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[Page 79]

The repatriation of the Bukovinian Jews
in the years (1944-1946)

by Dr. Chaim Gelber (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Jerome Silverbush

In 1944, the victorious Russian army marched as liberators into the Ukraine. Almost 50% of the Jewish camp residents in the former Transnistrien, who had survived followed the rapidly advancing troops of the Red army and arrived this way in North Bukovina. In the following period, the Russians let individuals return to Poland or Romania (repatriation), which worked out very well. The Jewish families who emigrated to those countries on the basis of an exit visa (Propuska) were later able in large part to emigrate to Israel whereas the Jewish families who remained in Russia were not allowed to leave.

The emigration worked out in four time phases: In spring 1945, in fall of the same year, and in spring and in fall of 1946. In these four phases, each of which lasted 6-8 weeks it was possible for almost every Jew in Bukovina, with few exceptions to succeeded in to leaving the area occupied by the Russian army and go to southern part of Bukovina or to the other provinces of Romania.

The Russians were much more generous in letting the Jews leave than the Romanians were in accepting them. The repatriates could not simply take up residence in any Romanian community that they desired. At first it was fairly easy for the new immigrants, but later, it became almost impossible to settle in Bucharest.

The demographic alteration of the Jewish population in Bukovina can be explained by the fact that the Jews who were born in South Bukovina and who had lived before the war in the villages, couldn't return to them anymore, because they couldn't forget the bestiality of the population, that they had been subjected to only a few years in the past. Therefore, they moved into the cities, which after the return of the deportees temporarily had a greater Jewish population than before the deportation. This was especially the case in Suceava and Radauti since these cities took in the repatriates to North Bukovina who didn't want to remain under the Russian regime and therefore took up the traveler's staff again. They wanted to be in the free world, mainly in Israel and they didn't think of Romania as their final destination.

The number of Jews repatriated was approximately 45-50 thousand souls. The problems of their life and future were not easy for many of them. Better off were the South Bukovinians who had returned to their home land and for the most part into their old dwellings, even though these needed repair and sometimes they even found some of their old possessions. Many of them were lucky enough to be able to open their old stores and quickly get their lives in order. In contrast, it was much harder for the North Bukovinians, especially, the former residents of Czernowitz and those who had lived in villages for whom returning was impossible. For these both categories of repatriates, living quarters had to be found and they had to be helped to find work, even if it was only provisional. One couldn't expect help from the Community1, since the Community itself was in the process of rebuilding and to be sure with funds from the Joint2.

At that time, help from the Joint was much desired because it meant rescue from need. To the individual, the Joint didn't seem to offer a lot of help. Nevertheless, one shouldn't forget that this institution provided large sums, in a very effective way for rebuilding the businesses of the former deportees or simply for “living” even if one didn't always agree with the methods of social services and the rebuilding plans of the leadership of the Joint. The Joint provided 3 to 4 million dollars yearly for social help in Romania. The outlays for food, medicine and clothing which are not included in the just mentioned sum also came to several million dollars which the Joint gave out yearly.

Every new immigrant received in one of three border stations (Siret, Dorohoi and Ungheni) a sizable sum of money. The transportation costs to the desired Community were also paid by the Joint. Generally, every applicant was sporadically supported with money and food and this contributed significantly to reducing the suffering and to making the settling in of the repatriates easier. People in need received clothing in good condition. At the cost of the Joint in Romania, 30 canteens were built in which repatriates, could for the most part get two meals daily for free or for a small sum. The drought of the years 1945-1947 caused the prices the canteen had to pay for food to increase and at the same time, the number of people dependent on the canteens went up. In addition, the Joint and the OSE3 fought about the costs for professional schools (children's homes and canteens), for help for the sick, building and maintenance of hospitals and for religious purposes (rebuilding synagogues and temples).

In the Direction Committee of the Joint in which delegates of all parties sat, the writer of these lines represented the Jewish Reichspartei (Federal Party). This committee was bound by the directives of the Joint Central for Europe whose headquarters were in Paris and which was directed by Dr. Josef Schwarz. This arrangement led to many conflicts which we will not discuss in this essay. We won't argue about principals here; the important thing is to guarantee the physical existence of the many thousands of families who starved in the work camps and concentration camps, to lift their societal moral, to help them to secure a new, even if a modest job or to regain their former positions.

Moreover, one must have understanding for their unswerving resolution to emigrate to Israel and their desire to move ahead of all the applicants and try to secure, or better said, to fight for this opportunity, within the given possibilities for emigration to Israel (Aliya Bet4), which was not at all easy. The committee was successful in accomplishing this difficult task. Further, an organization framework, must be set up in Bukovina, itself and second, one which encompassed the entire country must be created, since the repatriates settled everywhere (willingly and also unwillingly as directed by the Romanian repatriation officials).

In Bukovina, the Union of Jewish Communities was reactivated. In Bucharest, during the first months of 1945, the “Associatia pentru sprijinirea Evreilor din Bucovina” (Association for Help for the Jews of Bukovina) was created. This organization was intended as a country wide organization and had many branches throughout the land.

Both organizations, the Union as well as the Associatia concerned themselves with the interests of the Bukovina Jews who lived inside and outside of Bukovina and therefore the Union of Jewish Communities in Bukovina with its seat in Suceava and the Associatia with its seat in Bucharest worked closely together. It was important to be able to effectively represent the needs of all the Jews in Bukovina to the authorities and moreover, to have an effective representation to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania and the leadership of the Joint. In the Federation of the Jewish Communities of Romania, Dr. Salomon Wagner and Dr. Chaim Gelber sat as representatives for the Bukovina Union and in the Direction Committee of the Joint, Dr. Chaim Gelber alone. In this way, the problems of the repatriates were handled in a unified way and solutions were found.

The problems of the repatriates who had settled in Bucharest had a specific aspect. Several hundred families lived in barracks on the perimeter of the city. More than 100 families got their meals for free or at nominal cost at three existing canteens subsidized by the Joint (two on the “Principatele Unite” street and one on Sf. Jon Nou). The Associatia gave money from its own funds to the needy on various occasions. In 1946, the Associatia sent a detailed memorandum to the European leadership of the Joint in Paris, the General Director, Dr. Josef Schwarz, in which it reported on the specific needs of the repatriates and former deportees. Thereupon, Dr. Josef Schwarz came three times in one year to Romania in order to personally learn about the conditions there. Some Jews weren't deported and others were deported or spent years in Romanian prison camps doing forced labor. For the last two categories, a privileged treatment was planed. The Associatia in Bucharest which had prominent members such as Dr. Bernhard Tauber (vice president), Alfred Körne (vice president), Friedrich Blum, Dr. Jakob Budik (leader of the Doctor's Clinic), Dr. Adolf Brettler (Canada), Dr. Israel Drimmer, Hugo Ehrmann (Brazil), Dr. Moses Feller, Dr. Efraim Granierer, Oskar Gronich, David Gross, Lawyer Karl Hirschhorn, Dr. Walter Kiesler, Jochim Landau, Friedrich Landmann, Hermann Lang, Max Lauer, Dentist Simon Mohr, Engineer Friedrich Osterer, H. Rosenblum, Salo Schmidt (Vienna), Dr. Max Turtel, L. M. Warter, Fritz Weiner, Leib Zwick and the writer of this essay as chairman could be thanked for this success.

Worthy of mention is the charitable activity of a women's committee in the framework of the Associatia under the leadership of Mrs. Dr. Salzmann (Vienna) and Mrs. Malvine Tauber to which the ladies Erna Gelber, Netty Gross, Haas, Haber, Magrit Mader (administration), Mandel, Warter, Fanka Weiner, Mrs. Dr. Teitelbaum, (New York) and others belonged. The above named ladies accomplished excellent social work.

A large help action of the Bukovina Landsmannschaft which was initiated by Sumer Wolf (Radauti), by which thousands of families were helped in the years 1946-1947 with food, clothing and medicine should be pointed out. The Associatia also took an active part in this effort.

About two years after the winding-up of the repatriation by the Russian and Romanian officials, thanks to the help action of the Joint leadership and the Associatia, the economic situation of the former deportees and the repatriates was measurably better. Then a new problem appeared. It was called “Aliya.” Also in this question, the Associatia did all the work. As long as Aliya Bet existed, the representatives of the Associatia received quotas for all transports for the former deportees and the returnees, but not in sufficient numbers. However, we enjoyed undeniably, a special benevolence from the schlichim5 as well as from the representatives of the Zionist organizations of the Old Kingdom6. Our deportees-repatriates were given preference in the candidate list of the Aliya.

Unfortunately, things didn't always maintain their apolitical character. The selection of candidates for Aliya Bet wasn't based on objective criteria, but we remained strong and were finally able to point out significant success. Later, it came down to individuals and an entrance permit had to be obtained from the Israeli government by each person who wanted to emigrate there. Again, it was the Associatia which in spite of many difficulties, tried to get the documents for all applicants, even when it had to turn to the Interior Ministry of Israel, in order to get the papers as quickly as possible. The headquarters of the Associatia in Bucharest moved from Burghelea 3 to Sf. Jon Nou 28 and from there to Bul. Pache 8. If the walls of these offices could speak, they would tell how much unhappiness, misery and need was related to the social workers by the suffering people, how much and how often effective help was given to the thousands of petitioners in those difficult times.


1) Community: In every town in Romania with a sizable number of Jewish residents, they were organized in a Kultusgemeinde or religious community which I shorten to Community. The Community had a formal structure with officers and committees, it collected taxes and paid the rabbi, teacher, etc. Return

2) Joint: Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) organized in 1914 in the USA for helping Jews in need in the whole world. It gets its funds from the United Jewish Appeal. Return

3) OSE: Oeuvre De Secours aux Enfants (Organization to Help the Children). Return

4) Aliya Bet: A branch of the Haganah headed by Shaul Avigur, established to organize illegal immigration to Palestine. Established in 1939. Return

5) schlichim: ultra observant Jewish missionaries. Return

6) Old Kingdom: refers to the territory covered by the first independent Romanian nation-state, which was composed of the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. Return

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