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Netflix Drama Portrays A Jewish Woman Reunited With Her Teenage Daughter After Avenging Her Family’s Betrayal

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Matilda Aseo, played by Gökçe Bahadır, is the focal point of a new Netflix series depicting Jewish life in wartime Istabul and afterward. (Photo: Supplied)

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Matilda Aseo’s story, which has been the focus of “The Club” a Turkish Netflix serial that started airing in November, made a huge impact, not only in the Jewish community but also among the many people who never heard or just had a brief idea on the various atrocities that Non-Muslims (Gayrımüslim) faced in Turkey, during the WWII years and its aftermath.

The wealthy Aseo family lost everything and split apart after the disastrous Property Tax that came in force on November 11th, 1942. Matilda’s father and brother were taken to a labour camp in Ashkale, some twelve hundred kilometres from Istanbul, their hometown, as they could not pay the very high taxes imposed on them. Matilda left alone, killed her Muslim lover who was her father’s right hand, as she realized that he had denounced him to the authorities.

She was sent to prison just before giving birth to Rachel, her daughter from her lover. Rachel was therefore put into an orphanage – Orphelinato – run by the Jewish community. She was raised there to become a young in her seventeens when her mother was released after a general armistice.

Thinking of going to Israel to start a new life, Matilda was convinced by David, the headmaster of the Orphelinato, to stay in Istanbul and take care of her daughter.

Rachel, on her side, was leading quite an independent life. She was in love with a taxi driver, a handsome Muslim guy, Ismet, to whom she introduced herself as Aysel, apparently hiding her Jewish identity. This was perhaps not an act of denouncing her Jewishness but rather an understandable excuse for a teenager with no parents around, to be accepted by Ismet, from the large outer circle. One can reasonably guess that the first meeting between mother and daughter had not been an easy one.

Matilda started to work somehow in a nightclub, where many “others” met. This club that the TV show is about was thus the melting pot, a cross-section of the would-be Turkish Istanbul which was being built, with Matilda; Niko, the owner of the Casino – a hidden Greek who presented himself as Orhan; Selim – the gay singer that was trying to build to first-ever nightclub revue; Çelebi – the Manager of the Club who worked for Matilda’s father years ago; cheap labour from deep Anatolia brought to the Casino to work for bed and board; and dancers sexually abused and sold into brothels if they disobey.

Obviously, the story is one that could be found quite easily. However, what made “The Club” so popular is its uniqueness to focus on a Jewish character without attributing the well-known antisemitic epithets in Turkey, a country governed by political Islam for twenty years now, and where antisemitism has always been present, though covered at the beginning.

The series description from Netflix reflects this approach:

“In cosmopolitan 1950s Istanbul, a mother with a troubled past works at a nightclub to reconnect with and help the rebellious daughter she couldn’t raise”

Shabbat prayers, Purim celebrations, half-forgotten Ladino spoken and sung, Medina (Israel) spelled out as an option to start a new life, Jewish folkloric dances, made “The Club” so popular.

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No need to say that our tiny community was honoured as being so positively visible on the screens for the first time. And history, hidden somehow for many years, was there. The poorly known Property Tax; the nationalist feelings pouring out against non-Muslims; the atmosphere that would open the way to clashes between Muslims and non-Muslims, and mostly the covered tendencies that would downgrade the non-Muslims despite the equality granted by the constitution.

The Property Tax dated November 11th of 1942 was presented for years as a “tax needed to sustain the booming defence expanses of WWII”. It was launched when the German armies were at the Turkish border: when Greece was under Nazi control, and its Jews deported to Auschwitz. The Turkish community was aware of this. There was no guarantee that Turkey, neutral then, would not join the war.

What if the Ankara government yielded to the German pressures? Nobody thought that once under Nazi control, the Jews of Turkey, around more or less 60,000 then, would not be sent to their end.

The heavy atmosphere of panic was also triggered by the labour camp’s threat. People were given only 15 days to pay the colossal amounts; otherwise Ashkale, by all its cold and obscure shadow, was ready to devour them.

The war tax of 1942 imposed an incredible 179% tax on Jewish holdings in Turkey, payable in cash within 15 days on pain of being sent to labor camps in eastern Anatolia. (Image: Supplied)

Contrary to the success “The Club” has, the above-mentioned historical background was bypassed. That would put extra emphasis on the devastated Jewish population.

Along the years, with the Holocaust unveiled, many – including some Jewish fellows – thought and accepted the Property Tax as a tribute that had to be paid in return not to be slaughtered by Nazis. Obviously, this should not be the case. The aim declared behind closed doors was a wealth transfer from the non-Muslims population, who was holding the industry and trade at that time, to Muslims.

Needless to say, my own family had also been touched by this event and lost all her wealth. They had a building from their father, the Barnatan Han, just in the heart of the commercial center of the city, which they had to sell for nothing to be able to pay out the unjustified tax amount. They had their office in this building, not as the owner but as the tenant, for the rest of their life. What a horror!

I would recommend you watch this Netflix series that found a place in the Top 10, in Turkey. You will find traces of the Sephardic Jewish life and be able to savour the good old and difficult days of Istanbul.

Marsel Russo was born in Istanbul and was raised in a secular Jewish family. He holds a Chemistry degree and an MBA. His deep interest in the Jewish history of the 20th century, as well as other topics, has appeared since 2005 in Shalom, the weekly newspaper of the Jewish community of Turkey.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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