action in Marseilles: the stripping of males in the street to determine whether or not they were Jews (by circumcision). The Vice Consul rebuked the German commander and informed him that circumcision did not necessarily prove an individual's Jewishness. Kent said, "When I saw the emptiness in the commander's eyes, I realize that he did not understand what I am saying. And I said that I will accept to be examined by their doctors." He told the Germans that Muslim men, as he was, were also circumcised.
After World War II, Kent continued his career in the Turkish foreign service. He served as Consul General at the Turkish Consulate General in New York. He also was at different times the Turkish ambassador to Thailand, India, Sweden, and Poland.
Necdet Kent married and had children. One son is Muhtar Kent, president of The Coca Cola Company since July 2008.
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