Selahattin Ulkumen, 89, a Turkish diplomat who rescued dozens of Jews on the Nazi-occupied Greek island of Rhodes from deportation to Auschwitz in 1944, died of natural causes Saturday in a nursing home in Istanbul.
Ulkumen was Turkey’s consul general on Rhodes when the Nazis ordered the island’s 1,700 Jews to report to Gestapo headquarters for deportation to concentration camps in Germany.
He issued exit visas to Turkey for all those he could state were Turkish citizens -- whether they had papers or not -- and their non-Turkish spouses and children, saving 42 Jewish families.
In retaliation, Nazis bombed the diplomat’s house on Rhodes; his pregnant wife later died of injuries from the attack.
Decades later, Ulkumen was honored by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, which named him Righteous Among the Nations in 1990.
In 2001, he was awarded a medal from Israel and also received Turkey’s highest honor, the Supreme Service Medal, for saving Jews. Ulkumen, who retired from Turkey’s foreign service in 1979, said in response: “All I did was carry out my duty as a human being.”