Susan Ferenz-Schwartz, Kurt Heilbronn, Engin Bagda, Enver Hirsch and Elisabeth Weber-Belling share a unique past. They are all children of German migrants, more specifically, German Jews who fled Nazi Germany with the help of the ‘Emergency Association of German Science Abroad,’ founded in Zurich in 1933 by Phillip Schwartz, a German immigrant. The association helped more than 2,600 academics, who were no longer allowed to work in their respective fields, find posts at foreign universities. The families of all five of the documentary’s protagonists fled around 1933 and were welcomed in Atatürk’s Turkey, which was striving for secularization and necessitated experienced staff in its newly established universities. During this time, Arabic letters were outlawed as the Latin alphabet was introduced and young Turkish students were to receive an education that equaled that of their counterparts in the West. Women who were no longer required to wear a veil flocked to the newly established universities, where the German academics helped to establish a solid system while teaching generations of Turkish students.
Decades later, the children of these migrants reminisce about their childhoods in Istanbul or Ankara and the feeling that they don’t feel at home anywhere – hence the word ‘Haymatloz,’ a Turkish interpretation of the German word ‘heimatlos,’ which means homeless or displaced. Önsöz shows the lives of the five protagonists and their emotional reaction upon returning to Turkey. They experience firsthand the impact their families had on the country, whether it’s a botanical garden and research center they helped to found, the trade law they helped to establish, or the curriculum they set up at one of Istanbul’s most prestigious art schools. Each reaction is different, but what binds them all together is a deep sense of nostalgia that connects them to Turkey even though they don’t live there anymore. It is also gratitude that is frequently expressed for a country that welcomed those who were persecuted and respected them for their knowledge and expertise.
It is also then that the five protagonists must face the fact that the Turkey of their childhood is also changing rapidly. Through interviews and protest footage, Önsöz expresses how the current political party is undoing all the achievements and social progress brought into place by Atatürk. And so the sense of joyous recognition during a stroll by the glistening Bosphorus also possesses a concern for a country that is losing the elements that once made it great in the memories of these migrant children who are now older than their parents were when they made their journey to the Orient. Haymatloz is poignant and honest, filled with beautiful photographic shots of two cities where the beauty of the past still lingers, although hesitantly.