Istanbul Intrigues » Chapter 3-Intimations of Catastrophe
3 Intimations of Catastrophe
You don’t need a guide to a village you can see.
The competition between the Allies and Germany brought a struggle between them for Turkey’s allegiance. As the Nazis took over one country after another, all Europe was engulfed in war and German armies rolled closer and closer to Istanbul.
The Germans occupied Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and transformed it on the Nazi pattern. Business executives, journalists, politicians, and officials were courted, bribed, and given special privileges in exchange for collaboration. Those who refused to cooperate were arrested, tortured, and shipped to concentration camps. The ethnic German and part of the Slovak minorities formed a fifth column. Newspapers and radio stations were seized or censored. Tens of thousands of refugees fled.
One night soon after the Germans entered Prague, a young leftist Hungarian correspondent named George Paloczi-Horvath sat mournfully drinking with two British friends in that city’s fashionable Embassy Nightclub. Cigarette smoke filled the room. A German major eyed the three men and finally swayed drunkenly over to their tiny table. He sat down and told them how ashamed he was to be involved in the brutal rape of Czechoslovakia.
Why, asked Paloczi-Horvath, didn’t the Germans themselves stop Hitler? The major pounded the table. “Do you know what it means to live under terrorism? Do you know what it feels like to live in a police state? You are kids; you don’t know the half of it,” he lamented. “It’s not only a question of courage. Resistance just leads to a quick arrest. To resist is generally nothing but committing an isolated suicide.” German officers bowed to Hitler’s seemingly magical charisma and a system which seemed to lead them to one victory after another.
Paloczi-Horvath and an equally anti-Nazi Danish colleague then I made a mutual assistance pact: “If Hitler occupies my country first,” said the Dane, “I will come to Budapest and stay with you. If the Germans grab Hungary, you can come live with me in Copenhagen.” “And what,” interrupted an older French writer sitting between them, “if he occupies both?” Exactly one year later, after war had begun, the German army would march into Denmark. Paloczi-Horvath heard the news in Istanbul’s Park Hotel. The following year, as the Hungarian government joined the Axis, Paloczi-Horvath was in Budapest and had to grab the last train out to escape being imprisoned. He fled to neutral Istanbul and joined British intelligence to continue the fight.
But in the spring and summer days of 1939, Roncalli was still struggling to sustain his hope for peace. On a trip home to Rome, he saw the Fascist regime repress liberal Catholics and host Hitler amidst pomp, hundreds of swastika flags, and cheering crowds. Yet, Roncalli maintained in one of his Istanbul sermons, “History ebbs and flows. The designs of the Lord, not human plans shape [it].” Istanbul itself had seen many empires vanish without a trace, and the same fate, Roncalli hinted, was in store for Hitler and Mussolini. All would turn out well. “I don’t believe we will have a war,” Roncalli wrote in April 1939. A few days later, Mussolini invaded Albania and signed a formal alliance with Hitler. Roncalli was one of the last optimists left in Europe.
The Turkish leaders were more realistic. “Arms and munitions factories are engaged in feverish activity,” said Foreign Minister Sükrü Saracoğlu in July 1939. “Diplomatic conversations have a sort of warlike character; newspapers, the radio and news agencies create an atmosphere of war.” Europe was not yet at war, but everyone knew that a titanic battle was imminent.
The Turks thought that their resources and strategic location put
them on Hitler’s list of countries to be conquered. Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the brilliantly effective German propaganda minister, flew into Istanbul for a visit. On the way, his plane took a detour over Turkish military installations south of the city. When Goebbels landed at Istanbul’s Yesilkoy Airport, he was met not only by a German welcoming party but also by a flock of Emniyet officials who seized all the pictures taken of Turkey’s key army bases.
Belatedly, Britain and France girded themselves against Hitler’s divide-and-conquer strategy, beginning a frantic race against Berlin and Rome for influence throughout east and southeast Europe. Britain unsuccessfully urged that countries in the Balkans region–Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Hungary–form a defensive alliance against German expansion. In the summer of 1939 Britain and France agreed to aid Turkey if it was attacked.
As soon as he heard this news, German Ambassador Franz von Papen rushed to the Foreign Ministry and proposed a German-Turkish pact. His orders were to prevent Turkey’s alignment with Germany’s enemies. If the Allies obtained the use of Turkey’s resources and strategic position, Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop told him, Germany would lose the coming war. Berlin knew, having broken Ankara’s diplomatic code, that Turkey would be passive as long as the Axis did not attack the Balkans. But this was precisely what Hitler and his friend Mussolini intended to do. Von Papen must ensure that Turkey remain neutral even after conquest of that region began.
He used threats as well as promises. “What are you going to do,” von Papen warned the Turks, “without modern weapons in the coming battle? Istanbul and all your cities will be destroyed…. Stay neutral!” The wily ambassador exploited the Turks’ great fear. They had worked twenty years to overcome the last war’s devastation. Foreign Minister Saracoğlu had just told parliament, “No victory could give us what…years of peace have bestowed upon us, and no responsible man could lightly let these magnificent achievements disappear in the flames of an armed struggle.” Now the Turks feared that their efforts would literally be turned to ashes in a few weeks.
There were other factors working in the Germans’ favor as well. Fear of German power made the Balkan States more willing to appease Hitler. Many leaders in east and central Europe thought Germany was
an invincible force they had to propitiate or join. Newspapers and politicians were often for sale. Romania was a crumbling state in which corruption had become an art form. Yugoslavia was a patchwork of mutually resentful ethnic groups. Greece suffered under an unpopular dictator.
In addition, rivalries inhibited cooperation among the small countries. Territorial disputes among them gave some regimes an incentive to align themselves with Berlin. Germany’s defeated World War I allies, Hungary and Bulgaria, had suffered in the peace settlement and were as eager as Hitler to revise existing frontiers at their neighbors’ expense. Some Balkan elites saw Germany as a shield against the U.S.S.R.; local fascist movements collaborated enthusiastically with it.
The difficulty of accomplishing anything in this part of the world had long led frustrated diplomats to use the word “Balkan” to describe impossibly entangled feuds. Nonetheless, in the summer of 1939, a Balkan defense pact, which would convince Germany that aggression was futile, seemed the only way to avoid war. Grigore Gafencu, Romania’s pro-British foreign minister, wrote, “Ankara seemed to be at the center of the efforts being made throughout the world to bar the road to war.” Diplomats congregated there in June 1939 for a final attempt to save peace. A gala ball was held at the Ankara Palace, the city’s grandest hotel. Limousines pulled up the drive and the great men emerged, dressed somberly and identically but representing every political hue. President İnönü and Foreign Minister Saracoğlu shook each arrival’s hand as the guests filed into the banquet hall, where a giant portrait of Atatürk was the sole decoration. Incongruously, in one corner, a jazz orchestra played the latest tunes.
All eyes were on von Papen as he entered the room, surrounded by his retinue and proudly wearing two medals awarded him by the Turks in World War I. Everyone knew that von Papen was determined to block any Balkan alliance, but diplomatic politeness prevailed. Saracoğlu introduced him to everyone, and von Papen immediately took aside Gafencu, the guest of honor.
“I congratulate you on the work for peace you are carrying on here,” von Papen said as he shook the Romanian’s hand. “Minds must be calmed. For my part, that is what I am trying to do here and, above all, in my own country. We don’t want war.” He added, with a meaningful
smile: “War is a misfortune I should like to spare the regime which governs Germany at the moment. You doubtless understand my solicitude for the regime. I have more reason than anyone to wish that the little experiment now being tried by my country will not cause too many disappointments.”
As always, von Papen was trying to give the impression that he was the Third Reich’s true architect and that this paternity meant he still held great power. Simultaneously, he portrayed himself as a moderate who, if everyone only cooperated with him, could restrain, and eventually replace, Hitler.
No German and perhaps no one outside Germany, however, more thoroughly misunderstood and underestimated Hitler than did von Papen. The British and French were naive about Hitler’s fanaticism and his military might. Before Hitler seized power, German Communists had stupidly attacked anti-Nazi moderates under the slogan “After Hitler, us!” But von Papen’s slogan seemed to be “After Hitler, me!” Some anti-Nazis shared von Papen’s illusion. If Hitler was a mad little ex-corporal, it seemed logical that someone like von Papen must be pulling the strings.
Von Papen’s greatest asset was his considerable charm. Goebbels called him “the best horse in our stable. ” Roncalli liked von Papen and thought him a good Catholic. Von Papen’s personal popularity enraged opponents of Hitler who thought it particularly detestible that someone so cultured, suave, and polite–the personification of a European aristocrat–would be such a willing and effective collaborator of the Nazi regime.
Born in 1879, von Papen attended military schools, became a cavalry officer, and joined the army’s elite general staff in 1913. At the start of World War I, he was sent as a military attaché to Washington, where he organized a ring of agents to sabotage U.S. shipyards and munitions’ factories.
In 1915, von Papen sent home a big shipment of secret U.S. military plans as well as documents for use in blackmailing American politicians. He chose the apparently safe method of using as a courier a neutral U.S. citizen traveling on a neutral Dutch ship. But the secretary who wrapped the package was a Czech nationalist agent working for British intelligence. Tipped off by the Czechs, the British stopped the ship,
discovered the purloined documents, and gave them wide publicity . The item that most outraged the American public was a passage in one of von Papen’s letters to his wife ridiculing “those idiotic Yankees.” Washington angrily demanded von Papen’s recall.
Despite this amateurish failure to subvert America, von Papen’s adventures there made him a hero in Germany. After service on the western front, he joined the German military mission to Istanbul in 1917. There he met İnönü, fought the British, and was interned when the Turks surrendered in 1918. After the war, von Papen returned to Germany and went into politics as a member of the Catholic Center party. Again, ambition misled him. Von Papen betrayed his own party, which opposed alliance with the extreme right. To stop some last-minute effort to block his appointment as chancellor in 1932, von Papen falsely told his own party leader–a priest, no less–that he would not accept the post. The enraged priest later labeled von Papen a “Judas,” a not insignificant insult in Catholic circles.
During von Papen’s six months as chancellor, Germany was facing economic collapse, growing polarization, and street violence. Von Papen’s defection further divided moderates and allowed Hitler’s power to grow. To win Nazi backing for his cabinet, von Papen ended a ban on Hitler’s private army. Weakening the already tottering republic, he purged democratic-minded civil servants. When Hitler came to power in January 1933 with von Papen’s help, the Nazi leader made von Papen his vice-chancellor.
Once more, von Papen miscalculated, thinking he could outmaneuver the Nazis. He made a speech urging Hitler to allow a multi-party state and grant more liberties. Hitler was infuriated and considered having him killed. Instead, the Nazis murdered the assistant who wrote the speech. Von Papen became ambassador to Austria, where he earned his reprieve by helping subvert that country’s independence, bringing it under Hitler’s control in 1938.
With this achievement under his belt, von Papen was named ambassador to Turkey in April 1939. The Turks agreed only reluctantly, since von Papen’s diplomatic record encompassed the attempted subversion of one neutral country and the destruction of another. These precedents of duplicity boded ill for Turkey. “It would have been difficult for the German government to hit upon a more unpopular nominee,”
wrote British Ambassador Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen in a secret evaluation of his rival. Yet von Papen defused his hosts’ initial misgivings through the kind of charm he used on Gafencu that warm summer night at the Ankara Palace Hotel.
After speaking with von Papen, Gafencu went to the Bulgarian ambassador. The two men moved to a quiet corner. The orchestra was now playing dance tunes. Young diplomats did their duty by asking ambassadors’ wives to dance while their husbands talked business.
Would Bulgaria, asked Gafencu, join a Balkan alliance? That all depended, responded his interlocutor, on whether Britain would agree to rearrange the map. If Bulgaria was to get Tzaribrod and part of Macedonia from Yugoslavia, Thrace from Greece, and Dobruja from Romania, then it might cooperate. What did Gafencu think of his plan?
British Ambassador Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen was trying to eavesdrop but could not hear every word. When the conversation ended, Sir Hughe accompanied Gafencu to the buffet table, where mounds of delicacies had been ravaged by the jostling crowd. “Well,” he asked, “did you come to an understanding?”
“Beyond all expectations, ” Gafencu replied sarcastically.
“You have allowed him to hope for the return of southern Dobruja?”
“If only that were all! I have given up everything,” Gafencu laughed bitterly, “Tzaribrod, Macedonia, western Thrace. …”
“What?” exclaimed Sir Hughe in consternation. “He has again asked for everything?”
“Everything. That is only a beginning. Appetite grows with the feeding.” Bulgaria’s ridiculous demands could not be met. The Balkan States’ greed and ambitions could not be overcome, Gafencu complained. Balkan politics had done von Papen’s work for him. Leaving Gafencu, Knatchbull-Hugessen made the best of a good party and danced the first tango.
Since arriving in Turkey in March 1939, Knatchbull-Hugessen had also learned the impossibility of assembling an alliance of the small states. “We could do little more,” he later wrote, “than stand by and watch the flood sweep away…the bulwark we had struggled to build. ”
If von Papen appeared to fit a Teutonic stereotype, Knatchbull-Hugessen seemed the caricature of a British diplomat. A product of
Eton and Oxford, he was the grandson of a great Conservative politician and the son of a cabinet minister. The very grandeur of his name seemed designed to be garnished with the title of ambassador. He looked the part as well: straight-postured, prim, thin, and well dressed. The manner in which an ambassador sat in his car was at that time as important as his appearance on horseback was a century earlier–and it embodied the national character of the country he represented. Knatchbull-Hugessen was aristocratically poised in his long limousine with uniformed chauffeur and footman. The Soviet ambassador, in contrast, sat beside his chauffeur in a husky sedan. The U.S. ambassador drove his own Chevrolet.
Knatchbull-Hugessen was a renowned dinner companion with a large repertoire of anecdotes. He was a talented painter and enjoyed good food, classical music, and eloquent speeches. Everyone liked the good-natured “Knatchy,” who, far from being pompous, even wrote satirical poems about himself. The diplomatic life, he once explained, “is inevitably a series of uprootings, changes of surroundings, conditions, climate, land, modes of living and general outlook-a kind of gilded vagabondage.” But behind the kind words about him was always the hint that Knatchbull-Hugessen was more charming than brilliant.
Despite Knatchbull-Hugessen’s sympathy, Gafencu made no progress on a Balkan alliance that night at the Ankara Palace. Traveling on to Greece, Gafencu knew that peace was doomed. Arriving in Athens, he pointed to the Parthenon high above the city.” Does not this temple, by its perfect proportions, express the idea of the unity of Europe, inheritor of the most brilliant civilization ever known; and does it not give, with its magnificent but mournful ruins, a solemn warning to all those who would again blight our common heritage?” But this solemn warning was ignored. Soon, most of Europe would be in ruins.
Failing to spark unity among its smaller neighbors, Turkey turned to the Soviets. But the Russians were only interested in obtaining direct control over the Bosporus. Moscow made it clear that Russia would not help Turkey if Germany attacked. Having moved closer to Hitler, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin viewed the Anglo-French-Turkish alliance as an obstacle to his own ambitions for the Bosporus.
In fact, the Soviets were about to launch their own dramatic initiative. At 1 p.m. on August 22, 1939, two huge German Focke-Wulf
Condor planes landed at Moscow airport. Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop came down the stairs to be greeted by a Soviet military band playing the Nazi anthem. That afternoon, the German and Soviet foreign ministers initialed a treaty of alliance. The next day, the astounding news was announced to a world that had already seemed jaded by the previous months’ tumultuous events. Ostensibly a non-aggression pact, the accord included a secret plan to invade and partition Poland and to coordinate the two dictators’ claims in the Balkans and Turkey. Ankara was badly shaken; Foreign Minister Saracoğlu was exhausted and demoralized. The Nazis and Italians, said President İnönü, were “eagerly awaiting an opportunity to attack Turkey. ”
He did not know the worst. When the Germans and Soviets settled down for secret, detailed discussions, Moscow listed among its goals military control of the Bosporus, rule over Turkey’s strategic northeastern cities of Kars and Ardahan, and ultimately rule over eastern Turkey and Iran. If his demands were met, Stalin hinted, he would join the Axis and push Turkey, willingly or otherwise, in the same direction. But the Germans refused to make concessions because Hitler, already thinking about attacking his Soviet ally, wanted to wait until victory gave him a stronger hand. With shock waves from the Soviet-German pact still echoing, Hitler invaded Poland on September 1. Stalin grabbed its eastern part. Britain and France declared war on Germany. World War II had begun. Von Papen heard the news on the radio and stepped into the embassy’s garden. It was, he told his secretary, the “worst crime and…greatest madness. Germany can never win this war. Nothing will be left but ruins.”
For the next six years, Gafencu mourned, “war, with massacre and destruction in its train, tore the peoples asunder, while vile passions ravaged individual men, racked their bodies, and killed their spirit. Catastrophe filled the whole world, crushing everything and leaving its imprint on every mind.” Facing a united front of the U.S.S.R. and Germany, their two greatest enemies, the Turks quickly signed a treaty of alliance with Britain and France. “Turkey has virtually entered the war,” complained Moscow, blaming the Allies–not Germany–for raising tensions in the Balkans. A Pravda editorial carried a menacing warning: “Turkey’s
independence…is now seriously threatened. ” The Russians mobilized forces on the border and withdrew industrial advisers from Turkey. To convince Turkey that it must bow to German pressure, von Papen had the Pravda editorial translated and mailed to hundreds of Turkish notables. When 23,000 people were killed in an earthquake in eastern Turkey, German broadcasts called the disaster divine retribution for Ankara’s ties to Britain and France.
Instead of caving in, Turkey retaliated by secretly allowing French reconnaissance flights to go over its territory so they could photograph the U.S.S.R.’s Baku oil fields that were fueling the German war machine. The police raided the pro-Nazi Teutonia Club in Istanbul and monitored German spy rings surveying transport and industrial facilities for possible sabotage. Dozens of German technicians and engineers were fired from naval bases, factories, coalfields, and the Golden Horn’s shipyards. Two Bulgarian priests, one a former army officer, were deported after they were caught mapping Turkish border defenses.
Meanwhile, Germany was conquering Poland with astonishing speed. Just before the end, the Polish government tried to save its gold reserves to finance future resistance. The treasure was sent out of shattered Warsaw at night–as bombed-out buildings burned brightly–on three trains clattering over the barely passable tracks to Romania. The shipments crossed the border just a few hours before German planes knocked out the railroad.
The Romanians, eager not to offend the victorious Germans, insisted that the gold quickly leave their country. Since the Germans had intended to hijack the shipment in Romania, this haste unintentionally foiled their plan. Instead, the shipment was rushed to the Black Sea port of Constanza and shipped out on a British tanker.
Warsaw ordered its ambassador to Turkey, Michael Sokolnicki, to send the gold to the government-in-exile in London. On September 17, the British tanker arrived in Istanbul. The mighty French battleship Jean Barth stood offshore waiting to take the gold, but Turkish authorities would not let the ship dock in Istanbul. If they allowed the French warship into the port a precedent would be set and the Germans and Soviets could demand equal treatment.
On September 18, Sokolnicki went to the Turkish Foreign Ministry for advice. It gave him two choices: Britain and France could give the
gold to Turkey as a loan and then reimburse the Poles, or the gold could be sent by train to French-ruled Syria. Just then, a Polish embassy clerk arrived with the news that a British merchant ship had come into Istanbul to take the gold. But Sokolnicki decided that German submarines might send the bullion to the bottom of the Mediterranean. He chose the rail route.
A new complication arose the following day. Turkish law set freight charges at ½ percent of a cargo’s value, and the railways demanded payment in advance. Little credit would be extended to a Polish government-in-exile composed of refugees. No time could be lost; the Polish community was full of rumors that Turkey was about to side with Germany. So Sokolnicki jumped into his limousine and sped to the elite Anatolia Club to ask the powerful Turkish diplomat Numan Menemencioglu to ensure the shipment’s security and lower the charge.
The price was set by law and could not be reduced, Menemencioglu replied. “But certainly, my friend, you know how things are done in this part of the world! Lower the gold’s declared value to, say, $10 million and then persuade the French to pay the railroad’s $50,000 bill.”
Now Sokolnicki rushed to the French embassy to ask Paris for money. Unable to wait any longer, he ordered that the gold be loaded at Istanbul’s Haydarpasha Station and sent east on the next morning’s train. Someone suggested that enough gold to pay the freight could be taken off the train as it passed through Ankara. Ensuring delivery of the entire reserves, however, was his sacred trust, and Sokolnicki refused to touch them.
His wife provided a solution: “Why don’t you ask Walker?” As branch director of Socony-Vacuum Oil in Turkey, Archibald Walker would have enough cash on hand. He was an outspoken anti-fascist and one of the most popular men in Istanbul. By chance, Walker was visiting Ankara that day.
The ambassador rushed over to Walker’s room in the Ankara Palace. Sokolnicki explained the predicament, and the American immediately agreed to find the money. A few hours later, Walker arrived at the ambassador’s office carrying a battered briefcase containing $50,000. Sokolnicki raced off to transfer the funds, and the train rolled out of Istanbul as scheduled. The gold safely reached Syria and was sent on
to London, where it financed the Polish government-in-exile during the war. Walker was repaid and had thoroughly enjoyed his first experience with intrigue. He would later become the first Office of Strategic Services (OSS) man in Istanbul.
If the Poles were dazed by their country’s collapse in two weeks, the Turks were equally shocked at the Nazis’ rapid conquest and innovative use of massed tanks and aerial bombing. Assuming Turkey might soon be attacked, the government mobilized reservists and started making gas masks. The screech of air-raid sirens was heard in Istanbul. The Turkish government asked London and Paris to supply planes, ships, and anti-aircraft guns, but factories there were too busy making weapons for their own countries.
To promote self-reliance, the Turkish government declared emergency measures banning the export of coal or food. To avoid panic or hoarding, Istanbul’s governor insisted that Turkey had enough wheat, olive oil, sugar, and other food to avoid the famines of the World War I era. The public was still frightened, however, and prices rose quickly. “Here in [Istanbul] there is an alarming dearth of foodstuffs of all kinds,” Roncalli wrote on Christmas day 1939. “We hope there won’t be an attack, but many think it won’t be long in coming.” Since the Vatican was neutral, Roncalli saw no contradiction between organizing relief for Polish refugees and socializing with von Papen, whose wife arranged the flowers and sometimes swept the floors in Roncalli’s chapel.
Von Papen was already sending peace feelers through every available channel. He urged the neutral American, Dutch, and Vatican ambassadors to seek a political settlement, asking, “Otherwise what awaits us? Only barbarism and Communism.”
“You may think I have taken leave of my senses,” Ambassador Knatchbull-Hugessen wrote the British Foreign Office, but, he explained, von Papen was really trying “to play some conspicuous role” in ending the war. London told the ambassador to say secret talks were useless. The Allies’ aim was to eliminate “Hitler and his gang,” not negotiate with them.
What were von Papen’s motives? Sometimes he hinted at an attempt to overthrow the führer; at other times he boasted of his influence and claimed to be acting for Hitler. Sokolnicki thought von Papen was merely posing as peacemaker in order “to be considered the ‘moder
ate.'” When a German attack through Holland and Belgium was rumored, von Papen swore on a Bible to his Dutch counterpart that he would never let it happen.
Hitler needed some time to digest his Polish conquest. There was little fighting in the early months of 1940, and people began to speak of a “phony war.” But in the spring, Germany occupied Denmark and Norway and then launched a devastating offensive through Holland, Belgium, and France. The French army was shattered. Paris fell on June 14, and the government surrendered eight days later. The remnants of Britain’s army were evacuated from France or captured at Dunkerque. Like a vulture, Mussolini joined the war as Germany’s ally. By the end of June, Hitler was master of Europe from the English Channel to the foot of the Balkans. German diplomats in Istanbul celebrated these triumphs, but not all Germans in Turkey were of the same opinion.
Alexander Rustow was glad to be in Istanbul in June 1940. Otherwise, he would have been dead or in a concentration camp. Instead, he was enjoying a magnificent view of the Bosporus from his study and the opportunity to teach freely.
The Rustow family tree included many military leaders. A great uncle deserted the Prussian army during the failed 1848 democratic revolution and took refuge in Switzerland. He corresponded with a fellow refugee named Karl Marx and became the first academic military historian. Alexander Rustow broke with his ancestors’ professional military–if not their independent-minded–tradition. He chose scholarly pursuits and wrote a doctoral dissertation on a classic Greek paradox: “Epimenides the Cretan says, All Cretans always lie: True or False.” Rustow’s friends would live that paradox in Hitler’s era by striving to remain cultured, democratic-minded Germans at a time when Germany seemed synonymous with bestial dictatorship.
After a radical activist phase in the turbulent period following Germany’s defeat in World War I, Rustow became a civil servant. He worked on plans to nationalize the coal industry and limit cartels. But bureaucratic measures seemed ineffectual in view of the challenge to the Weimar republic from Nazi and Communist extremism and economic instability. Rustow decided he must enter politics and assemble a front of Socialists, liberals, businesspeople, and conservatives to keep Hitler out of power. Istanbul would not be the first place Rustow and
von Papen crossed swords. While Rustow was trying to assemble a coalition government to keep Hitler out of power, von Papen was deeply embroiled in the maneuvers that made Hitler Germany’s ruler.
Consequently, Rustow was high on the Nazi’s list of intended victims. When the Gestapo searched his suburban Berlin home, Rustow knew it was his last chance to leave Germany. Along with Jews and other anti-Nazis, he needed an escape route. By fortunate coincidence, at that very moment Turkey was modernizing its universities and decided to hire German professors. About 120 refugee teachers, doctors, lawyers, artists, scientists, and laboratory workers–including Rustow–were brought to Istanbul University. A smaller number went to Ankara.
Thus, the German community in Istanbul was split. The diplomats and many old residents sided with Hitler; the refugees were passionately anti-Nazi. Pro-Nazis controlled the German school and the Teutonia and journalists’ clubs. The pastor of the Lutheran church prayed for Hitler and German victory.
Most of the refugee families lived in Bebek, a wooded suburb whose cool summer breezes had once attracted sultans and their harems and now appealed to Turkish officials and foreign diplomats. Despite their complaints, these refugee families knew how fortunate they were. They could even safely visit Germany, though the passports of the Jews among them were finally revoked in 1940. The academic refugees brought to Istanbul a German cosmopolitan culture that no longer existed in the cities they had left. Among them were some of Germany’s most talented people. For his son’s surprise birthday party, Rustow organized a literary debate among exiled professors who had been renowned in Germany.
Rustow and others continued the anti-Hitler struggle by acting as a bridge between Allied intelligence and the German resistance. Yet they also continued more academic pursuits, and their university lectures were well attended. Some Turkish colleagues were jealous, but students were thrilled to be hearing Europe’s most modern ideas from some of their most articulate, imaginative exponents. Ernst Reuter, former Socialist mayor of Marburg and future mayor of West Berlin, taught urban planning. Albert Einstein was invited but went to Princeton instead. At Istanbul University, emigrants directed nine of the twelve institutes in the medical faculty and six of the seventeen clinics. Other refugees built new institutions. Paul Hindemith was a founder of Ankara’s Conservatory
of Music; others revolutionized Turkish theater, ballet, and opera. Refugee advisers helped set up a social security system; architects designed public projects. Erich Auerbach, a World War I hero, was fired from his German university post in 1936. He went to Istanbul and there wrote Mimesis, one of the definitive works of Western literary criticism. Auerbach found some of the books he needed in Roncalli’s library, and the two men became friends.
Karl Menges, a specialist on Turkic studies and the former secretary of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, had visited the U.S.S.R. so often that Emniyet suspected he was a Russian spy. Nevertheless, Menges’s university superiors valued his services enough to destroy several letters from Columbia University offering him a job before they finally let him go. His son Constantine–named after their city of refuge–grew up to become a staff member of Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council and a key architect of its Central America policy.
If the Turkish police were unsure about Karl Menges’s loyalties, other countries were even more uncertain about where Turkey stood. Some German, British, and U. S. intelligence reports claimed Turks were pro-German; others insisted they were pro-Ally. Within Turkey, there were lobbies for both sides. İnönü and Saracoğlu still felt that–as in World War I–the British would finally triumph, but some officers and politicians disagreed. In the Foreign Ministry’s corridors, officials asked, “What is İnönü waiting for? What does he still hope for from the friendship and alliance with England? Why doesn’t he come to an agreement with Germany? This hesitant foreign policy is going to be the death of us.” In the end, however, everyone agreed that anything other than neutrality would be suicidal.
German victories confirmed this consensus. As Hitler’s armies closed on Paris, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and partly evacuated Istanbul. It mobilized 500,000 men. Coastal batteries began practice firing, and a handful of anti-aircraft guns were deployed near Istanbul. “We do not run after adversaries,” noted a Turkish leader, “but no one can guarantee that one day adversaries will not run after us!”
Tirelessly and skillfully, von Papen exploited Germany’s increased power. In the summer of 1940, he was the most popular diplomat in Turkey. Social invitations from the German embassy were avidly sought;
Ankara and Berlin signed a large trade agreement. German agents arrived daily by trains to Istanbul.
Victories made the Germans arrogant; Hitler’s demand for results made them careless. When von Papen went too far, the Turks showed they would not submit. The Germans had captured French documents revealing Turkey’s behind-the-scenes cooperation with the Allies. The German embassy launched a covert campaign to have Foreign Minister Saracoğlu removed. This type of interference showed the worst misreading of Turkish character. “The Turkey of today is not the dead and rotten Ottoman Empire,” said one angry politician. Berlin’s attack only reinforced popular support for the Turkish government’s policy. The struggle between the Germans and the Allies for the support of Turkish newspapers was particularly intense. Von Papen approached one of the most influential publishers, the rotund Yunus Nadi of Cumhuriyet–who was also a member of parliament and owner of real estate, mines, and ranches. The German government made him richer by granting his businesses special commercial privileges. German refugees and Allied diplomats called him “Yunus Nazi.” Some days, Cumhuriyet was balanced, but it often argued that invincible Germany was too strong to oppose. It occasionally published anti-Semitic articles, most unusual in Turkey. On July 30, the newspaper ran an editorial written by Nadi’s son and editor: “German power reigns in Europe. The European states must face this reality and determine their path in accordance with it.” Germany neither endangered other peoples nor sought world domination, the article added, and Turkey must reach an understanding with Hitler. Other newspapers attacked these statements as “defeatist.” A few days later, Nadi saw President İnönü at Ankara’s railroad station. When Nadi said hello, İnönü cut him short in a loud, angry voice, “What is this I am hearing about your taking German money? Why are you opposing our national policy? If this keeps up we must consider expelling you from the party.”
“But, İsmet Pasha, I assure you it is not true!” a cowed Nadi answered.
“I hope not, too,” shot back İnönü, “but this is what they say. Let it be known that I won’t tolerate this. ” For good measure, the newspaper was shut down for several weeks. Such behavior encouraged British optimism about Turkey’s willingness
to resist German seduction. “I have always maintained that the country is solidly behind us and behind its government,” Knatchbull-Hugessen wrote.
The British embassy and Knatchbull-Hugessen’s residence were just 300 yards from Foreign Minister Saracoğlu’s house on Ankara’s fashionable Cankaya Hill. Both offered a splendid view to the north across the city’s valley to the mountains on which clouds’ shadows drifted lazily. The early morning mist filled the basin until the sun cut through, revealing the ancient citadel’s walls and tower. Knatchbull-Hugessen often took his walking stick, told his guard that he needed no company, and strolled to enjoy nature. Frequently, he ended his walk at Saracoğlu’s house. He and the foreign minister would sit together on the veranda drinking cup after cup of strong, sweet Turkish coffee.
No two men had more opposite backgrounds. Saracoğlu, son of a poor village saddlemaker, had been a scholarship student. In government, he proved himself a good administrator, while his skill at folk dancing and love of nightlife endeared him to then President Atatürk. Nervous energy lay behind his dignified politeness and brisk businesslike manner.
One day; Knatchbull-Hugessen heard through intelligence sources that Saracoğlu was seriously considering an offer from von Papen to break with the Allies in exchange for territorial gains. The British ambassador refused to believe it. He took his limousine-flag flying from its hood-straight down Atatürk Boulevard so that everyone would see Great Britain’s presence displayed.
As the worried Knatchbull-Hugessen entered the foreign minister’s office, Saracoğlu stood up behind his large desk. Had von Papen at last succeeded, and was everything lost? Saracoğlu looked so grave that Knatchbull-Hugessen began to think the foreign minister had been swayed by the offer. But then Saracoğlu smiled, “Oh, what he offered me was not enough, I must have Scotland as well!”
Events in the autumn of 1940 showed that Germany would not have Scotland to give away. Britain weathered the greatest invasion threat since the Spanish Armada. The courage of Royal Air Force pilots beat the Germans in the air and helped make this what Churchill called England’s “finest hour.”
Knatchbull-Hugessen felt a bit guilty that duty placed him in safety,
while London was bombed each night. “The letters we are getting now from London,” he wrote a friend at the Foreign Office, “show what a perfectly filthy time you have all been having. I feel that sometimes we don’t fully realize the conditions in which you are working, but I must say I do admire the way you manage to keep up with the work in spite of it all.” His colleague replied that things were not so bad. At the invasion scare’s peak a man had boarded a train and told of an attempted enemy landing at Hastings.
“Where did you hear that?” asked another passenger .
“From a porter,” came the reply.
“Then he must have been a very old porter still thinking about William the Conquerer’s invasion there in 1066.”
But many people thought Britain would now accept the inevitable and seek peace even without a German invasion. Von Papen explained that Hitler merely wanted to “rearrange the Balkans” a bit. On August 12, 1940, Roncalli met von Papen, who had just returned from Berlin. The German ambassador claimed that Hitler was “more calm and reflective…than he had ever seemed before.” He had no intention of annihilating England and did not want to invade it, von Papen said, but such unpleasant steps would be necessary unless Churchill gave in to Hitler.
If the Catholic church cooperated in this peace endeavor, von Papen continued, the Reich would grant it special privileges. The shrewd diplomat painted a pleasant picture, playing on Roncalli’s patriotism and ambitions. If Italy dominated the Middle East, he said, Roncalli, an Italian and representative of the Vatican in Rome, would be far more important.
Roncalli may have been innocent, but he was not totally naive. He thought von Papen “a sincere and a good Catholic” but felt von Papen’s idea of moderating Hitler was only a daydream “in view of the raging Nazi spirit which has subverted not only every treaty but the religious tradition of Germany as well. ”
Reading Roncalli’s report on the conversation, the Vatican’s secretary of state still thought him gullible about German aims, noting, “This fellow has understood nothing.” But Roncalli was also gathering his own information. He heard from two escaped Polish Jews traveling to Palestine about what was really happening in Germany’s empire.
Roncalli was further dismayed when Italy invaded Greece in October 1940 and his own nephew was killed in the fighting.
Istanbul had become a grim place. There were now nightly blackouts, and Roncalli had to cancel Christmas midnight mass. Most men of military age were away in the army. The largely deserted city seemed as musty as a closed museum. As part of his health regimen, the perennially dieting Roncalli took long walks around the city. He walked to an old Greek monastery, vandalized by the crusaders in 1204, and said his prayers amidst the ruins.