The world of philately, the study of stamps, often reveals surprising stories. One such story lies behind a stamp issued by Israel in 1998, featuring the portrait of a Turkish diplomat – Selahattin Ülkümen. This seemingly ordinary stamp commemorates an extraordinary act of courage and compassion during a dark chapter in history: the Holocaust.

Selahattin Ülkümen: A Diplomat in Wartime

Selahattin Ülkümen (1914-2003) served as a Turkish consul-general on the island of Rhodes, Greece, during World War II. Following the Italian occupation of Greece in 1941, the island fell under German control in 1943. This period marked the intensification of the Holocaust, with the systematic extermination of Jews across Nazi-occupied Europe.

Defying Orders, Saving Lives

Despite the dangers involved, Selahattin Ülkümen defied orders and embarked on a mission of mercy. He recognized the impending deportation of Rhodes' Jewish population, estimated to be around 2,000 people, to Nazi death camps. Drawing upon his diplomatic authority and risking his own safety, Ülkümen intervened.

Cunning and Courage: Protecting the Vulnerable

Ülkümen's efforts to save the Jewish population were multifaceted. He:

  • Issued protective documents: Ülkümen issued Turkish passports and certificates of protection to a select group of Jews, claiming they were Turkish citizens. While this tactic didn't shield everyone, it provided some level of legitimacy and potential consequences for the Nazis if they disregarded Turkish diplomatic authority.
  • Negotiated with German officials: Ülkümen used his diplomatic position to negotiate with German authorities, appealing to their sense of reason and potentially leveraging his country's neutrality in the war.
  • Facilitated escape: In some cases, Ülkümen may have assisted Jews in escaping Rhodes altogether, though the exact details remain unclear.

The Outcome: A Light in the Darkness

Through his courageous actions, Selahattin Ülkümen is credited with saving the lives of an estimated 50 Jews on Rhodes. While the number seems small compared to the horrors of the Holocaust, for those individuals and their families, Ülkümen's intervention meant the difference between life and death.

A Stamp of Recognition: Honoring a Righteous Gentile

In recognition of his bravery and humanitarian act, Selahattin Ülkümen was posthumously awarded the title of "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Israel, in 1989. This prestigious honor is bestowed upon non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

The 1998 Israeli stamp featuring Ülkümen's portrait serves as a lasting testament to his courage and a reminder of the power of individual acts of defiance in the face of unimaginable evil. It stands as a symbol of hope and a bridge between two nations, acknowledging a diplomat who chose humanity over indifference.

The Legacy of Selahattin Ülkümen

Selahattin Ülkümen's story is a powerful reminder that even in the darkest of times, individuals can make a difference. His act of defiance serves as an inspiration to stand up for what is right, even when it's difficult. The stamp serves as a permanent reminder of his heroism and a call to action to fight against prejudice and discrimination wherever they exist.