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[Page 62]

My Declaration

by Dr. Traian Popovici

Translated by Jerome Silverbush

Excerpt from the “Declaration” of the former mayor of the capital city of Czernowitz. Translated from the Romanian [I translated from German] with footnotes provided by Prof. Dr. Herman Sternberg, Tel Aviv (M. Carp, Black Book, Vol. III, Document no. 100)

1941[1])…. it is unarguable that the deportation of the Jews to Transnistrien was and remains an impudent act of the leader of state Marshal Antonescu[2], an inhuman brutal and terrible action… I consider my contribution to the documentation of this action imperatively necessary, because I am convinced that the leadership of the present regime which is obliged to bring the guilty parties to justice, doesn't know the details which led to the realization of the decision of the “Freedom Hero” (Marshal Antonescu), a decision to send a part of the population of the land, which was guilty of nothing other but in the lottery of life to be born Jewish, into slavery and death. This, my declaration will salve my conscience.

All[3] the measures taken against the Jews were conceived and prepared by the military cabinet.[4] If the initiatives and the plans sprang from the authoritarian mind of the Marshal or were the inspirations of the cabinet director is not know to me. The realization of these plans, their execution “on the ground,” the élan and excess of zeal with which they were carried out, originate without doubt from the former. The city hall had no contact with this military cabinet. The mayor was neither asked nor consulted in any matter. Since[5] I was conversant in the German language I was always asked by the general to be present to act as interpreter at the conferences and discussions held with various dignitaries of the Reich [Nazi Germany, 1933-1945] who happened to be passing through Czernowitz. With these meetings began my connection with General Calotescu. After the death of Governor Riosianu and the assuming of the office by his successor, General Calotescu, the “Jewish problem” played the chief roll in the activity of the military cabinet.

Restrictive measures against the Jews followed with the rhythm of a waterfall: ban against practicing a profession - the Jewish doctors were permitted to treat only fellow Jews, eliminating Jewish children and older youth from state educational institutions and closing of the private schools, closing of synagogues and prayer houses, forbidding of religious services, even on the High Holidays, ban on handing out of currency to Jews at public institutions (banks and post offices) whether sent to them by family members or related to commercial transactions. delivery of devices such as radios or machinery punishable by death, forced labor even for intellectuals who would be shanghaied from the street, from public places, restaurants, and army barracks without any right to be paid, drafting of specialists for public or private enterprises with minimal pay of which 30% was deducted for the “Romanianization Fund,” denial of the right to have ration cards, doubling of the price of bread, ban on entering the food markets, curfew allowing the Jews to be outside only during the 3 hours from 10 am to 1 pm, and other indignities which I can no longer remember.

The internment in camps is no longer a repressive measure for the smallest violation, it becomes a draconian system. Camps and military courts are in full activity. The young people were outraged, but also the most well meaning among the Romanians seeing the cascade of indignities lost their heads. Following the principal “exempla trahunt” the leaders of other public offices began to compete with the government.

The series of repressive measures grew sadistically until a measure was passed that not only dishonored the nation, but humanity itself, the driving of the Jews out of hospitals and sanitariums. The peak of the bestialities was reached with the ejecting of the Jews including those who were dangerous to society from the mental institutions and leaving them in a condition of filthy misery and terrible poverty. Lowering these poor people to the level of animals deserved the pen of a Dante. A psychosis took possession of the minds of many responsible people, robbed them of understanding and made them guilty of placing a stain of shame on the history of our people.

It is noteworthy how the Jews reacted to all these persecutions, bullying and humiliations. No sign of a revolt, no resistance, no attempt at sabotage, not even a murmer.[6] In an acquiescence of their 1000 year history, in a mysterious continuum of tragedy, they bore their lot like shadows driven by furies. It will always be a riddle in which sources of human strength, suffering finds an escape.

Only a single oasis was to be found in Czernowitz where the Jewish residents could complain about their suffering, where their right to a petition was respected, where the cry of hunger, the reclamation of the right to bread and life, found a listener, where pensions were paid regularly, where work possibilities were to be found, where the Jew found anonymous support, where he wasn't treated brutally, and his suffering was understood, This was the mayor's office in the capital city. As in old temples where the gate stood open to all oppressed, where they could find hope and courage to go on living, the mayor's office offered all petitioners help against the brutalization by their contemporaries.

In the newspaper “Bucovina,” the official organ of the government, which was controlled by the propaganda minister appeared mean spirited attacks on me. The Jewish population was scornfully called, “the people of Traian” My actions were not driven merely by an ethical concept, but were dictated by my conscience so that I didn't loose myself in this fire storm of passion and that I, in this way could create a moral bulwark which would some day, reflect forgiveness for the few, but certainly would reflect the innocence of the majority of my people.

I certainly don't claim for myself alone, the honor of being a decent human being. I also claim it for the staff of city hall which shared my feelings, under my leadership carried out no unworthy actions and constantly proved that they were humane.

The fact remained that under my leadership no Jew was evacuated by the Financial Division for non-payment of rent and officials, contrary to the orders of the government consistently paid out pensions. The fact that things changed after I left was not my doing.

It is obvious that the nature of my actions did not help to consolidate my position with the governor who distanced himself from me, but who couldn't muster up the courage to precipitate a crisis. More than once when I noticed his cool attitude toward me after discussions in which I tried to dampen the enthusiasm of the Military Cabinet, I offered to resign to save him embarrassment, but the General avoided making a decision and once solemnly declared to me, “Sir, please spare me the resignation. I acknowledge your work. I even fear that one day you will desert me and I will have no one with whom to replace you.” In truth, whenever I decided to step down, I was held back by the wretched ones, for whom I was the only hope. I was held back by the Bukoviner for whom I was the only advocate in public office.

In this tense atmosphere between the government and the mayor's office, the dangerous clouds thickened over the Jews of Czernowitz. I was told nothing and had no inkling of what was being prepared. But from behind the curtain of the Military Cabinet more and more alarming whispered rumors leaked to the outside world. It was interesting that the Jews were better informed and full of dread, asked me for help. The desperate ones thought I could find them a safe harbor. They still believed in a miraculous rescue. I believe that they instinctively foresaw the danger.

On a September day, I believe it was the 29th, I was called to a government meeting concerning the new ghetto. Here in the chancellery of the governor were among others the representative of the Siguranza [political police], among them an emissary of the General Siguranza in the person of a Herr Stanescu, a counsel of the Appellate Court in the uniform of a lieutenant, the later sub-director of the General Siguranza.

The governor demanded from me concrete suggestions over how City Hall intended to solve the ghetto problem. I described in a long speech, the special situation of the Jews, mentioned their culture, their contribution to the development of our city under the Austrian regime, their activity in the areas of commerce, industry, medicine, the arts and law and touched on other areas of their intellectual activities. I especially emphasized their contributions under the Romanian Government, their desire to fit in, I analyzed the currents in their political lives, and I pointed out that they typically cooperated with the parties of the government. To sum it up, I dealt with their value in total, both their good and their bad characteristics.

In conclusion, I spoke up against the erection of the ghetto. Since, however, I feared a greater evil - and I knew that I stood in the minority with my opinions - I made several concessions. The governor demanded from me, a project, which I as the mayor of the capital city could accept. I was informed that the Germans through their legation council demanded the speedy setting-up of a ghetto, all the more so, since I had been informed in an earlier conference of the system they had planed. I easily countered all the suggestions made by the government and worked out a project on that same evening which I handed to the governor. He, more-than-likely had to take that document along with others to Bucharest for the approval of the Marshal. I was convinced that my project would be accepted, especially since I had heard from the legal council of the government, the Minister Pflaumer that the Marshal was inclined to make the planed ghetto system a little draconian. I believed also, that with the solution of the Ghetto problem which was occupying the majority of the government's attention, the torrent of anti-Jewish measures would come to an end. The idea of mass deportations never occurred to me. Ten quiet days preceded the breaking of the storm.

The Deportation

The officials called it an “evacuation” of the Jews. I called a deportation. An evacuation is not driven by hate, but in contrast by a love of mankind. The evacuation of the Jews from Bukovina and other parts of the land did not follow the above mentioned motives, but just the opposite. It was nurtured by hate. They were taken from the national territory into a hostile area, the only motive of this supposedly humanitarian effort being just to get rid of them, but the conditions of carrying out this deportation led to a single goal, that of exterminating the Jews.

And in these cases they took on the typical character of a deportation. Deportation signifies the tearing out of a part of a population against their will out of the middle of a collective, means their definitive isolation, means throwing them overboard like useless ballast, means punishment. For that reason, I call this evacuation a deportation.

On October 9, 1941 it became known in Czernowitz that the Jews from the northern part of Bukovina, who were concentrated in the camps of Storozynetz, Wiznitz, Waschkoutz and Luzan were driven out in the direction of the Dniester [River]. The next day, on October 10, arrived the news of similar operations in the southern part of Bukovina, in Kimpolung, Gurahumora, Radautz and Suczawa.

Nothing more definite was known. One said merely that they were taken from their homes and gathered in masses in collection areas in order to be loaded onto trains which waited with steam pressure up. The operation was ordered by the “Central” and the District Prefects were entrusted with carrying it out. On that October 10 I was called to Governor Calotescu who told me to take measures so the bakers would bake more bread, in order that the Jewish population which had to be brought into the ghetto could each be given four loaves of bread for the planed for entrainment.

Here in the governor's chambers I learned that the mass deportation of the Jews from Czernowitz had already been decided upon. At the same time, I found out details about their delivery into the ghetto. I learned of the decree that all of their possessions that were left behind would become the property of the state, that all objects of value that they took with them into exile would be seized, also they were obliged to change all the money they took with them into the ghetto and then they would be loaded into trains with 50 cars and under military guard taken to the border points of Atachi and Marculesta on the Dniester and from there distributed throughout the district of Transnistrien.

It was as if I was turned to stone. I could only shout out: “So it has come to this governor?” To which he answered, “what should I do?” It has been ordered by the Marshal and here you see the delegates of the General Staff. Present were: General Topor, the grand praetor of the army and a lieutenant colonel Petresca from the General Staff

We were four people in addition to Major Marinescu who stepped in now and then with reports and documents to be signed. The entire scene that played before us remains in my memory because it was dramatic and I couldn't control myself. I became aggressive, a deportment than was not usual for a mayor dealing with a governor who was the direct representative of the Marshal. I pointed out to him the responsibility which he personally had for the picture that history would paint of him, then I talked about the damage our reputation would suffer in the international arena, I made him aware of the difficulties we would face at the peace conference when Romania would stand before the court of civilized nations. I spared no argument to point out the enormity of the step which he was about to take. I spoke of culture, humanity, the traditional Romanian kindness, barbarity, cruelty, crimes, and disgrace. I called upon the virtue of our ancestors, scorned sadistic racism. I also mentioned the shame of Spain which it can't wipe from its history, namely the persecution of the Jews in 1492 under Torquemada. I said to him literally, “Herr Governor, the French Revolution which brought mankind rights and freedom took merely 11,800 victims, while you are on the threshold of sending 50,000 people to their deaths.” Pointing with my hand to General Topor and Colonel Petrescu, I said to him, “these gentlemen will install themselves in a few days with Dragomir Niculescu and wash their hands clean of the “heroic” deed which they carried out in Bukovina, but you will remain as governor of a province, for which you will be solely and completely responsible. You don't have the right to endanger the life of even a single person. How do you want to step into history? Alongside Robespierre? I, at least do not want history to defile my name. You still have time. Talk to the Herr Marshal and ask him, Herr Governor, that he should put off these measures at least until spring. I spoke as if I were in an ecstasy and trembled with excitement. Everyone stood up. In the chambers the governor listened motionlessly to my words and the two others leaned against the oven. After a moment of deep silence the governor lifted his voice: “Herr Popovici and this is also for the gentlemen, I have the same fear, but they will be sent to oversee the carrying out of the order. I want to think about it.” At this moment, the Lieutenant Colonel Petrescu turned to me: “Herr Mayor, who will write the history, the Jewish scoundrels? I come to dig the weeds out of the garden and you want to oppose me?” I answered sharply: “Herr Colonel, I will weed my own garden, but as far as history is concerned, the Jews will no longer write it because the world doesn't belong to them anymore, but the historians of all countries will write it. Also, we will write it and quicker than you believe. You will yet read the history to which you have contributed.” At that time, I didn't suspect that I would be compelled to step out of the anonymity and myself contribute to that tragic history.

In this charged atmosphere, General Vasile Jonescu entered the chambers. With a dark complexion, sad and broken in spirit he turned to the governor after he had greeted everyone.” Don't do it Herr Governor. What we are planning to do is swinishness. It is a sin, a great sin. It would have been better if I had not come to Bukovina, then to be witness to such a atrocity. The governor hesitated and took time to reflect.

As we left the governor's chambers, General Jonescu and I walked together. Going down the stairs, he said to me, “I categorically refused, I demanded written orders, but they refused to issue them. Consider, they have no written instructions. They say that operations of this sort are ordered by word of mouth so that no proof[7] is left behind. Trajan, let's try to convince Calotescu not to make a blunder, because it's a scandal. That way we can have clear consciences. I'll talk to him after lunch.” With fear in my heart that he wouldn't be successful and with the hope that perhaps he would change his mind, I went to City Hall.

Here my office was full of the representatives of the Jews of Czernowitz who fearfully waited for word of salvation. The city was in a fever. Two battalions of gendarmes had arrived from Bucharest and the bad news had spread with lightening speed. All were shaken. I could tell them nothing definite and silently, I saw their dismay. Instinctively, they knew everything. The manner of their leave taking from me was noteworthy. They thanked me for everything that I had done for them, they swore that at every stage of their suffering they would thing of me as the only person who had understanding for their suffering and that their memory of Czernowitz would be bound up with me. They left my office bathed in tears, like after a wake.

In the offices of City Hall, deathly silence reigned among the assembled staff, who could read from my face, the tragedy that was approaching. Everyone was shaken. No one supported the deportation. I honor them and thank them for their solidarity with me. On that day, I was not able to concentrate on my work. I was exhausted, physically and spiritually broken down. In order not to be a witness and a participant in the tragedy, I decided to resign, which I divulged to my closest friend. Everyone categorically advised me against doing it, since this step would only encourage those in whose way I stood and would provide proof for the inflammatory statements of the Nationalists that I was a “Jew lover” and moreover, it would be cowardly of me to desert the unfortunate ones in their hour of need and that finally, I had to protect the rest of the population against victimization and other humiliations. Until today, I still don't know if I made the right decision, but I listened to their advice and remained in office.

The Road of Suffering

On the morning of October 11 - it was a cold day, damp and sad like the tormented souls of the unfortunate ones - I looked out of the window. It snowed and - I couldn't believe my eyes: on the streets in front of my window people hurried in long lines. The elderly supported by children, women carrying nursing babies, the sick who could barely drag their ravaged bodies along, everyone with their possessions in little wagons or wheelbarrows or on their backs, with hurriedly tied up suitcases, bed linen, rags, clothing on a pilgrimage into the city's valley of death, into the ghetto.

It was clear to me that the wheel of their misfortune had begun to turn. I dressed and hurried to City Hall. On the way, crying of women, the whimpering of children, murmuring of old people, tears and more tears, some flowing in streams, others dried up on pain filled faces, others which lost themselves secretly in gray beards…

In City Hall, great activity. The vice mayor Pop, a man of heart and conscience was in full activity. He prepared lists of officials who by order of the governor had to be placed at the disposal of the Directorate of Romanization so that the “abandoned” possessions of the Jews could be inventoried and that their dwellings be sealed. Then Romanization departments were to be formed which with the assistance of the police were to be dispersed in the city quarter.

I first realized then that this action had long ago been foreseen. I hurried to the military command center where General Jonescu informed me of what had occurred up until then. He let me examine the decrees that had been issued. At 10 pm in the governor's office, he received the evacuation order as well as the program fro the delivery of the Jews to the ghetto. the document to be read to the Jews, the rules for the functioning of the ghetto and the governor's order number 38[7a]. He told me how it had gone up to this point and stressed how punctually and dignifiedly the Jews had carried out the obligations placed upon then.

I quickly leafed through the instructions and read in the rules for the running of the ghetto: The bakeries would work under control of City Hall and the markets would also be under the control of City Hall. I hurried back to City Hall in order to take measures to ensure that the provision with bread, foodstuffs, and especially milk for the children would proceed without disturbance. This was the interim roll that divine providence, thanks to the military cabinet, had provided me.

Only one familiar with the topography of the city could realize how small a space the order allotted for the Jewish population. They had to be within the borders of the ghetto by 6:00 pm or face punishment by death. In this quarter which could shelter with extreme crowding, 10,000 people at most, 50,000 people, not including the Christians who lived there, had to be accommodated. At that time and still today, I have to compare the ghetto with a cattle pen.

The possibilities for housing were minimal. Even when 30 people crowded into each of the available rooms, most had to find shelter from the rain and snow in corridors, attics, basements and similar spaces. I would rather not speak about the possibilities for hygiene. There was a lack of clean drinking water. The available wells were not adequate. At that time, the city already suffered from a lack of water. Of the three pumping stations, two had been destroyed. Sharp sweat smells, odors of urine and feces, and of mold and dampness filled the quarter differentiating it from the rest of the city. It was exactly like the concentrated smell inside a sheep pen on a wide green meadow. It was a miracle that contagious diseases, which could have endangered the entire city, didn't break out. In a surprisingly short time the ghetto was almost hermetically sealed off with barbed wire. At the main entrances, wooden towers were erected and military sentries were posted. I don't know if that was the purpose, but the effect was that the pariahs were worn down.

The National Bank set up teller windows for the compulsory exchange of leis for rubles and for the turning in of gold, jewelry and other objects of value. It was remarkable that the National Bank, a respectable institution, the first bank of the land could engage in plundering the wealth of a part of the population which had contributed to the building up of the country. It was an official swindle, hard, cold, and brutal but apparently legal[8].

Let us examine for a while the unofficial consequence of the entire system of deportation and look at the respected personalities who during the entire operation covered themselves with shame while reaping a profit.

Although paragraphs 3 and 4 of the rules governing the ghetto categorically forbid anyone from entering the ghetto without authorization by the governor, no one paid attention to the rule and by the second day after the ghetto was populated, women of all social strata made pilgrimages there, intellectual brokers who were know to the Czernowitz public. Persons of “influence” from all professions and strata of society, all hyenas who sniffed out the cadavers of the souls of the unfortunate ones. With the pretence that they had influence with the governor or the military commandant or the mayor they began the plundering of the unhappy ones on a high plane of all they still possessed, their gold coins, jewelry, precious stones, carpets, furs, fabrics, valuable food (tea, coffee, chocolate) supposedly to be used in bribing others or for paying those who could say a word of salvation or get one exempted from deportation. The trade in influence was in full blossom. Another category of hyena was the “mild friend” who willingly offered to be guardian of all these goods in order to protect them from theft and plundering and to give the goods back to them after their return or to their family and friends who had remained in the country. Individuals who had never seen Czernowitz streamed in from every corner of the land in order to turn the tragedy to their advantage. If the deportation itself with all its procedures was a monstrosity, then this plundering of the desperate Jews topped everything. It was the most shameless abandonment of human decency. It is unbelievable to what depths of moral debauchery greed can lower people.

The Selection of the White Slaves

On the second day, the 12th of October I was invited to a conference of all the top officials reporting to the governor. There were 18 people present: The general directors of the various departments, the first president of the Appellate Court, the attorney general, the military commandant, the chief of the Siguranza[9], the district prefect, the delegates from the General Staff, the director of the Military Cabinet and the mayor. Here we were informed by the general governor of the concentration of the Jews in the ghetto and the decision to deport them in masses. The governor demanded to hear our views and suggestions. Immediately, the first president of the Appellate Court and the attorney general withdraw from the discussion with the justification that they were not empowered by the responsible ministry to take part in conferences of this sort and that Justice must exempt itself from participating in administrative measures of the government. It is time to register a truth that does honor to our Justice. In all affairs dealing with the Jews they didn't become involved, either directly or indirectly. They stood aside from the passions that became enflamed in this situation and Jews received the same treatment in judicial procedures that any other party would have, without differentiation. Our Justice had never persecuted the Jews, just the opposite, in application of the racial laws it showed great restraint.

We were not interested in who of those present supported the deportation and who didn't. Merely the fact should be noted that no one had the courage to protest against actions which were to have consequences in the history of the people. I call on the testimony of those who were present, who are still living to prove that when my turn came to speak, I was the only one who discussed the Jewish problem in light of the current situation. I said that we, a small people should not let ourselves get entangled in racial hatred. I pointed out the merits of the Jews, their worthwhile contribution to the development of the economy of the land, their culture and accomplishments and I protested in my own name in my capacity as mayor of against this act. I demanded mercy for those who had been baptized by the church, pointing out that we should not bury the missionary spirit, the cornerstone of Christianity[10].

I demanded protection for the highly educated Jews and the Jews who practiced the beautiful arts. I demanded consideration for those who served the people, retirees, officers, wounded veterans. I demanded, in service of humanity an exception for doctors. I demanded for the purpose of rebuilding to spare the engineers and architects. I protested because of the intelligence and civilization of the judges and lawyers. It is of no interest who fought me and with what arguments. The result was that the governor accepted some of my suggestions and before all those present assigned to me the task of compiling a list, all those Jews who in the sense of my arguments had earned the thanks of the nation. It should be 100 - 200 people at most.

As I left the meeting, I was tacitly scorned by the officials as “verjudet.” [acquiring the characteristics of a Jew]. Feeling debased because of my behavior which the gentlemen didn't consider as an expression of Romanian patriotism, I left the building satisfied that I at least had rescued a small number from disaster. While compiling the list, I asked well-meaning Romanians who were objective for advice. It is true that the list I handed over was accepted in total without any objections or deletions.

Meanwhile the 12th, 13th and 14th of October had passed with preparations for loading the Jews on the trains. My friends know that I wasn't standing around with my arms folded. This is not the right place to describe the means through which I tried indirectly to influence the will of the Marshal who I didn't know and who lived so far from Czernowitz; but my efforts were successful. Wednesday, October 15th the Marshal agreed in a telephone conversation with the Governor to a softening of the mass deportation, in that he agreed to exempt 20,000 people, who fell into the categories which I outlined in the conference on Saturday. So it came to be that approximately 20,000 people were allowed to remain in Czernowitz. The fact that this measure didn't please the “street” and the new “Romanizers,” had little significance. The result gave me new strength because the highest official in the state had backed up my efforts. Everyone must admit that this was the beginning of a great moral victory.

On the afternoon of October 15 while I waited with General Jonescu and General Council Schellhorn in the Governor's anteroom the door to his chambers opened and Major Marinescu said to us, “it's good that you are here, the Governor is asking for you.” We entered the chambers and General Calotescu said to us, “Gentlemen, I just had a conversation with the Herr Marshal who has authorized leaving the 20,000 Jews in Czernowitz. I can't make the selection since I don't know the people and the degree of their indispensability. I empower you Herr General, and you Herr General Council and you Herr Mayor to make this selection. You know the people, one of you as city resident and mayor, the other as past prefect who lived for many years in Czernowitz and the Herr Council with a view to the importance of the economy of the province to the Reich. Start immediately compiling the list of those who will remain. Contact the chief of the Romanization Department to prevent the stagnation of industry. I will give you four days during which I will suspend the deportations.” Meanwhile approximately three trains had left on the evening of October 13. “You have the right to make decisions. I reserve for myself only the right to set the percentage and will personally sign the authorization without taking their great number into consideration.”

Council Shellhorn immediately declined the honor pointing out to the governor that he as a representative of a foreign country could not mix in affairs that concerned only Romania.[11] So now there only remained two, General Jonescu and me.

Now began a new chapter: The selection. When we left the Governor, we had no idea of what a difficult and responsible task had been set before us. General Jonescu and I worked together harmoniously. I assert here that there was not a single moment in our common work spoiled by discord. In addition, he had to accomplish the bulk of the work since the continuing agenda of the mayor's office consumed much of my time.

First we agreed immediately in view of the lack of official data concerning the intellectual and manual professions that the Jews themselves, who had the presidents or leaders of the various corporations living among them, would have to make the decision. To this purpose, I called these people to the Jewish Community House and told them that they would have to make the selection as soon as possible. I considered it right to invite the leading personalities in order that the selection would be made in the spirit of justice and objectivity and that the responsibility would be divided among them.

For the office work, the working up of the lists, the verification of their totals, the forms, obtaining the signatures, etc. the military command provided 48 people, officers and non-commissioned officers. The work took on the character of a military operation. I designated the large meeting hall and the adjacent rooms in city hall for the carrying out of the work in order to exercise better control and to avoid running back and forth to the military headquarters. The only civilians involved in this work were the mayor, the vice mayor, the general secretary, the cabinet chief and a stenographer from the presidents chambers of city hall. The purpose of the last named personnel was to accept petitions from Jews directed to the mayor for help and support.

I have never regretted and still less so today having had this inspiration although it made my work a hundred times harder. I confess that not all my ideas were successful, but the one we are talking about now, despite its many difficulties - I do not regret, since I was able to hinder the wheel of fate that was about to crush a people. But now I want to talk about another idea which at that time could have cost me my life, which involved many forms and letters, some of which went to the military cabinet and some directly to the president. I am referring to my visit to the ghetto, the only official visit to the ghetto during its entire time of existence.

On the evening of October 15, after I had discussed our work plan for the next day with General Jonescu I went to the Jewish hospital which was located at the edge of the ghetto and on the main travel route to the railroad station. Days before I had been notified that a typhus epidemic had broken out and that City Hall had to institute preventive measures. At the same time I wanted to bring the Marshal's message that he was prepared to spare a part of the Jews to the leader of the community. It was a gesture meant to sooth the masses who were tormented by the fear of a trip into the unknown and at the same time, a political act calculated to prove that the Marshal was not so hard-hearted and that he had to, only because of other considerations, resort to the measure of deportation, since he pitied the Jews and wanted to protect them as for as it could be allowed by the political situation[12].

The dramatic scene that I witnessed as I brought this message of hope I consider the most celebratory and exciting in my life and I don't believe I will experience a greater or more decisive one. Old rabbis, intellectuals of all ages, leaders of all levels of social life, merchants, workers - with a word, all who lived - broke down in tears, they thanked their God and thanked heaven for the mercy, the Marshal for the clemency, they surrounded me to kiss my hands, my feet, the hem of my garment. It is no shame for a man to cry. At that moment, I was so overcome by the spontaneous outburst of thankfulness, so moved that I started crying and as “city father” cried with them. As witness to the experience of that moment, I call upon all those who survived the torment of persecution and stood in hope for a better world, next to me. Why, however, my people distanced themselves from this gesture - in any case they at least could find an excuse in the future - that, they can work out with their own conscience, all those who attacked me, smeared my name and hounded me. I was, however, the mayor of the entire city and not just a part of it. One of the mayor's responsibilities was to make sure the markets and bakeries could provide food and bread. I was, still, the bearer of the concern for the wellbeing of the entire population and not their persecutor. The gesture was simple and understandable, only the hate made it significant for me and posterity.

On October 16, after I had made contact the delegates of the Jewish community, who I made aware of the Marshal's decision and the urgency of the work with which they were entrusted, we recognized that we weren't in a position to carry out the work in such a short time. The Jews needed two days to compile the lists. They handed over to us 179 lists, to which several more was added later.

An entire day together with the Governor was needed to confirm the percentages on the lists and we had to account for every extra entry on every list. General Calotescu can confirm what effort it took to convince him that certain categories of Jews had to be left in the city to avoid bringing chaos into life tomorrow.

One example: In Czernowitz all the plumbers were Jewish, except for one - his name was Basaraba - in a city that had over 11,000 buildings. We saw that we would have to send special workers to other Bukovina cities. There were other examples. We got an extension of time and worked day and night to accomplish a grueling task, which everyone agreed was absolutely necessary. A team of 48 military clerks divided by alphabet and category, supported by a group of officers worked without rest to complete in a month, a job that would normally take several months.

All our work was only suggestions; the Governor had the final word. We presented a report of our completed work to the Governor. I believe that the details of our painstaking work are not of interest. What is of interest is merely that that we both, General Jonescu and I, after we were put in the position to delay the start of the deportation, then sought every opportunity to hold it up, in that we saw that with the start of Winter progress would be slowed down considerably.

I must make one fact clear. All the work of this commission took place in daylight before the eyes of all the organs that were to carry out the work [deportation?] in view of the public, which could monitor our work, in view of all interested parties (public offices, public and private institutions, factories, industries, merchants) under the control of the police and security organizations, who were entrusted with the verification and especially under the control and in view of the General Staff. We didn't work behind closed doors causing suspicious speculation. The doors to the commission and especially to the mayor's office always stood open.

Finally, my activity had the purpose to stop the deportation so that no one was sent away. The Governor could consider himself responsible for the work, but I say he is not. How often, I fought with him to save this one or that one who was slated for deportation. How many family members who came to me to plea after the lists were already closed (parents, brothers, father-in-laws, cousins, etc.) went away unsatisfied? I resisted sometimes, that is true, because I had to create a new authorization on my own, but finally, I inscribed the name of their loved one on the authorization beginning with the standard lines: Authorized for non-deportation, who lives in common household, he will receive, supported, and so on and I courageously signed my name to the document and stamped it with the seal of city hall. This one operation which later was responsible for my being charged with “misuse of office” saved not tens, but hundreds of souls who were indissolubly bound to the holiest in human society, the family.

The greatest satisfaction that I had in those days as once Lieutenant Colonel Petrescu explained , “I recognize that you, Herr Popovici are right. We don't need an evacuation; we have to keep so many, that one feels sorry for the ones that went.” When he left Czernowitz and took leave from me, he said, “I must depart. I hope that I have not lost your respect.”

In that moment Herr Petrescu, you won my respect again, which I still have today. Errare humanum est [to err is human] and to admit to an error earns forgiveness.

I had finished the work of selection, revisions and verification when the Marshal gave the order that the Jews who hadn't been deported up to that point should be allowed to remain under the responsibility of city hall and they stepped into the history of the deportation as the beneficiaries of the “Popovici Authorization” so as to differentiate them from those who benefited from the “Calotescu Authorization.”

Happy to be freed from the ongoing nightmare which tore up our souls and made the heart, the organ sensitive to suffering, pound, we shut down the project, “sealed” it, made counts, signed it and presented it to the Governor. We heaved a sigh of relief, put the rooms in city hall back in their work-a-day order and closed the chapter of the “selection.”

The Death Train

The population that was to be deported was gathered in groups of 2000 people and driven through muck and mud to the loading ramps at the main railroad station. There, 40 to 50 people were jammed into each boxcar. The boxcars stood under military guard, the train under the command of an officer. The death train traveled to the Dniester River to the concentration camps Atachi and Marculesti where they were transported over the river as if by a Charon taking them into the realm of the underworld. Heart rending scenes were played out at the ramps as the unfortunate ones were loaded into the boxcars. The separation of the members of a family, when the parents were taken away and the children remained, or the reverse, or the separation of brothers and sisters or married couples was accompanied by screams of pain and moved even hearts of stone. It was a separation for ever. The one went to suffering and death, the other remained in slavery and pain. The departure of the Jews from Czernowitz is a tragic chapter in human history and forever will be the heaviest blow that humanity ever suffered[13].

The Jews suffered in two phases of the deportation, in the cold, rain and snow of the winter of 1941 and in the burning heat and thirst during the summer of 1942. How much the death trip to Transnistrien or to the Ukraine on the far side of the Bug, a hell of hunger, sickness and death resembled the Babylonian exile more than 2000 years ago.

The dead were thrown out of the trains at the stations and left for the locals to dispose of. At the muster points on the Dniester, they were robbed of any possessions that they still had, their personal documents were taken from them and destroyed so that no trace of them would remain. They were brought over the Dniester in boats and began to march in wind, rain, storms and mud, barefoot and starving. The description of their tragic suffering could fill volumes which only a Dante could write. They were witnesses of an apocalyptical brutalization by their tormentors. In one transport, of 60 infants, only one survived. When they fell, exhausted, they were left to their fates by the edge of the road. Their corpses were the booty of vultures and dogs. Those who arrived at their destinations could expect a life of great misery. There was no hygiene, no living quarters, and no wood. Without food and clothing, they were subject to the merciless moods of the weather and whims of their guards and tormentors. There was a complete lack of organization in the sense of any humanitarian impulses. They were abandoned to nothingness, hunger, frost, the winter, the absence of hygiene, typhus and other epidemics which were a consequence of the inhuman housing conditions. Girls and women were raped; they prostituted themselves for a piece of bread. The Jews were abandoned to the hate of the Ukrainian population. Their extermination was the goal of the “evacuation.” The mortality ranging from 50% to 70% actually reached 85% in community of Berschad (Balta District). There, like cattle they lived in the open until December 20, 1940. The “humane” purpose of their evacuation was to wipe them out.[14]

Sending of food, clothing or medicines was punishable by a military court. Those who fled the camp could expect punishment by death. All measures taken had one final goal, their complete extinction.

The transfer of the Jews to German organizations on the far side of the Bug River with the supposed purpose of providing workers ended with their being tortured and mutilated and thrown living into their graves. Could this be anything but part of the plan to turn them into dust? The death train of the martyrs to Transnistrien could expect all this in the 20th century, the century of madness. How often I told the Governor and other carriers of the torch of hate, that it would be more humane, to simply put the Jews against the wall and shoot them than to torment them without sympathy, coldly and brutally without a tremor of conscience, without fear of God.

Some Statistics

The Jewish population in Bukovina, until World War I comprised about 10% of the total population, which corresponded to 90,000 residents. This percentage remained constant until World War II when the Jewish population of the land was 120,000, at which time; the city of Czernowitz had the greatest percentage of Jews with a Jewish “minority” of almost 70,000 souls compared to the city's total population of 140,000 residents. By what means and under what circumstances the number of Jews in Czernowitz fell to 50,000, while the Jewish population in South Bukovina remained unchanged[15], I can't explain. One fact remains, that when we returned to North Bukovina in 1941, [in 1941, the Russians retreat and the Romanian troops re-took North Bukovina.] the number of Jews was 65-70,000, of whom more than 50,000 lived in Czernowitz. Exactly 28,391 Jews were deported from Czernowitz. The number that was deported from camps in the north of the province or from the cities in the south of the province I can't exactly say. I believe it was approximately 50 - 60,000 souls.


Notes:

1.Carp, Schwarzbuch [Black Book] III page 156 Return
2.Page 159 - Dr. Popovici doesn't reveal the “decision” of Marshal Antonescu to exterminate the Jews was initiated by Nazi Germany. Compare Jon Gheorghe, Rumäiens Weg zum Satellittenstaat [Romania's Road to Becoming a Satellite State], page 119; “now stood General Antonescu powerless before Germany's “guardianship.” As a defendant before the People's Court in Bucharest Antonescu said, “The Germans demanded that we imprison all the Jews of the Moldau in ghettos. It was demanded that we hand them over to the Germans. Even in August 1944, they said that one couldn't carry out any operation with the Jews at our back (Document URO, Volume 1, page 179). From the secret report of the German ambassador Killinger in Bucharest to the Foreign Office in Berlin on August 16, 1941 one can see that Antonescu had received directions from Hitler on the treatment of the East Jews (document URO, vol. III, page 476) Return
3.Page 163. Return
4.The Military Cabinet's area of control had no boundaries. It was an autonomous control point of the civilian administration. Return
5.Page 166. Return
6.Already months before, the Jewish residences had been searched for concealed weapons. Any possible resistance had been made impossible. Return
7.This corresponded to the guidelines promulgated by Nazi Germany. Return
7a.Article 1/Document number 38 (Carp. Schwarzbuch page 90). Anyone who assaults officers, soldiers, Romanian officials of any rank, as well as officers, solders and functionaries of the German army or the German and Romanian embassies will be executed on the spot.
Article 2: When the assault against the above named is committed by a Jew, all Jewish hostages in the camp will immediately be executed.
Article 3: The same punishment will be carried out on accomplices of all sorts.
Article 4: Officials who don't immediately apply these rules will be similarly punished.
The entire population should be made aware that 50 Jewish leaders will be selected and interned, who will guarantee with their lives and fortunes the peacefulness of the Jewish community.
Return
8. How shamelessly the population of Bukovina was plundered by the official edicts can be seen by the currency exchange that was forced on them. When the Russians occupied North Bukovina, the residents had to exchange any lei they possessed for rubles in the following arbitrarily set ratios: 1 ruble = 40 lei. When the Romanians returned in 1941, a new money exchange was ordered. This time, the ruble had the same value as the lei (1 ruble = 1 lei). In the ghetto, (October 1940) the Jews were forced to exchange all their lei at the rate of 40 lei = 1 ruble at stations set up by the National Bank. In Transnistrien however, the ruble was replaced by (unsupported) Reichskassenscheine [German money], which were only valid there, at the forced rate of 60 ruble = 1 mark.

Let us assume that in 1940 a Czernowitz Jew had a substantial cash amount of 1,000,000 lei and then he received for this amount 25,000 rubles from the Russian exchange station. One year later when the Russians left the city and the Romanians ordered a compulsory money exchange; he received for his 25,000 rubles the equal amount of lei. In the ghetto, he had to exchange his 25,000 lei for rubles and for this amount received 625 rubles which at that time were worth were worth 10 marks in German bills in Transnistrien. At that time, 10 marks was the value of a loaf of bread.

The above illustration has only theoretical value. That is because during the Russian period, no one dared to bring large sums of money to exchange and because the other coercion decrees in the ghetto and in Transnistrien had become - in view of the previous extortion and thievery carried out on the living and the dead - meaningless. Return

9.Secret State Police. Return
10.Also in this regard, the persecution of the Jews in Romania followed guidelines set up by Germany and according to which baptized Jews and half Jews were treated the same as other Jews. Return
11.The attitude of the German Consul Schellhorn is typical of the influence of Germany on Romania's laws concerning the Jews. He was invited by Calotescu to take part in the meetings because Calotescu evidently had received directions from Antonescu to allow all measures for killing Jews to proceed under German control. Schellhorn, on the other hand had no interest in working on the selection of those Jews who were to be exempted from deportation, especially since his orders were to expedite the “final solution,” that is the extermination of all Jews without exception,” Therefore, he diplomatically withdrew from the selection process. Return
12.That is, as far as the Germans would allow. Return
13.The deportation from the other cities of Bukovina and especially from Bessarabia was no less disgraceful. Return
14.The deportation of the Jews meant their agonizing deaths in the sense of the “final solution” solution to the “Jewish problem” ordered by Germany. That not all the Jews of Romania suffered the same fate is a consequence of the collapse of Nazi Germany before the “final solution” was completed. Return
15.What is meant is the year of Russian occupation. Return

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