In discussions of World War II and the decade leading up to the war, history tends to mainly focus on the major players in Europe (Germany, France and England) and the Pacific (Japan and China). Even Jewish historical accounts (which tend to be quite detailed) overlook the destabilizing impact that the increasing nationalism in other countries had during the 1930s. For instance, most people have not heard of the Thrace Pogroms of 1934. In fact, many readers might even be wondering where Thrace is-certainly not on any 20th century map. Thrace is a region in Southeast Europe, between the Balkan Mountains, the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea. The incident in question actually occurred in “Eastern Thrace,” which is part of Turkey.

Although June 5, 1934, is recorded as the date on which the Thrace Pogroms began, the background history is important. The Republic of Turkey was established in 1922, on the ashes of the 600 year old Ottoman Empire. One of the new regime’s primary goals was to create a secular republic. Fierce nationalism – a Pan-Turkish movement – swept the country. Additionally, there were many in Turkey with pro-Nazi sympathies.

Following a series of pro-Turkish, anti-Semitic articles, the pogroms in Thrace began with a boycott of Jewish businesses. At first, this meant looting and burning buildings, but the violence steadily increased throughout the month of June. It is even rumored that a rabbi was chased naked through the streets, and his daughter raped. Over 15,000 Jews were forced to flee before the government finally took action on July 4th.

While the Thrace Pogroms demonstrate the underlying anti-Semitism that then existed in Turkey, it should also be noted that during World War II, even with a strong pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic element among its citizens, Turkey remained neutral in the conflict until they joined the Allies in 1945.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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