What does Christmas mean to you?


To me, this is what Christmas is all about. It is about those brave souls, Muslims from Turkey, who stood up to the Germans and insisted that any European with a Turkish passport, even Jews, was a Turkish national and should be given immunity from the gas chamber.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

What does Christmas mean to you? To me, Christmas is not about Jesus Christ’s birthday. To start off with, we do not even know when Jesus was born, or even where he was born. The scholars are still divided on whether Jesus is a historical figure or a mythical figure although Christian scholars would insist on the former.

I do believe, however, that Christmas is a day of peace and goodwill between humans of different ethnicities, persuasions, inclinations and beliefs. And if this is not forthcoming then Christmas is meaningless. It is no use celebrating what some believe to be the day Jesus was born if we fail to practice the Jesus doctrine of peace and goodwill between humans.

In that same spirit I am critical of Muslims who celebrate Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and yet reject or distort the teachings of the Prophet. You celebrate and remember the Prophet not by marching on his birthday, like what some Muslims do, but by abiding to the teachings of the Prophet, which many Muslims do not do.

Let me relate a story to demonstrate the spirit of Christmas. It is a very old story and I know many of you resent my articles on history. You tell me that the past is not important. Only the future is. But then what you fail to comprehend is that the future is determined by the present, which in turn is determined by the past.

Hence you cannot ignore the past to discuss the future. For example, would not many of you agree that much of the problems in Malaysia today are due to what the British decided before giving Malaya independence and the way they wrote the Constitution of the independent Malaya? Hence the past has dictated the country’s problems that we are facing today.

Anyway, back to my story.

In 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain decided to expel all the Jews from Spain. They were given just a few days to leave the country and were not allowed to take any property, money or gold. They had to leave the country absolutely penniless.

The Sultan of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, Bayezid II, then extended an open invitation to any Jew who wanted to migrate to what is now called Turkey. He estimated that there were about 250,000 Jews who were now stateless, homeless and penniless, and he invited them to Turkey.

Many Jews migrated to Turkey and eventually over the centuries became very wealthy. Turkey did not persecute them. They were allowed to practice their faith and to grow very rich.

In time, the Jews of Turkey migrated to the greener pastures of France, Germany, Italy, England and so on. And in these European countries they became powerful industrialists and bankers and could be said to be controlling the economy of Europe.

By the 1900s, many of the European Jews were already second or third generation citizens of the countries that they settled in. Some retained their old Ottoman passports (now expired). Some even renewed their passports to keep them current (the Turkish Republic passports). Many, however, did not because they now possessed French, Italian, German, British, etc., passports. And many even no longer spoke a word of Turkish, a language no longer relevant to those who were now European Jews.

Then the Nazis marched across Europe. Puppet governments were set up in Italy, France and the other countries that Germany occupied. Then the persecution of the European Jews started.

The puppet governments of Europe collaborated with the Nazis and arrested the Jews in their country and handed them over to the Gestapo. We need not discuss what happened after that or how many Jews were exterminated. Let us just say that this was probably the biggest ethnic cleansing in modern history although this was not the only one over thousands of years.

Turkey was pressured into joining the war on the side of the Allies but they vacillated. Their main worry was that if they joined the war then Germany would invade Turkey and then Russia would enter Turkey to drive out the Germans. The problem would be, once the Russians enter Turkey and after the Germans are driven out, would the Russians leave again or stay forever?

So Turkey pledged to stay neutral as long as they possibly could. And they maintained diplomatic relations with both sides. Hence those holding Turkish passports, even Jews, were spared the German persecution.

So, many European Jews who had given up their Turkish citizenship and/or passports rushed to the Turkish Consulates in various cities in Europe to apply for Turkish passports. Many could no longer even speak the language and were born outside Turkey. They were as Turkish as the Malaysian Chinese are Chinese (meaning citizens of China).

Many of these Jews were in fact French, German or Italian. Their grandparents or great-grandparents may have been Turks once upon of time. But as long as they could prove they had Turkish ‘blood’ then they would be regarded as Turks and would be given Turkish passports.

Some even had no ties with Turkey whatsoever. So the Christian priests in Turkey issued baptism papers to ‘prove’ that they had converted to Christianity and with these baptism papers they were given safe passage to Turkey.

The Jews were circumcised but then so were the Muslims (the Germans would make the Jews strip to check whether they had foreskin). Their French, German or Italian papers were stamped ‘JEW’. But on their Turkish passports they were given Turkish or Muslim names with no ‘JEW’ stamped on the front of the passport.

The Turks then conducted language classes to teach these Jews who no longer spoke Turkish a few important sentences with the correct slang. They were also taught how to take the Islamic wuduk or ablution in case they needed to masquerade as Muslims.

Some Turks (who were not Jews but Muslims) joined the resistance or underground movement and helped smuggle the Jews out of Europe to the safety of Turkey. No doubt history tells us that the Nazis exterminated six million Jews. The question would be: could it have been more than six million if not for the effort of a few non-Jewish Turks who decided to help save some Jews? Even if just one Jew was saved one life is still a life and worth saving.

Today, the Jews have their own homeland. And many who eventually reached Palestine did so through Turkey mainly because they were saved by the Turks and did not die in Europe at the hands of the Nazis.

To me, this is what Christmas is all about. It is about those brave souls, Muslims from Turkey, who stood up to the Germans and insisted that any European with a Turkish passport, even Jews, was a Turkish national and should be given immunity from the gas chamber.

Yes, Christmas is about peace and goodwill on earth. That was what I learned in Bible class back in the 1950s. And while the Christians in Europe put the Jews to death during WWII, not at all within the spirit of Christianity, the Muslims from Turkey practiced what Jesus Christ taught — peace and goodwill amongst humankind.

Merry Christmas and God bless those Turks.