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History of the Jews in Bukovina
(1919 – 1944) (cont'd)

The Ghetto in Czernowitz

On September 30, 1941, Alexander Riosanu, the governor of Bukovina died. He was followed after a short transition period in which General Secretary Vasile Florescu ruled, by Brigadier General Calotescu, who brought his subordinates from his home town of Pitesti. He immediately installed the so called “military cabinet,” which had the task of killing the Bukovina Jews in the spirit of the Nuremberg laws. The members of this military cabinet were: the colonel of the General Staff, Petro Chiritescu, the Cabinet Director Stefan Marinescu and Captain Viktor Pacuraru. The chairman of this cabinet was the governor himself. His work in connection with this devilish plan which was hatched against the Jews was a strict secret and practically nothing leaked to the public. Nevertheless, with time, because of the indiscretion of subordinate officials, some information oozed out giving hints of disasters to come and distressing the Jewish population. One spoke of deporting the “undependable and undesired” elements. The unease increased from day to day. One soon learned that a gendarme battalion was on its way from Iasi to Czernowitz with the task of guarding the Jews who were to be transported. There also were circulating rumors about the creation of a Ghetto in Czernowitz. The Jewish leadership turned immediately to the leading Jews in Bucharest and shared with them the information from reliable sources and pleaded for an intervention at high levels in favor of the Bukovina Jews. They received a disturbing answer. According to the reply, the government had not authorized the Governor of Bukovina to take any steps regarding the Jews and it would be irresponsible to give any credit to unsubstantiated rumors. In spite of this dismissive reply, the panic grew from day to day. A Jewish printer who worked in the government printing plant brought the news that documents had been printed concerning the vacated Jewish dwellings and the deportation. Gruesome reality soon replaced the general uncertainty. Around midnight of the 10th to the 11th of October 1941, members of the committee which was responsible for aiding of Jewish social organizations were woken from their sleep by the gendarmes and police organizations and given orders to report to the military headquarters at 6 in the morning. As the delegation appeared at headquarters, the commander, General Vasilei Jonescu in the presence of his stall of officers informed them in the name of the Governor General Calotescu that the Jews of Czernowitz had to move to the area of the city assigned to them by 4 PM and were permitted to take only as much luggage as they and their immediate family could carry.

Anyone who resisted this order and was found after the above mentioned time outside of the area designated for Jews was to be shot immediately. Only the courageous Dr. Leo Weich demanded to see these orders in writing, was threatened with execution and was finally released. The high military stressed that the delegation was not to question the ordinance and moreover to see that it was strictly carried out. The delegation immediately went to the Jewish infirmary and decided to use a notice written on a typewriter and messengers to inform the entire Jewish population of the city of the government's orders and to urge them to be in the allotted area within the set time. This quarter of the city was densely populated and had for many years been chiefly inhabited by Jews. It sheltered approximately 10,000 Jewish residents. Now 45,000 more Jews were to be squeezed into this area within 10 hours. At the first moment, it appeared impossible to carry out the orders of the officials. Only the national solidarity of the Czernowitz Jews and the knowledge of their common destiny made the impossible possible.

And then began the deportations. It became more comfortable in the ghetto. The first transport to Transnistrien was prepared. It was the time of the Sukkoth festival, October 14, 1941. The column of the first 5,000 moved through the lower part of the city, through the dirty and swampy streets behind the Great Synagogue to the Czernowitz freight station. The chief rabbis of Bojan (Friedmann) and Horodenka (Hagar) walked in the lead, surrounded by their followers. They wore their holiday garments. There was no crying or moaning.

Suddenly they stood before the cattle cars that were ready for them. Romanian gendarmes were on duty here. They were driven with blows from riffle stocks into the cars, 40 to 50 people and their baggage in each car.

In the Jewish infirmary, the headquarters of the Committee, there was feverish activity. Lists were made of those people who were not supposed to be deported. Not all Jews were to leave the city. The mayor, Dr. Traian Popovici stepped in for them. Lists were made and were continuously corrected. Jewish and non-Jewish brokers worked on the plan. Meanwhile, the net was pulled tighter around the ghetto. Conditions were unbearable. Epidemic sicknesses started. The transports continued. Also, the Jews from the area of Bukovina not occupied by the Russians in 1940 were drawn into the deportation. One after the other the Jews of Radauti, Suceava, Gura Humorului, Kimpolung and Dorna Watra, approximately 40,000 in number were deported to Transnistrien on the 9th and 10th of October 1941.

In spite of the fact the ghetto wall enclosed only a small part of the city; many Jews were successful in escaping the grip of the police and the gendarmes. Approximately 5000 people either sought out invisible hiding places or secretly slipped out of the ghetto. Later, with authorization from Popovici, they were permitted to leave the ghetto. Many remained in the infirmary and the old people's home because they were not capable of being transported. Approximately 15,000 Jews received authorization from the governor to return to their homes outside the ghetto.

The return from the ghetto took place gradually, The happy ones had to, before they returned to their sealed dwellings, go through a procedure with the authorities where they signed a document stating that when the dwelling was opened everything was in order and all their possessions were there. During the stay of the Jews in the ghetto, many of their homes were lived in by Romanian officials and officers. There began a battle over possessions and ownership. The home robbers threatened the Jews who wanted their belongings back with deportation and tried in this way to intimidate them. In most cases, this method was successful.

They found that in most cases, their homes had been plundered. All the Jews returning from the ghetto had to undergo further scandalous procedures. The legitimacy of their work authorizations had to be recertified. The authorities decreed that within 8 days approximately 10,000 authorizations had to be checked at a single government agency. The checking procedure involved producing various documents.

The checking of the work authorizations was ordered by the mayor's office and carried the stamp of Mayor Popovici. It was carried out in a humane way and unnecessary harassment was avoided. Where original documents were missing a written declaration confirmed by two Romanians was accepted. There was something else in addition: the provision of identity certificates at the police headquarters. This authorization had its own story. They also had to be examined by the military authorities in order to finally receive a special seal. By the order of the governor, all identity papers had to clearly be stamped “Evreu” (Jew) on their title page. With time, these lost their significance, especially in Bukovina. The Jews received on the basis of a census, a new legitimization, the so-called yellow L card, wit a yellow Magen David (6 pointed star) stamp, whose loss could result in the holder being driven out of the city. There were also material sacrifices associated with this census and it caused great trepidation for the Jewish population. The proof of identity had to be signed by three authorities – governor, police and the Jewish District Office.

The results of this census of all Romania was officially made know as follows: 287,000 Jews in Old Romania and Siebenbuergen as well as approximately 21,00 in Czernowitz. Of these, 5000 were deported to Transnistrien in June, 1942.

Then the War Ministry got involved. The police continued to search for Communists and deserters. Show trials were held for the Communists. At the same time, Jews who had run afoul of the army or the Romanian officials were given less public trials. Although, after the last deportation of the year in December, 1941, the visible ghetto walls of wood and barbed wire in Czernowitz were torn down and the Jews who through chance, luck, connections or bribery had been spared deportation were allowed to go back to their earlier dwellings, the intellectual, spiritual and moral ghetto walls were higher and stronger.

The stream of refugee Polish Jews to Czernowitz never ceased. One can say with confidence that in 1940, the flow out of the German and Russian occupied areas was about equal. In Czernowitz with a majority population of Jews, the refugees were always able to get help from the Jewish population.

After Germany's declaration of war on Russia on June 22, 1941 and the victorious advance of the German army across the Dnister and Bug, the situation of the Polish Jews got worse and worse until it became a looming tragedy. There came again and again large or small groups to Czernowitz and called to the Jewish population for rescue and help. One of Antonescu's decrees stated that any Jewish refugees who crossed the border from Poland were to be shot. In spite of this, the flow of Polish refugees never ceased.

The refugees were brought into contact with the Jewish Community and secretly received monetary support.

The legalization of the refugees was the job of the hour. It became ever more difficult. Now and then, in spite of the greatest attempts at caution, they were captured, dragged to the police and sooner or later taken over the border where the Ukrainian militia or the Gestapo killed them. In numerous memorandums, the Jewish leaders working with the leaders of the illegal Jewish Polish Committee appealed to Jewish and non-Jewish dignitaries and institutions in Bucharest to stop the persecution. The protecting power for the Polish citizens in Romania was the Chilean government in Bucharest, represented by the Chilean ambassador. After long negotiations which were associated with large bribes they succeeded in legalizing the Polish Jewish refugees at the Chilean embassy and obtaining Chilean passports for them.

The difficulties in crossing the border became greater from hour to hour. The “stool pigeon” system was pervasive. The refugees had to be put in different hiding places to escape the grasp of the officials. New quarters were found, basements, attics, ruins of deserted dwellings and destroyed factory buildings.

The situation of the refugees first improved when the Chilean ambassador finally left the country.

The Swiss, whose ambassador in Bucharest, DeWeeck, continued the policies of his predecessor, became the protectors of the Poles living in Romania. With this change of protecting power, began a new era in the question of the Polish refugees. With DeWeeck, a diplomat came into the picture who did all he could for the unfortunate refugees within the framework of the existing situation. He opened a visa consulate in Czernowitz and entrusted Kunzli, a Swiss citizen living in Czernowitz with running this office. Gradually, moderation replaced lawlessness and humanity replaced barbarism.

In the meanwhile, a change came about in Bukovina's government. General Corneliu Calotescu and his entire staff, the already mentioned Military Cabinet stepped down – much was said about the shady business he had allowed as president of the Patronage Office – and he named Corps General Corneliu Dragalina as his successor. Dragalina was open to reason and did not permit open brutality against the Jews. This was in March, 1943.

The situation was also changing on the fronts. The rush of German victories was replaced with a sobering up. Leading Romanians, both military and civilians began to consider that they might possible be called to justice for the crimes they had committed. In this period, attempts were made to get the Polish refugees out of Czernowitz, provide them with false documents and secretly bring them to Bucharest. First, the children were brought to safety. They were taken by the Jewish organizations. All this occurred illegally. In Bucharest, the refugees, after a short procedure at the YMCA, were legalized by the officials. All the Jewish refugees received Polish names and were considered Christians. They were sent to the cities of Craiova, Caracal, Turnu Severin, Pitesti, Dragosani and Rosiori de Vede among others. The transfer to Bucharest involved large expenses which were mainly paid by the Joint Distribution Committee and the Esra Fund (Hazalah). In this way about 300 refugees got to Bucharest. In Czernowitz now remained only about 600 long established Jews form Poland, 20 Jews in jail and 29 sick in the Jewish infirmary. The aid in Bucharest was adequate, considering the situation. It was done under the eyes of the police and had a consequence. The leader of the Czernowitz Jewish Polish Refugee Committee was arrested. In Bucharest the arrest had far reaching consequences and won the sympathy of leading Jewish personalities.

To Transnistrien

The Jews who were driven to their deaths in Transnistrien had to leave their possessions behind. They were declared “property of the state” (averea statului). The confiscated objects were claimed by the Patronage Office and were taken to Czernowitz. They were supposed to be for the invalids and were to be used in equipping the hospitals. In reality the most valuable objects wandered into the hands of the top ten thousand of Romanian “societe.” (The customs agents didn't fill out forms for the objects taken from the Jews). At laughable prices, the objects were purchased by the wives of high ranking officers and top civilian officials. At this auction, the Society of Romanian Women (Societatea doamnelor Romane) outdid itself.

Now the Jews could start the march over the Dniester. The Romanian government made sure that the pontoon bridge that connected Ataki with Moghilew could only be crossed without luggage. The weather was as unfriendly to the unhappy ones as their tormentors. In Margulesti, the casualties were heavier and more gruesome. The martyrs were severely mishandled by the gendarmes. A piece of bread could not be had at any price. In vain, desperate mothers and fathers sought a little milk or tea for their children. The march to Transnistrien had begun.

The word “Transnistrien” (Trans-Nistrului, far side of the Dniester) was a new geo-political concept introduced by Romania. It defined the area between the Dniester and the Bug, bordered on the south by the Black Sea. Before the World War, this area bordering on the Dniester was the Moldavian Soviet Republic with its capital city of Tiraspol. The eastern and southern part belonged to the Soviet Ukraine. The Romanians didn't consider this area as formally annexed and declared, half officially, that Transnistrien was only provisionally taken over for administration by Romanian officials in order to use the resources of the land to support the Romanian troops fighting in Russia. The number of Jews brutally murdered by the Romanian and German troops in this area numbered in the thousands and ten thousands. At the conquest of Odessa, 42,000 Jews were said to have been killed. The whole region was submerged in murderous battle. The works of destruction not completed by the retreating Russians were finished by the German bombers and artillery. The major cities in Transnistrien were reduced to heaps of rubble. Half way normal life could be found in the villages which were only brushed by the war. The great Kolchos and Sowchos businesses (private, collective and state businesses) remained almost untouched. Because of that, agriculture was not noticeably interrupted. In many cases, the herds of cattle in individual settlements were left alone.

At first, the Ruble which had maintained its purchasing power still circulated. As the Ruble was called in and the German authorities put the Reichs Credit Certificate into circulation, valuation problems immediately emerged. The farmers recognized instinctively the worthlessness of this money and did not want to sell their agricultural products for this bank note and when they were forced, they only sold their products at very high prices.

The deportees first arrived in the ghetto of Moghilev which was closely guarded. The buildings were for the most part, destroyed. When one found undamaged rooms in the ruins, then the windows and doors were missing. Only very few houses still had ovens. The tendency of the officials was to give the worst ruins to these unfortunate ones. Also, it was made impossible for the Jews to buy food. Because of these terrible living conditions, epidemics broke out.

Weeks and months went by before a reliable courier service was set up with the banished ones. The governor of Transnistrien, Prof. Gheorghe Alexianu, by birth a Romanized Armenian – his father Alessian had been sentenced to jail in Persia because of crimes he had committed and had escaped to Romania – forbid correspondence from and to Transnistrien. The couriers who came from the border towns, above all, Moghilev to Czernowitz were mainly officers and gendarmes who received high sums for the service and who demanded 40 – 50% of the amount involved for carrying money. At first, 60-70% of all money deliveries were “lost.” At the same time, this method of sending letters and money was dangerous for the sender and the recipient. In all cases where letters were intercepted, the offender went before a military court. There then ensued long trials whose favorable outcome could only be ensured by spending large sums of money. At the same time, more and more disastrous news came from Transnistrien. The treatment of the deportees became worse from day to day. Governor Alexianu and his staff moved their headquarters from Tiraspol to the newly conquered Odessa, where he acted like the “pasha” of this new Romanian province. The next order of business was to establish a Greek Orthodox archbishopric. Dr. Puiu Visarion, who had recently lost his position as archbishop of the Czernowitz Metropol because of immoral practices and unethical dealings and had been sent to a cloister, was named as archbishop. The third in this gang was the newly named mayor of Odessa, Gherman Pantea, under whose regime, the granite monuments from the Jewish cemetery was removed, sent to Bucharest and there sold at high prices.

At the end of 1941, the catastrophic conditions in Transnistrien caused the chairman of the Association of Jewish Communities, Dr. Wilhelm Filderman, to send a letter to the leader of the country, Marschall Antonescu, in which he pleaded for help and mercy for the Jews in Transnistrien. In spite of the fact that this letter was very cautiously worded and dealt more with questions of humanity than points of law, it outraged Antonescu and provoked a reply that all the newspapers made a great show of printing and commenting on in a tone antagonistic to the Jews. Also, Bucharest radio reported the answer to Fildermann's letter to the world. It was dictated by an evil spirit, typifing the whole propaganda of lies against the Jews, whom it declared were as “free as birds.” It was a terrible blow for the Jews, delivered from the highest place in the land. Fildermann suffered the consequences. He stepped down from his position of chairman of the Association of Jewish Communities and for a period, disappeared from the political arena.

Besides being in the city and the district of Moghilev, the deported Jews were also “accommodated” in Balta and Tulczyn. In Berschad which belonged to the administrative area of Balta the situation of the deportees was the worst. The poet, Alfred Kittner described in griping verses, how on the march from Odoboka to Berschad in 1942 the helpless people were attacked and killed by dogs.

The general rate of mortality was 50%. It took a long time for them to realize in Czernowitz what was going on. The news that reached Czernowitz revealed the terrible picture of the Jewish tragedy in Transnistrien. A great effort was made to alert the Jewish and non-Jewish public to the tragedy in Transnistrien and to quickly secure help.

While every possible step was being taken to ease the situation of the exiles, cries for help came from the other camps in Transnistrien. It turned out that the need for clothing was as urgent as the need for food and medicine. Most of their clothing had been exchanged for food, some had been stolen by the gendarmes and that which remained on their backs had worn out so quickly, that these poor people were literally draped in rags. They slept on the wet ground and only some of the lucky ones had wooden platforms to use. Certainly, there were a few Jews who were relatively well off and who were occasionally to rent for large sums, a room with a door and windows and sometimes even an oven.

Conditions were not everywhere the same as in Transnistrien. There were also places where Jews were used as farm workers and in spite of hard physical work, had a half way decent life because they received sufficiently nourishing meals every day.

In the first months of 1942, news of the catastrophe in Transnistrien was carried abroad from Czernowitz and Bucharest by foreign diplomats who were accredited in Bucharest. The International Red Cross in Geneva received detailed report about the situation. In America and England, the fate of the Jews in Transnistrien was already known. It still remained to inform the leading circles in Romanian public life, excluding those of course who belonged to the government, of the crimes committed against the Jews in Transnistrien, in corresponding form with the corresponding proof. In March 1942, memorandums were given to Julius Maniu and Dr. Nicolae Lupu, the leaders of the recently dissolved National Zionist Party in which the catastrophe in Transnistrien was described completely and a plea was made for intervention by the leader of the country, Antonescu. In addition, contact was made with Jewish Central. The chairman of the Czernowitz Jewish Community, Dr. Ludwig Dische, who led the political work in concert with the political exponents of the Zionist Central Committee set all the wheels were set in motion to obtain help for the Jews in Transnistrien.

Meanwhile, in February 1942, the governor of Bukovina sent a report to the central government in which it was stated that thousands of “undesirable” elements still remained in Czernowitz and these had to be sent to Transnistrien because they stood in the way of the complete “Romaniazation” of the province. Through its informants in the government, the political leadership of the Zionist Central Committee received timely news of this report and immediately informed Jewish leaders of all stripes and persuasions in Bucharest of the news. The answer was that there was no talk of new deportations in the central government. But already on May 8, 1942, it became known that Governor Calotescu had received “carte blanche” from the central government for further unrestricted deportation of the Jews.

On June 4, 1942 the Jewish District office and also the Jewish Community received the highly confidential news that in the coming days the “undesirable element” was to be deported. Representatives of the Community were given orders on the basis of which the leadership of the community was authorized to appear on Makkabiplatz in Czernowitz in order to be helpful in handling various procedures for those designated to be deported. The hunt for the victims started in the early morning hours. The police and gendarmes appeared between 3 and 4 in the morning and collected all the Jews who were designated for this transport. This time, it was the turn of those Jewish families who had the so-called “Popovici authorization” which was discussed earlier. The procedure had been made a bit simpler. Approximately 70 people of both sexes were marched over 2 km. from the Jewish infirmary to Makkabiplatz. Shriveled, worn faces revealed the age and despair of these people who were destined to die. The notorious Cabinet Director, Major Stelian Marinescu appeared on the Makkabiplatz in order to personally oversee the money exchange - this time, the rate of exchange was set at: one Reichs Credit certificate for 60 Lei, the valuation of gold, silver and jewels, the body searches and finally, the loading into the railroad cars. The victims selected for deportation received from the Jewish Community a monetary allowance and food sufficient for about three days.

Eight days later on June 13, 1942, the same story was repeated. This time if possible the authorities were even crueler. Even the residents of the Jewish insane asylum, approximately 70 people of both sexes were taken from the institution in the early morning hours, driven onto the street with rifle stock blows by the police and gendarmes, lined up for a train and marched through the lively streets to the collection area. No nurses or medical assistance was allowed. Many of them had fits of madness; many fell into apathy and let themselves be driven forward without protest. Weekly, more transports were to follow. The wheels had been set in motion and there was complete understanding between the governments of Bukovina and Transnistrien. Everything had to be tried to get the central government to suspend the deportations. A memorandum was sent to Monsignor Cassulo, the Papal Nuncio in Bucharest in which the situation of the Bukovina Jews who were sent to Transnistrien was described and in which he was asked to intervene with the deputy minister President and Foreign Minister Mihai Antonescu. Also, a memorandum written by Prof. Dr. Hermann Sternberg in Latin had previously been sent to the Pope through a diplomatic courier in which the history of the Bukovina Jews and their part in the development of the province was described and the charges raised against them because of Communist activity were refuted. The catastrophe in Transnistrien was described and a plea was made to the Pope to intervene with the responsible authorities. The chief rabbi of Bucharest, Dr. Alexander Schafran had an audience with the Romanian patriarch and pleaded with him to use his influence in favor of the persecuted Jews. Also, the chief rabbi of the Sephardic Community, Dr. Sabbatei Dajan, spoke with the Spanish ambassador in Bucharest and tried to win him to the side of the persecuted Jews. The Political Commission of the Zionist Central Committee moved its headquarters to the office of the Dr. Traian Popovici, the mayor of Czernowitz and a friend of the Jews and took all conceivable steps with the leading Romanian politicians, informed them in numerous memorandums of the plight of the Jews in Czernowitz and Transnistrien and challenged them to save the honor of Romania and to demand that Marshal Antonescu suspend further deportations. The deportation of the Czernowitz Jews stopped that next Sunday. The central government got a report by telegraph of what the governor was doing and demanded a written report. This was sufficient to halt the deportations for 8 days. During the pause while diplomatic negotiations continued with the central government, Major Marinescu convinced the governor to schedule a new deportation for June 28, 1942. This time it was the turn of the children in the Jewish orphanage. Through the indiscretion of a police functionary, the Central Council was informed of this planed crime and was able to stop it in time.

During the night Marinescu ordered the units he commanded to collect the Jews from several streets, to drive them to the collection area and to entrain them as quickly as possible. All in all, about 5000 Jews were deported in 3 transports. The saddest fate was reserved for the exiles in these last transports. Only a small portion were sent to the stone quarries of Ladischin. Their camp was surrounded by barbed wire and was completely cut off from the outer world.

The poet Alfred Kittner, who was among the deportees, gave expression in deeply felt verses to the mental anguish of the unfortunate ones.

Only with the utmost difficulties and great sacrifices was it possible now and then to get money to them. First after weeks and months of energetic exertions these poor people taken from the quarries of Ladischin to Tulczyn where life was a bit easier. The large majority of these three transports were sent to the region on the far side of the Bug administered by the Germans. Men and women were used by the Todt Organization to do hard physical labor under the most conceivably difficult conditions. They were used for street and bridge building as well as in the construction of fortifications. Anyone who was no longer capable of working was eliminated by the SS with no ceremony. Later, more work gangs were recruited. These were taken from the refugee camps which were situated in the border area along the Bug. There are precise reports concerning the fate of the Jews who worked in the Bug area under the supervision of the SS. Less than a dozen people succeeded in escaping to bear witness to the murders that took place.

A personnel change took place in the Military Cabinet of the Czernowitz government. The previously named Captain Victor Pacuraru was replaced by Major Grigore Sion as advisor for Jewish affairs. Sion attempted with some success to moderate the measures taken against the Jewish population and when possible, to eliminate them. Although he didn't have the power to change the course of events, he always came through in helping individual Jews.

The political work to stop further deportations didn't cease for a moment. Dr. Traian Popovici traveled to Bucharest in the name of the Jewish Community in order to urge all the leading Jews to take united actions, official and unofficial with the Central Government to negate Marshal Antonescu's Plein –Pouvoir-Edikt to General Calotescu, the governor of Bukovina.

The president of Jewish Central, H. Streitmann and his Secretary General, Dr. Nador Gingold promised, as official representatives of the Romanian Jews to put their case to the Central Government. Dr. Wilhelm Fildermann asked his political friends from the Liberal and National-Zaranistischen parties to intervene in the cause of the Jews in Czernowitz and Transnistrien. Also the Swiss ambassador, Deweek made friendly, half official requests to the Foreign Minister, Mihai Antonescu to intervene. If now and then the will existed to mitigate the anti-Jewish campaign, because of the political dependency of Romania on Germany, no steps were taken. Open defiance, was unthinkable as long as the German ambassador in Bucharest, Manfred Freiherr exercised political censorship.

In the spring of 1942, Jewish Central received permission to send money to Transnistrien by way of the Romanian National Bank. The exchange rate for the Reichs Credit Certificate was set at 60 Lei which was in no way proportional to its purchasing power. In Transnistrien, one had no problem purchasing a Reichs Credit Certificate for 20 Lei. Nevertheless, this concession allowed relatives and official Jewish institutions to send money without the risk of running afoul of the law. Jewish Central kept 10 percent f the money transferred to cover expenses.

In May 1942, the first news of the orphans starving in Transnistrien who had no clothing and were completely demoralized came to Bucharest and Czernowitz. One spoke of 500 orphans with no father or mother in Moghilev alone. In Bucharest a committee for helping the orphans was formed that collected large sums which made possible the construction of orphanages in Transnistrien.

In September 1942, 2135 people were deported to Transnistrien. They were mostly people from the whole Reich who were somehow involved in trials for Communist activity. Also included were people who had been charged with some crime and then eventually released and who had been rounded up by the political police.

Finally these people had to set out on the path of suffering to Transnistrien. They were all collected in in Tiraspol and put in the concentration camp. Approximately 1200 Jews were taken to Wapniarka, an old penal colony in the vicinity of Smerinka. Simultaneously, messages came to Bucharest and Czernowitz describing the terrible situation of these exiles and in which necessary medicines were requested. The “suspicious” Jews who were taken from Tiraspol to Wapniarka were fortunate enough to survive. A different fate was reserved for the “undesirable element” of 1000 who remained in Tiraspol. They were sent to the concentration camp in Berezowka, where they were all killed. The situation of the 6000 Jewish workers used by the Todt Organization in the shipyard Nikolajew was dreadful. They were completely at the mercy of their tormentors. They had to accomplish the most difficult physical work and as nourishment, received corn porridge made of meal from spoiled corn. The results of this nourishment were soon obvious. Pellagra spread and claimed its victims. In this city the Jewish workers were “fair game” Many of them were shot by the German military and civilians for sport and came severely wounded into the infirmary.

As time went on, the situation “normalized” in Transnistrien. The death rate sank, the ghettos were consolidated and Jewish craftsmen were employed. The Damocles sword of “Transbug” still hovered, however, over the Jews of Transnistrien who were continually in danger of being transported over the Bug into the German staging area. In the second half of 1943, the situation of the Jews living in the border area along the Bug became critical. The defeated German army was approaching this territory and there was the danger that all of Transnistrien would become a German staging area. In this case, the fate of all the Jews in Transnistrien would finally be sealed. At that time, alarm signals came from the city and district of Tulczyn which lay close to the danger zone. The first task was to move the deportees from the Bug River zone into the interior of Transnistrien. The Central Government in Bucharest was asked to repatriate these unfortunate ones to their earlier living area.

Jewish Central in Bucharest was primarily interested in repatriating the 6,700 Jews deported from the city and district of Dorohoi who were still alive. The Commissar of Jews, Radu Lecca, after long negotiations with the chairman of the illegal Zionist executive of Old Romania, Misu Benevenisti, had declared himself prepared to submit a proposal to the state leader, Antonescu, suggesting that all Jews in Transnistrien be repatriated. Dr. Fildermann spoke about the same subject with Under Secretary of State for Domestic Affaires, General Pichi Vasiliu and sought to win his support for repatriation. Mihai Antonescu standing in for the Minister President had a long audience with Dr. Wilhelm Fildermann and Misu Benevenisti in the private dwelling of a Romanian friend of his. Considering public opinion and the political pressure from the Germans, an official audience was not possible. All the problems that affected the Romanian Jews were thoroughly discussed. The contribution of four billion Lei imposed on the Jews, further, the enormous sums taken from Jews who were freed from forced labor, the anti-Semitic attitude of the mayor of Iasi, permission to bring in the 50,000 food packages provided by the Joint Distribution Committee for the use of the Jews now stored in warehouses in Istanbul, ending the requirement to wear the star of David in Czernowitz, the generosity of the Jews of that city, the repatriation of the Jews in Transnistrien, also, those imprisoned in Wapniarka penal colony, ostensibly on political grounds. All means were used to effect the repatriation of all the unfortunate ones. Letters and memorandums were given to the representatives of the International Red Cross in Bucharest, Charles Kolb and Wladimir von Steiger. They worked untiringly to help the Jews in Transnistrien and to bring about their repatriation. They can be thanked for the fact that the Romanian Red Cross started to interest itself in the Jews of Transnistrien and they were also responsible that the rescue of the orphans in Transnistrien and their repatriation to the individual cities of the Moldau was partially carried out. They stood in the closest contact with the Foreign Minister, Mihai Antonescu and informed the Swiss ambassador almost daily about the course of events.

The proposal of Radu Lecca to the State Leader Marschall Antonuscu (later, he and Foreign Minister Mihai Antonuscu were condemned to death as war criminals by the Bucharest People's Court and were shot in May, 1946. The same fate was shared by General Pichi Vasiliu, under secretary of state in the Interior Ministry and Prof Gheorghe Alexianu, the governor of Transnistrien) contained the following stipulation: The Jews of Transnistrien, Old Romania and Bukovina should be repatriated.

First, the children had to be considered, then the weak and sick, and then the great masses. The Jews from the part of Bukovina that had been occupied by the Russians were to be put in camps in the districts of Czernowitz and Storozynetz and were to receive food from the Romanian Cooperative at the same price that Romanian citizens were paying. The Jews who had lived in areas that had not been occupied by the Russians were supposed to return to their home Communities. Jewish Central had to guarantee that no indigenous Jews from Transnistrien would slip into Romania in connection with the repatriation.

Soon delegates were sent to Transnistrien to organize the homecoming of the orphans. There were supposed to be 3000 children there who were to be gathered in Moghilew and Balta. The government gave Jewish Central exacting instructions concerning the repatriation of the children, for which purpose, medics and doctors were to be sent from Bucharest to Transnistrien. The cattle wagons provided had to be adapted for this purpose at the expense of Jewish Central. The orphans were to be cared for in the Jewish Communities of the Romanian province of Moldau. And actually, the first transport of children came already in February, 1944. As previously mentioned, they were to be followed by the sick and frail and then the rest of the Jews from Transnistrien. Suddenly, a reversal came about.

Anti-Semitism again increased. It came to the arrest of the leading Zionist oriented youth. The plan for the repatriation of the Jews of Transnistrien was dropped.

Meanwhile, the military situation was boiling over. The Russian army in victorious battles forced the German army every further back and was not far from Transnistrien. The Council of Ministers meeting in Bucharest dealt with questions concerning the future existence or non-existence of Romania. The issue of repatriation was forgotten.

In the border area of the Bug unrest manifested itself. SS men together with the locals attacked the Jews and in many regions, there were riots resulting in deaths.

Concerning the freedom of movement of the Jews in Czernowitz which was threatened with the danger of becoming a German staging area, the mayor of Czernowitz, Dr. Traian Popovici sent a memorandum to the Interior Ministry in which he pointed out the freedom of movement of the 15,000 Jews still living in Czernowitz would be in the interest of Romanian politics. The government acknowledged this memorandum and promised that at the correct moment this freedom of movement would be granted.

It was too late, however. The military victories of the Russian Army made all efforts to rescue the Jews of Transnistrien hopeless. In a rapid wave of victories, Transnistrien was occupied by the Russians and the Jews still remaining in this area fell into the sphere of power of the U.S.S.R. Some of them with permission of the Russian officials returned to their previous homes. Of the 120,000 Jews who at the beginning of the war lived in Bukovina, half died because of pogroms, hunger, disease and the cold. The survivors from South Bukovina were repatriated from Transnistrien in April, 1944 and on the basis of the law passed in the same year by the Romanian government, received their real property back. The situation for the Jews from the Soviet annexed North Bukovina was much worse. Their real property was expropriated without any compensation so that they were forced to leave this region and emigrate to South Bukovina or the Old Kindom10. There were approximately 40,000 of them. In Northern Bukovina, there no longer existed an indigenous Jewish element. Most of the emigrants were impoverished and had to rely on public support.

Facing untold dangers they made the attempt still during the time of the Mandate to reach Eretz Israel. Only a small percentage was successful in reaching their goal on “Mapilim” ships.

Among those who died on the Struma were a number of victims from Bukovina. Their names are inscribed on the monument erected for the Struma victims in the Bucharest Jewish cemetery. The others were seized by a British patrol ship and taken to Cyprus. With the founding of the state of Israel, the situation changed completely. Unrestricted immigration began.

The number of Bukovina Jews who remained in territories not occupied by the Russians and in Old Romania is estimated at several thousand.

The Jews of Bukovina, once a special Community, no longer existed.

Mrs. Janka Reifer has generously placed this manuscript written by Dr. Manfred Reifer at our disposal. Thanks to the work of the gentlemen, Dr. N.M. Gelber (Jerusalem) and Prof. Dr. Hermann Sternberg (Tel Aviv) it was substantially polished and enhanced.

The Editor

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Notes:

1) Jewish Community: This is how I translate the German word “Kultusgemeinde.” This term literally means "religious community." In this essay, it refers to the Jewish community of a town, or sometimes to the governing structure of the Jewish community as defined by the Austrian government. I simply use the term Community or Jewish Community whenever the author uses Kultusgemeinde or Gemeinde. There were two committees, the Kultusvorstand and the Kultusrat. There were also, a president, vice presidents, a secretary, a rabbi, religion teacher, etc. The committees were elected by the Community and I assume that some or all of the other positions were appointed. Return

2) Jewish People's Communities: My translation of the German word “Volksgemeinden.” Return

3) Eretz Israel: The land of Israel Return

4) Galuth lands: The lands of exile or the diaspora. Return

5) National: The author uses this word again and again. National is the same in German as English. I think it is mainly a synonym for Zionism. It is also possible that it is the name of a political party. Return

6) ORT, OSE: ORT is a world wide charitable organization that concerns itself with education and vocational training. It is based in Geneva and is non-profit and non political. It was founded around 1884 in Russia and ORT is the acronym for its Russian name. OSE is the Children's aid organization (Oeuvre de Secours Aux Enfants), founded in 1912 by a group of Jewish doctors and intellectuals in Russia to improve the social and medical conditions of Jewish families in need. Return

7) HIAS: The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, founded in New York in 1881 by a group of Jewish Immigrants, its main goal is to help refugees from persecution find a safe home. Return

8) Chamber: The Chamber (Kammer) is one of the two houses of the Romanian Parliament. The other is the Senate. Return

9) Voting cartel: The word used by the author, “Wahlkartel” isn't in modern dictionaries. The literal translation is voting cartel. Return

10) Old Kingdom: Romania before World War 1, Walachia and Moldavia Return


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