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güler orgun

My grandparents had not been able to pay their 'Varlik Vergisi' [Wealth Tax] [4] and most of their furniture, therefore, had to be confiscated. I am not sure whether I was just told about it or just remember it faintly, because I was barely five or six at the time, but I'm quite certain I saw the furniture being taken away by horse carriage, down Bankalar Street.

When the government enforcers came, only a room where Nonika happened to be in at that moment, had the door closed. When they tried to go in, they were told, 'That is a toilet and there is an old lady in there, let us not disturb her.' So they didn't go in. That is how the furniture of that one room wasn't taken away. Nonika said afterwards, 'Had I known the outcome in advance, I'd have stuffed more furniture in there.' But they had come without warning.

After that, very little furniture remained in the apartment - a few chairs, a wooden table, etc. That is why Nonika slept in an ingeniously improvised bed on chairs, as follows: She had six chairs, which she placed three by three, facing each other, and placed a plank on them and a small mattress on top. During the day, they put away the bedding and used the chairs to sit on. My cousin Meri tells me that Nonika loved her and frequently allowed her to sleep on her chair-bed together with her. Nonika had books in Ladino, written in Rashi [5] letters and read Meri stories from those books. Meri remembers this vividly.
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In 1942, the Government imposed the so-called Wealth Tax. The Turkish name my father had acquired earlier helped him weather the infamous tax. Non- Muslims were heavily taxed, but Avni Tuncer, who had a capital of 30,000 liras, was assessed that amount. He was thus able to pay the tax and avoid being punished or fined. He struck bottom, yes, but his possessions were not confiscated. They took away from my grandmother's house, beds, cupboards, etc. but nothing from us.

On the other hand, the Anavi family I knew well did not fare as well, to say the least. They were in the paint business. Their assets, including real estate, were evaluated at 3 million liras at the time. They were taxed 1 million liras, which was not so bad, except for the sad fact that all goods and real estate had to be sold almost immediately. With everyone selling and liquidating their assets at the same time, prices plummeted. The Anavis' possessions worth 3 million liras brought just 700,000 liras, which they paid, but still owed 300,000 liras.

So, in order to force him to pay this debt, but more to punish him, Father Anavi was sent to Askale [labor camp in Eastern Turkey] to work in stone quarries, with the ridiculous daily pay of 125 kurus. How could anyone pay 300,000 liras with a daily pay of 125 kurus! But after several months, the ordeal ended when the tax was rescinded, and the Anavis did not lose their father, which was not true of all those who sent their loved ones to Askale.

Shortly after the Wealth Tax debacle, my father was drafted for the 20 Classes [12] by the Armed Forces, together with my uncles. He served for eight months in a place called Dumlupinar, planting trees. He never had anything bad to say about the treatment he received during his military service.
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The year 1942 saw the imposition of the 'Varlik Vergisi' [Wealth Tax]. My father's situation was affected less by the tax than by the war itself, but improved on the whole after the war.
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Eli (Eliyau) Perahya

I cannot say that I suffered badly of the so-called Wealth Tax [17] I paid the 250 Liras assessed to me as a worker. I still keep the receipt. We also paid the 750 Liras for my mother-in-law, who was charged three times more for being a landowner. The figures might look small, but everyone has their own worth of money. ‘Kada uno a su boy’ [an expression in Ladino meaning, ‘everyone according to what he can afford’].
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Harun Bozo

I can never forget the years we were so affected by the Wealth Tax. I had never known my father to cry before that. That day, I saw him cry. My brothers were in Istanbul at the time and I was in Urfa. My father was taxed around 50,000 liras, which was a big fortune. My brothers, Yakup and Musa wrote to my father and the 70-year-old man started to cry. My brothers were a big help and they supported him. They said, 'Our money is your money.' My father paid the highest Wealth Tax in Urfa. No one was sent to Askale from Urfa.
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He had already had a terrible blow economically during the Wealth Tax [11]. The highest taxes had applied to my father and his friends. He had lost most of his money during the Wealth Tax. Also, after these events, most of the people who owed him money didn't pay their debts. So that was another blow. My brother had sent a lot of goods to Istanbul. When these goods were returned to Urfa, they were stolen and looted, so the family lost nearly everything. My brother had also sold goods to the murdered Sorkaya family and of course, they couldn't cash those debts either. In 1949 we sold everything we owned. It wasn't possible to live in Urfa any more. A lot of families moved to Istanbul. Those who were not well off went to Israel. It is true that those were very bad times for us. It is because of these events that there wasn't even one Jewish family left after these events. The last Jew to leave Urfa in 1951 was Nesim Binler. He was the father of my best friend from Urfa, Murat Binler, who is married to Ayten Taragano. Well, Nesim Binler gave the governor of Urfa the keys to the synagogue and asked that it be well looked after. But it wasn't, and today others have occupied it. I don't know who these people are, but I'm sure that if we applied to the officials we could get our synagogue back.
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Lazar Abuaf

Approximately a year after the Wealth Tax, my father was able to reopen the bar but not the hardware store (page 4).  Everything was in shortage in our country during this period.  The government stamped the backs of our identification cards with ration cards and in this way tried to prevent stocking up on food items and ensure equal distribution of basic necessities.  We could buy anything you could think of by showing this ration card.  Normally ¼ of a loaf of bread was given to each person, flour, oil, sugar was all distributed like this at a minimum. I was studying to become an ironworker in the Art School at the time (I could produce anything from iron using an iron file), because the products we manufactured in school were sold in the market, we were treated as laborers.  I had a “hardworking laborer” ration card.  The laborers had a right to ½ loaf of bread a day.  Our family was large, my father was close friends with the baker who was our neighbor, and he liked and respected my father a lot,  bless him, the baker would one way or another give my father extra breads.

One day there was a large bonito [a kind of fish] surge on to the beach, I gathered 6 of them that had beached themselves on the shore because of the winds and immediately brought them to my mother, we made fabulous lakerda [bonito preserved in salt] with these and ate them at every opportunity.  We all developed scabies due to this salty fish and also because of the shortage of sugar at the time.  Following this we had louse, and I contracted typhus on top of all of this.  We overcame these days even if it was difficult.  My family struggled to observe the Sabbath, the holidays as much as we could when everything was so hard, we tried to follow our religious obligations with the foods we prepared whether it was a little or a lot.

The Tax Assessors who read the sign outside my father’s older brother, my uncle Izak’s store that was in Sisane, as “Izak Abuaf Shirts” instead of “Izak Abuaf Pottery” [in Turkish the words for shirts and pottery are spelled the same way except for one different consonant, gomlek and comlek], came up with an impossibly high debt for my uncle who was a manufacturer of trunks.  Because my uncle could not pay off this debt, he was deported to Ashkale along with the other nonMuslims who were not able to pay.  People usually were made to work in building roads there, my uncle who was handy with everything and who was streetsmart told the official there that he could cook very well and became the cook for the camp.  In this way he handled this period without being as challenged as the others.  When he returned from Ashkale, he continued his work where he left off.
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While I was still in this school, the government of that period passed a new law named “Wealth Tax” [13] to improve the economy.  They produced a number for every tax recipient, (but especially the nonMuslims), at their discretion and forced the individuals to pay it.  This event was the cause of a lot of families’ downfall.  Since my father had two stores they asked for a very high tax, of course my father could not pay it and one day the civil workers from the ministry of finance came to our stores and our home and confiscated everything against this debt.
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Nesim Alkabes

Of course life went on and I had to continue working and earning money, I had a family.  For a year I worked as a middleman. That is to say, I would provide a client with goods, in return I got a commission from the merchant where I bought the goods. One day, “Marcello Ajas”, who was a fabric merchant said to me: “the son of Fıcıcıoglu (owner of the store, someone I knew very well, a ready-made clothing merchant who I sold quite a bit of merchandise), is going to the military, they need someone reliable, if you want apply, at least you will have a salary”. As soon as I learned I went and said: “Good day Halil Bey (Mr. Halil), how are you? I heard you are looking for someone, if it is convenient, I would like to apply”. “Wonderful, as you know my son is leaving for the military, there are 25 people working in the company. I won’t be able to handle it alone. You know the business very well, you could help me a lot. How much salary do you want?” “Truly, I would be very happy if I got 500 liras a week”. That was good money at the time, a kilo of meat cost 8 liras. I worked for 6 years with these conditions.

Later I was employed by the company “Bahar Meftrusat” for a salary of 42 thousand liras. I worked there as a sales manager for 10 years and retired. This store also has an interesting story. At the time the brothers Max and Michel Suraski, who were British Jews, had a fabric company. These gentlemen had opened a branch in Istanbul, this store was a 4-story business. During the rush of the Wealth Tax, they gave their merchandise (the merchandise in the store) to the nightguard Hüseyin Gürpinar, by paying him to take it to a warehouse in Sultanhamam in the late hours of the night and hide it there. Later, they sold this merchandise and smuggled the money to England.  They were able to return home without incurring any damage.
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The 2nd World War was going on while I was in the military service, as you know, the Germans were trying to take over all of Europe, Winston Churchill (the British Prime Minister) came to Adana (a region on the southern part of turkey) by plane. He had a meeting with the staff of the British, French and Greek consulates and the president of the time, Ismet Inönü [17], for 8 hours. Churchill said to Ismet Pasa: “If you would open a front against the Germans, we could surprise them”. Inönü rejected Churchill’s offer; “No, I am not going to enter my country in war.  The Germans are very strong, my country cannot live through another war”.

After the meeting with Inönü, the staff from the embassies took turns and during the talks, when Churchill learned that people over 55 were battling death in Askale because of  the “Varlik Vergisi” (Wealth Tax), and that 15-20 people had already died, he said:
“What kind of an injustice is this, how can your conscience allow you to send these poor old people to death. You will immediately grant them pardon and release them” and my father and the others returned home.
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Before I came home for my leave of absence (the year 1943), the Ministry of Finance had demanded 100 thousand liras as “Varlık Vergisi” (Wealth Tax) [16]. When I heard this I wrote to my father: “My dear father, you cannot pay this money, our net worth is only around 35, 40 thousand liras, we cannot cover this 100 thousand liras. Whatever you do, try to hide the merchandise in the store of Uncle Nisim” I said. Before my father could ponder how to hide the fabrics, I was back home on vacation and the next day my father said to me: “My child, I will not go to work today, I am very tired.  You have been in this business for 5 years, you will know what to do” and sent me.

I took my siblings aside and told them: “None of you go to school today, you all come to work, I have a good plan, we will save this business together”. We went to the store. I cut up 9 meters from each fabric and packed it, my siblings carried these packages to my uncle’s store all day. My uncle reserved a room in his warehouse for us, we hid all the packages there. As you can see, I stole my own merchandise. The next day 3 people came from the Ministry of Finance. “You owe 100 thousand liras. When and how will you pay?” “I swear, this store belongs to my father.  I am a soldier, I have a leave of absence, I am helping my father” and I showed them my papers. “As you said, you have no say in this store, do you know the price of this merchandise?” “Of course, but I cannot allow you to sell them below the purchase price” I said, but their attitude was hardening and I was a soldier, I had to keep quiet. “We will sell all this merchandise against your debt, but since this will not cover it we will send your father to Askale [a small town in the east of Turkey where non-Muslims who could not pay the Wealth Tax were deported]”.

My father first paid 6 thousand liras against his debt. That day 101 rolls of fabric were sold, they made 33 thousand liras from that, so we could pay 39 out of 100 thousand. They paid 2 liras a day to work in Askale, so according to the calculations, my father had to stay there till the end of his life and unfortunately my father who was 59 at the time spent 10 months in Askale under very harsh conditions. They would shovel snow all day, as I said, my father was pious and it was not possible to find kosher meat. He only ate dry bread, olives and cheese all this time. Since they did not have beds they would sleep on a chair in the coffeehouse where they were favored, and they would go to the bathroom in the open. He had to spend very miserable days. As luck would have it, a customer who used to buy merchandise from us and who was in Askale went to the captain and asked: “May I ask permission to take Vitali Alkabes once a week to my home?” and the captain who pitied my father consented. In this way, even if it was once a week, my father could satisfy his basic needs such as bathing, sleeping and a hot meal.
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Albert Arditi

Students attending universities also had to take a mandatory course pertaining to the military. The Architecture and Civil Engineering faculty took this class together with the faculties of Literature and Fine Arts in an amphitheatre. An army officer taught this class. When I was a sophomore in college, the officer in question began teaching us the Wealth Tax. [11] What I remember was that he was not teaching the subject in an objective manner, but he rather added his own subjective views. He would say “The Wealth Tax had to be implemented to save us from the non-Muslims. They nearly robbed us of all our businesses. Now we will have a chance to see what they can do without any capital.” When they heard this, all of my classmates began looking at me – wondering if and how I would respond. I remember smiling back at them in extreme sorrow because my family had personally been affected by the taxes as well. But, I believe that if there is one thing a person should not lose - no matter what - that is his honor and dignity.

After the Wealth Tax had been implemented, my father’s capital drained. My family went through very tough times. But, amongst all of those tough times, we were still able to find hope. The tradesmen, from whom my father bought wholesale goods for his store, came to the rescue, and embraced my family. They told my father “Whatever you see in our stores is yours. Take whatever you want, and you can pay us back whenever you can. This is what we have to do for you.” They encouraged my father tremendously. It was as if life had restarted for us…
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Sami Schilton

I also remember the Wealth Tax [12], but as we had foreign nationality they did not take anything from us.  They did not interfere in our business because we had foreign passports.  For us, it was as if the Wealth Tax did not happen.   It did not affect us at all.  However, we did hear about what was happening to others.  We heard about acquaintances being sent to Askale, but we did not live any of this.
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Suzi Sarhon

During the war, the Wealth Tax [11] did not affect me or my family.  We did not have any shops or anything.  Uncle Michel was taxed but I don’t know how much.  He had a shop in Eminonu [a business district in Istanbul] then.  No one else from my family was taxed.  But of course, a lot of people were taxed quite alot of money. My uncle Daniel was called for the 20 military classes.  [12]   They took him but none of the others.
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Zelda Ers

I remember the wealth tax [8] from my youth. After my father died, my mother continued with the business, she would sew pants. They would bring her items for her to work on, they would take it after she sewed. If I am not wrong she received a wealth tax of 500 liras because she did this. The smallest wealth tax was 500 liras. My mother quit the business because she could not pay it. “I cannot afford to pay this, i don’t have money”  she objected. We had a coalman in or neighborhood, our mukhtar. One day I went to buy coal, I had just started elementary school. There was a woman, an informer, she lived above the mukhtar. “E, Zumbul, what are you doing?” “Nothing”, I said, “I am going to school”. I was only 7 years old. “What does your older brother do” “My brother is an ironworker, he works” I said. “Your oldest brother?” “He is a soldier” I said. “Your  mother?” “My mother is at home” I said. This woman tells all of this to the mukhtar. And the mukhtar sues us. Why? Because at the time they would pay a salary to the family of the person who was a soldier, either 150 liras or 200 liras. But of course in order to get this money there shouldn’t be anyone working in the house. All of a sudden we receive a summons saying you have someone working in the house. The day came when the trial took place, they made me testify. But they were wrong about one thing. My working brother was Avram. Instead of writing Avram, they wrote Zumbul. They took me to the courthouse. We did not have a lawyer or anyone, only the lawyer appointed by the government. They asked my mother, do you work, she said no, I was, but I quit. They asked my sister-in-law she said I don’t work, I stay home. They said to me you work. No,  sir, I said, I attend the Ikinci Karma [2nd coeducational] Jewish school. “What grade are you in?” “I am in 3rd grade”, I said. “O.k., give us the address of the school”, they said, and they went to the school, they asked, “yes”, they said, “she attends the school” and in this way we won the lawsuit. We had received a fine of I don’t know how much. We didn’t have a single penny to pay this. We left the place and at first we didn’t know if we won the lawsuit. My mother asked the attorney what happened. The attorney said “You are lucky, there was a mix-up with the names, you won in the court”. And so we won the lawsuit.

There was a lot of poverty at the time of the wealth tax, we used to buy bread with a ration card It was wartime at the same time. I remember, I slept with my mother, we had something like a small cloth bag under our pillow. In it we kept our birth certificates, important papers, 1-2 pieces of underwear. The lights would go out at midnight. Our curtains were dark blue roller blinds, light should not be seen from the outside. Airplanes would pass over, sirens would be heard immediately. I wasn’t going to school then, I was about 4 or 5. We would all leave the house and run to a shelter a little further down from  Sishane. We would all wait there, we would all gather one on top of another. Whenever the whistle ended, that is when we returned home.
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