Hermana: The untold story of the historic Ankara Jewish community

In an exclusive interview with JerusalemOnline, Enver Arcak, the producer of the film Hermana, spoke about the unique and special history of the Ankara Jewish community.
Photo Credit: Hermana/Rafael Sadi

In an exclusive interview with JerusalemOnline that was coordinated with Turkish Jewish dissident Rafael Sadi, Enver Arcak, the producer of the film Hermana, spoke about the unique and special history of the Ankara Jewish community: “The existence of the Jewish community in Ankara dates back to the early Roman period.” He noted that aside from the Jews who migrated to Anatolia from Spain and Portugal, there were also Jews whose origins were much older and who lived in different parts of Anatolia.  Arcak stressed that his documentary speaks about the history of the Hermana neighbourhood from the migrations to the city to the establishment of the Turkish Republic and its aftermath.

“Ankara is the city where I was born and grew up and where I still live,” Arcak related to JerusalemOnline. “I always had an interest in the history of Ankara and in researching into the city culture. After all, I am an archaeologist and history has always been interesting for me. For us, the fields in which there has been less research are the most interesting. When I learnt about the existence of a Jewish neighbourhood in Ankara and wanted to know more, I could find almost any sources. I started a quest to find more.”

In the end, Arcak managed to find individuals who had migrated away from Ankara.  He interviewed over 50 Jews from Ankara that are now living in Istanbul and various cities in Israel: “I set up an archive, recording the old photographs in their family albums and their documents. Now, I am making the visual archives and my interviews into a documentary and an exhibition.”

Throughout most of the history, Arcak stated that the Jewish population of Ankara has never exceeded 1,000 people. However, he stressed that the Jewish population in the city increased after the Ottomans were kicked out of Salonika and the establishment of the Turkish Republic created numerous job opportunities in the city. Therefore, he noted that the Jewish population in Ankara increased to 3,500 people between 1935 and 1955.

Sadi noted that the Jews during this period played a prominent role in the country: “The Sadi family has also sent a member, my father’s aunt, to Ankara as a bride. The family story goes that the now deceased publican Mişon Vitas was the drinking buddy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The children of Mişon Vitas became class one car mechanics, thanks to my grandfather’s bus, which was banned from operating in İstanbul because IV polluted the air. They became famous for being the only Jewish car mechanics, particularly automatic gearbox masters in Turkey. Masters Rıfat, David and Erol made the family name Vitas known in Ankara, İstanbul, Tel-Aviv and even in New York.”

However, following the establishment of the State of Israel, Arcak stated that many Turkish Jews decided to relocate to Israel, America and Europe. By 1968, only 400 Jews remained in Ankara. Now, he stressed that there are no Jews living in what was once a Jewish neighbourhood. According to him, all that remains is a synagogue that is opened rarely on special occasions as a remnant of the city’s once thriving Jewish community.



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