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[Page 51]

The tragedy of the Bukovina Jews

by Prof. Dr. Hermann Sternberg (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Jerome Silverbush

An evil star directed the fate of the Jews in Bukovina. The collapse of Austria in 1918 hit them harder than the Jews in other parts of the empire, because they were sure to be annexed by a country speaking another language. This signified from the beginning, the loss of their home. One expected for a long time that North Bukovina, which was populated by Ruthenians would become a part of the new West Ukraine and hoped for a limited autonomy in the sense of Wilson's promised “self determination rights of national minorities.” Disappointment came soon, however. The Philistines at the various peace conferences were not guided by the logic of the facts, but by lust for revenge and power and what they brewed up in their ignorance was responsible for the great catastrophe in the near future. In the Versailles peace treaty lay the seeds of the Second World War. No power seriously guaranteed the minority protection demanded by public opinion. The Jews who didn't live in a closed circle of settlements, but preferred to live in cities were the first lamentable victims.

The plan to found West Ukraine, fell through the cracks to the detriment of Europe. Bukovina, including the northern part was given to Romania, a country whose inner structure in no way measured up to the new demands. The Jews knew very well, what they could expect from the notorious Jew hatred of the Romanian intellectuals. Among the masses of people in the newly created “Greater Romania,” as the exclusive National Socialism rose to white heat, the dread of the Jewish population, to whom the language of the new state was strange, grew proportionately. The Romanians knew that, and their measures against the Jews, which were contrary to their responsibilities laid out in the peace treaty, sprang from hatred and desire for revenge. The Jews paid the most taxes, they created new industries, they promoted trade, but they were, in spite of that, the prey of every corrupt official and the machinery of justice was constantly directed against them. The “Confirmation of Citizenship,” a perfidious measure was intended strictly for the Jews, whose rights, the government had solemnly declared. The apostles of anti-Semitism, to name a few: the Iasi rabble rouser Professor Cuza, a forerunner of the National Socialist race theoretician Rosenberg, Professor Jorga, the academic opponent of Jewish equality, the infamous bully Codreanu, the founder of the “Iron Guard,” and murder of Jews, the poet Goga, who emulated the poets Alexandri and Eminescu as classics of anti-Semitism – they all enjoyed general admiration and their example fired the Romanian youth who were raised as aggressive National Socialists to “deeds of heroism” against defenseless Jews. Those who threw Jews out of moving trains were unpunished, the murder of the Czernowitz student Fallik, was freed by the assize court in Kimpolung where the case had been deliberately transferred, and returned home in triumph, Jewish workers were accused of subversive activities and tortured, Jewish students were thrown out of the lecture halls with force, Jewish wealth plundered. The crimes committed against the Jews increased from year to year and as National Socialism rose in Germany, any consideration for justice and morality ceased. The actions of the “land of poets and thinkers” in the heart of Europe, apparently removed any obligation for the Romanians to “save face.” The murder of Jews, which they earlier tried to conceal, became part of the “Zeitgeist” (spirit of the times) Persecution of the Jews became a means of getting closer to the Rome-Berlin axis.

Thus stood things when Stalin concluded a non-aggression pact with his much admired rival, the German “Reichs Monster” and with the Nazis amicably divided Poland into pieces. Since it was all about imperialistic acquisition of territory – National Socialism and Communism became allies – Stalin, as he occupied eastern Poland, took Bessarabia and North Bukovina along with its capital, Czernowitz. It was this successful chess move, without the need for spilling blood, which made the successor to Lenin smirk.

Overnight, the Jews of North Bukovina found themselves in the grip of Communism. There was no escaping; they were squeezed between the Romanian Scylla and the Russian Charybdis, or also, the reverse: from both sides came the threat of annihilation. The first measure taken by the Russian masters was, in compliance with the Communist recipe, a complete crippling of commerce. Trade and business stopped immediately. The consequence was bitter impoverishment. Lack of everything considered necessary for life; there was no electricity, no fuel; the meagerly distributed bread was un-enjoyable. Meat was only given to favored members of the party and obtaining a sugar ration after standing for hours in line in the rain and wind was a rare pleasure. In Bukovina, the merchant or industrialist was made to feel like a Pariah in a “classless state.” Not a year had past since the Russian lash had fallen and already, the Russian administration trumped itself. The administrative deportations to Siberia began. They effected almost exclusively Jews. In one night (June 1941), the pre-designated victims were hauled out of their beds along with wife and children and sent to the “white death” in Siberia. In Czernowitz, the streets that led to the South Rail Road Station (Volksgarten) were blocked off by mounted Cossacks so no gift of love or word of parting could be given to the unfortunate ones who were to be taken away in the freight trains which stood ready. Only a few days passed and the nemesis seemed to be exercising its office. Faced by the onslaught of the German army which was given wings by the “Drang nach Osten” (march to the East), the Russian army retreated. They left the “Lebensraum” (room to live) to the brutal Nazi hoards and they fled in disorder in the direction in which they had recently sent the deportees. The Communists however didn't disappear without a trace. Before they left, they set the business center of Czernowitz ablaze and so a pyre of flames illuminated their escape by night to the interior of Russia.

For the severely effected Jewish population who for years had suffered terror without end, with the arrival of the pursuing German-Romanian army groups, came the terrible conclusion. Hell opened its maw and spit out German sadists and Romanian criminals, who the hatred of Jews had made to brothers. What now followed couldn't be described by the pen of a Dante. In Bukovina, innocent people of every age and position were deported to the hell of Transnistrien and many were terribly murdered on the way there. However the war comes out, the Jews of Europe will be wiped out, bellowed the “Reichs Monster” into the microphone and in companionable brotherhood, bawled the Romanian criminals “moartea Jidanilor” (death to the Jewish rascals), the “hep, hep” from the Middle Ages with primitive murder lust demonically rising.

Those who escaped this hell carried the memory of the torments they survived until their deaths. In most cases, the memories are retained like a lingering sickness, but the impressions experienced in a time of desperation gradually loose their sharpness and details disappear from the memory, if they aren't put down in writing. The experience was so unique in its incomparable terror, that many reach for the pen, in order to save in writing the memory on orgy of hate and sadism, the like of which was never seen before.

Following are excerpts from the diary written at that time by Mr. Dr. Nathan Getzler (Montreal) which he put at the disposal of the Olamenu publishing house. The writings display a rare power of observation coupled with the decided will not to exaggerate and only to put on paper, those facts that speak for themselves. In looking back at the immediacy of the events experienced and the conscientious reporting, one must view this diary as a historical source of great value.

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