Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas:  jgo.e-reviews 6 (2016), 2 Rezensionen online / Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien in Regensburg herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Verfasst von: Svetlana Suveica


Paul A. Shapiro: The Kishinev Ghetto, 1941–1942. A Documentary History of the Holocaust in Romanias Contested Borderlands. With chronology by Radu Ioanid and Brewster Chamberlin and translations by Angela Jianu. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2015. 280 S., 11 Abb., 1 Kte. ISBN: 978-0-8173-1864-2.

When the Jews were lined up, ready to go to death, as some elderly mothers embraced her son, weeping, some of the Christian natives, lifetime neighbors, or even friends, would rush forth to snatch his bundle from his hand or the hat he was wearing. The soldiers would be laughing, half amused and half shocked: what, poor them, they, who were shedding their blood for the country, why shouldn’t they have a right to plunder, like any good Christian? For these Christian inhabitants of the ghetto, the daily killing of a few hundred Jews was a welcome means of earning a living []” (p. 146). This is an excerpt from a testimony of a Chişinău (the author uses the Russian version, Kishinev) ghetto survivor, which describes the cruel facets of the daily drama of the Bessarabian Jews, in which both the victims, the perpetrators, and the bystanders are present. The Chişinău Jews, like thousands others in the nearby cities and villages of the adjoining Bessarabian and Transnistrian regions, tremendously suffered and lost their lives during the Holocaust carried out in the occupied territories by the Romanian and the German armies during World War Two.

Paul A. Shapiro wrote a book on the history of Chişinău ghetto, one among over one hundred ghettos that rose like mushrooms on the territory of Bessarabia and Transnistria during the summer of 1941 and after, but with its own, striking story, masterly reconstructed 75 years after. The ghettoization as part of the larger plan of ethnic cleansing of Romania from the Jews was made a matter of priority and enforced immediately after the occupation of the two regions that remained under Romania’s military, civil and economic control. The Jews were considered extremely dangerous for the state due to their presumed sympathies with communist ideas, viewed as rising in intensity along the interwar period, but especially before the evacuation of Bessarabia by the Romanian army and administration in June 1940. Indeed, the Romanian official documents from the eve of evacuation state the lack of loyalty and presume a forthcoming betrayal” by the Bessarabian Jews, who were less patriotic” and more communist” than others. Seen as such, the attitude was in no case related to the constant discriminatory and isolationist anti-Jewish policy effectively implemented in Romania during the interwar period.

This book is valuable for at least three reasons: First, it fills a significant gap in the history of the Holocaust in Romania, which cannot be fully understood and acknowledged without learning about the Chişinău ghetto – an important piece in a complex puzzle of extermination of the Bessarabian Jews. Up to today, the history of the Chişinău ghetto, which existed only for three months (July–October 1941) was an unknown segment of the tragic fate of the Chişinău Jewish community that was isolated, dispossessed, robbed, destroyed and dispersed, and, finally, killed. It explains what happened to the Jews from Chişinău and the nearby villages in the first months after the entrance of the Romanian and German armies in the city, traces military and civil institutions, and the individuals who were involved in their destruction and extermination. Besides revealing daily survival strategies, forced labor practices, as well the role of the Jewish Committee of the ghetto, the book reveals the little-known attitude of the local non-Jews who, as shown in the cited excerpt, took advantage of the tragedy to rob and plunder the Jews of their few personal belongings. This adds to the argumentation of the newly published book by Diana Dumitru on the constantly hateful attitude of Bessarabian Gentiles towards the Jews, manifested as well during the interwar period, in contrast to the more tolerant attitude of Gentiles in Transnistria, which proves the crucial role of the state policy in shaping the civilians’ attitude toward the Jews during the war. (Diana Dumitru: The State, Antisemitism, and Collaboration in the Holocaust. The Borderlands of Romania and the Soviet Union. New York, 2016 [forthcoming].)

Second, the case study on the Chişinău ghetto (among several other glimpses of the Chişinău ghetto, see, Avigdor Shachan: Burning Ice. The Ghettos of Transnistria. Boulder, CO, New York, 1996, pp. 94–100) contributes to the understanding of the history of Jewish extermination, a widespread phenomenon in wartime Eastern Europe, and namely in the former U.S.S.R., though little research has been done especially on the latter territory. The enactment of ghettoization, felt at the levels of community, family and the individual, the stages of ghetto creation, its internal structure, principles of running (rather, the lack of them), and deficiencies show how the rules functioned according to which people lived and died, what institutional practices and persons determined their existence, what kind of strategies of survival were adopted within the ghetto and in the city. Chişinău represents the spatial scale of analysis, which encompasses what was left outside the ghetto, in terms of geography but also of landscapes of experience. The lack of clear guidelines of ghetto administration, which was several times transferred between military units, local police and administrative bodies, show the disorganized management of the ghetto, which had for consequence the avoidance of the responsibility for killing and torturing the Jews, on the one hand, and the limited possibility for the Jews to exploit the permeable geographical and social boundaries whereas trying to survive, on the other hand.

Last, but not least, the book allows the reader to reflect, together with the author, but also on his/her own, about different facets of the history of the Chişinău ghetto whereas corroborating a variety of primary sources. The 49 carefully selected and systematized documents, from different archives and in different languages, prove the richness of the documentary basis in comparison to the available sources about other ghettos from Bessarabia and Transnistria, which adds great value to the thoroughly written one-hundred page study on the topic. The twists and turns of the more than twenty years of documentation process described by the author in the prologue, is a useful methodological account, especially for the newcomers in the field, but also for the wider public, on how the research of the Holocaust is influenced by the sensitivity of the topic, resistance of the archival hierarchy, as well by the specificity of archival research related to borderland regions. This explains, for example, why the documents are scattered in different central and regional archives in Chişinău, Odessa, Czernovits, Nikolaev and Vinnitsa. It also demonstrates the transnational character of the Holocaust in Southeastern Europe, both in terms of documentation basis and eyewitness testimonies.

Besides the above-mentioned issues, the theft and robbery of goods by Romanian and German military and civil servants as well as non-Jewish inhabitants, and the state confiscation, then Romanianization, of the Jewish property are raised in the book. The unauthorized theft, appropriation and distribution of properties led to the appointment by Marshal Antonescu of a commission of inquiry, which wrote two extensive reports on the administrative abuses in the ghetto (Docs. 43 and 44). Since no inventory of the goods seized from Jews who either entered or lived in the ghetto on their way to Transnistria was made, the fate of those goods was difficult to trace. The Securitate files recently consulted by us at CNSAS Archives in Bucharest prove that high-ranking officials responsible for the administration of the ghetto were directly involved in the organised plunder” of Jewish goods, accurately described in the reports. In fact, the autumn of 1941 was only the beginning of the building of an entire network of Bessarabian and Transnistrian officials that during the war smuggled from the region valuables and goods.

The deportation of Jews from the Chişinău ghetto to Transnistria meant, for more than 11.000 of them, the end of their life journey: in May 1942, there were only 257 Jews left in Chişinău out of 425 left in entire Bessarabia (pp. 82–83). Along with the local scale of deportations as part of the country-wide scheme of destruction of the Jews, the documents capture special places such as the Costiujeni mental hospital from which 48 out of 53 Jewish patients, proven by statements from different institutions as physically fit, were also deported to Transnistria (Docs. 47–49). The extreme end of the extermination of literally every Jew, on the one hand, and the precautions taken by the perpetrators, conscious of the consequences the committed crimes may have, on the other hand, is striking here.

The time for such a book is extremely relevant, since the Holocaust in Eastern Europe continues to be systematically denied and distorted by a number of scholars from the region who help keeping complicity in the Holocaust a tabu topic. Moreover, the book responds to the stringent necessity to raise public awareness of the crimes committed against the Jews by the Romanian and German military and civilian officials, from which the non-Jews benefited as well. We believe that the perception of the book, hopefully translated in Romanian and/or Russian, will contribute to the acknowledgment of the Holocaust by the wider public from Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine, as part of the region’s – and their own – common past.

Svetlana Suveica, Regensburg/Chişinău

Zitierweise: Svetlana Suveica über: Paul A. Shapiro: The Kishinev Ghetto, 1941–1942. A Documentary History of the Holocaust in Romania’s Contested Borderlands. With chronology by Radu Ioanid and Brewster Chamberlin and translations by Angela Jianu. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2015. 280 S., 11 Abb., 1 Kte. ISBN: 978-0-8173-1864-2, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/erev/Suveica_Shapiro_The_Kishinev_Ghetto.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

© 2016 by Institut für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien in Regensburg and Svetlana Suveica. All rights reserved. This work may be copied and redistributed for non-commercial educational purposes, if permission is granted by the author and usage right holders. For permission please contact jahrbuecher@ios-regensburg.de

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