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Memories of the Holocaust: Kishinev (Chisinau) - Encountered Difficulties and Findings

A. Encountered Difficulties

The Commission first took note of the informational material supplied by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers mentioned at the beginning of this report.  The indications contained in these notes lacked sufficient details for the mission of the Commission to able to be fulfilled only on their basis.

In addition, a whole series of difficulties were added due to the existing situation, from the time when the various infractions were committed to the time of receiving the order to investigate, which created great problems in conducting the investigation and discovering the truth.

These were:

1. The initial lack of reaction on the part of the victims.  Almost the majority of Jews, either in the Ghetto or on the roads of deportation, who were the victims of the various illegal acts, did not immediately report them to the legal authorities being afraid of making their situation worse.

All lived in panic, perturbed by the most alarming versions of their fate; thus they adopted the method of silence in order not to arouse the desire for revenge.

Even the Jews that we found in the Ghetto, and who have a more stable situation, and also the few returned from the road of deportation, resisted very much before they began to talk, notwithstanding all the guaranties given by the Commission that nothing will happen to them.

Because of this, the early facts which form the basis of any investigation and which cannot be collected except immediately after a crime is committed, had disappeared.

The Commission was unable to perform, with respect to this subject, except a work of reconstruction, based on factual elements which have disappeared, and this has obviously diminished sometimes the strength of the conclusions.

2. Another impediment was caused by the complexity of the situation and the large number of causal factors.  In reality, all the episodes experienced by the Jews, from the installation in the Ghetto, the life in the Ghetto, the procedures of deportation, the travel of the convoys along the route and the crossing of the Nistru, were associated with various infractions of the law, and the perpetrators were recruited from all social and professional levels in the territory of Bessarabia:  Romanian officers and soldiers, elements of the German army, public officials, unemployed and marginal people, drivers of carts, etc.

The majority were not initially identified, and now the performance of this work represents one of the most difficult challenges.  As much as possible, this is now to be undertaken by the judicial authorities charged with completing the various investigations and judging the discovered infractions.

Notwithstanding all the above difficulties, the Commission nevertheless established many conclusions which indicate: some deficiencies in the administrative organization of the Ghetto, which enabled crimes to be committed; some facts related in part to the accusations indicated in the informational briefs presented to the Presidency; qualified infractions, which are to be resolved by the relevant authorities.  

B. Findings

1. The mental state in Bessarabia.  The setting of traps.

(a)  From the investigations we have conducted, we have become convinced that one of the special phenomena which, in an obvious way, hampers the progress of life and the possibility of a rational conduct of public affairs in Bessarabia is the special mental state of this province.

A special inclination can be observed towards libel and suspicion.  All social levels contribute to the development of these manifestations.

The courage of being responsible for news or for alleged information is not undertaken by anyone.  Almost all work under the mask of anonymity or false identity.

Particularly, this state of affairs is fed by the intellectual class, the discontented who expected to be installed in jobs, and even by the reporting agents of the police and the security service.

If we add to this mental state the fact that the authorities forward without checking innumerable denouncements, on the basis of which investigations and inquiries are started, it is easy to understand the sentiments of those who would want to undertake activities full of initiative and who nevertheless know themselves to be subject to suspicions, investigations and defamations based on unsubstantiated facts.  In addition, the fact that these reports are launched before verifying their source or seriousness, encourages the defamers and, at the same time, inhibit to a great measure initiatives and good intentions which, in a province like Bessarabia, are so necessary.

In addition, the Jewish question and the possibility of exploiting them, as people who apparently ceased to benefit from the protection of the law, helped the development of a spirit vicious, corrupted, and inclined to abuse and self indulgence.

Those previously callous found themselves in a most favorable environment for delinquent activity, and some of those who were previously straight let themselves be diverted to the path of the first, thus magnifying the number of lawbreakers.

To all of this is added the defaming propaganda of the legionnaire  elements aimed at compromising the constructive work undertaken by the State Leadership.

(b)  A system damaging the prestige of the authorities as well as good procedural standards is the so-called "traps" which we found to be used in Bessarabia.

With the purpose of discovering certain infractions, for which prevention activities failed or were not applied at all, the administrative organs, assisted by judicial authorities, resorted to such procedures.

We recall the trap set for certain Jews of the Ghetto, with the initiative of the Government and with the assistance of five Police agents (MadanNedu, etc.), which did not result in any discovery but with the arrest of the agents who in performing their duty robbed the Jews, to the detriment of the State, of a large quantity of gold in their possession.

In addition, also in the Ghetto, another trap against some Jews, suspected of having valuables and large quantities of precious metals, gave quite a mediocre result.

Such procedures, in addition to being directly contrary to legal investigational requirements, have also the disadvantage that, under the cover of their secret execution, create the most favorable opportunity for the agents themselves to become the first infractors.

At the same time, the victims are also subject to the provocation of committing a real and complete infraction, and public opinion has the opportunity of believing that even the authority lends itself through its organs to committing illegal acts from which it benefits.  

2. Clashes and interference in functions.

We observed that various organs, with responsibility of managing the activities of the province over the Prut river, did not follow a line of understanding and cooperation needed for achieving results.

Some examples:

(a) On November 6, 1941, the General Staff, Section II, ordered the Inspectorate of Gendarmes of Bessarabia, by No.17558, to deport over the Nistru the Jewesses Sara Surruci, married to the Christian Vasile Surruci, and Coca Meier, adding that the deportation will be executed even of the Jewish women are married with Romanians or are baptized.

However, on October 22, 1941, Marshal I. Antonescu, had ordered the Government of Romania, by No.15035, to stop deporting over the Nistru Jewish women married to Christians or Jews baptized earlier.

(b) In accordance with Art.486 C.J.M., in zones of military activities or behind them, the supreme military authority can codify ordinances specifying crimes and punishments aimed at protecting the safety of the Army, the security of the state and public order.

As a consequence of these legal powers and for the purposes mentioned above, the Commanding General of the Third Army Corps, with the territorial constituency covering almost the whole of Bessarabia, had issued such ordinances.

However, at the same time, the Governor of Bessarabia, without having the legal right in the above matters, had also issued ordinances specifying crimes and punishments.

We refer to ordinance No.24 of November 15, 1941, in which the Governor created infractions and punishments of imprisonment of between one month and two years without specifying the authority.

The overlapping of such illegal prerogatives with legal ones, which belong exclusively to the military authority, diminishes the effectiveness of the imposed measures.  

3. Findings related to the organization and functioning of the Ghetto.

The Commission has concluded from the beginning that, because of lack of organization and guidance, with respect to the Ghetto and the life within it, the opportunity was provided for the practice of abuses and illicit trade.

To a large measure, this was contributed by the lack of a responsible management which beginning on September 4, 1941, reverted to the Government.

However, it should be emphasized that this supreme authority, until the occupation of the whole territory of Bessarabia by Romanian troops, was also unable to exercise fully its functions because of the inherent pressure felt in all fields of activity from the Superior Military Command and from the security measures taken behind the fighting forces.

Another consequence of the deficiency mentioned above was the fact that Col. Dumitrescu was not removed in a timely fashion from his command, although his abuses became almost notorious.  He did not leave until the Military Command of Chisinau was disestablished.

In addition to the above causes, which were the initial sources of the irregularities, we also note those arising from the lack of any regulations related to the sale and purchase of objects belonging to the Jews.

Due to this fact, the situation was reached that the Jews were unable to sell their more precious possesions except to persons who received the permission to enter the Ghetto.  Thus, advantages were created only for persons who were able to obtain such authorizations and who, because of lack of any competition, benefited of a true monopoly which generated fraud and abuse.

4. Findings related to the deportations

(a)  The operation of deportation was carried out under quite difficult conditions as a result of the following:

 - The removal of the Jews from the Ghetto was difficult because none accepted voluntarily this measure.

They used all means of avoiding the deportation by postponing their departure by running away to other quarters not due for the current convoys; hiding in cellars and attics, etc.; and purchasing authorizations for postponing the departure, the practice of which created a real market.

 - The deportation convoys formed with difficulty and were unable to maintain continuity because the majority were old people, women and children, who where unable to walk and the number of carts was small; the vehicles often broke down and were not driven by uniform animal power; guarding of the convoys was done with very limited resources.

(b)  The inhumane exploitation by the cart drivers also contributed to the difficulty of this operation.

Let us mention a few examples:

 - The cart drivers in Atachi demanded from the Jews arriving from Bucovina 4,000 lei each to transport their belongings to the point of crossing, a distance of about 4 km.

 - Also, those requisitioned for the segment Orhei-Rezina, used threats and various intimidation measures to make the Jews give them the largest possible sums of money or some of their possessions.

Correcting measures were taken whenever such cases were indicated.  

5.  The selection of the Jews in the Ghetto, for purposes of deportation

The operation of internment in the camp was carried out almost without any rules, because of the lack of initial organization and also the lack of additional instructions from the organs of leadership.

The internment had no criteria.  Thrown into the Ghetto were:

former high officials, whose positions deserved consideration; Jewish women married to Christians; Jews married with Christian women; Jewish mothers with baptized children; baptized Jews, etc.

This situation lasted until the beginning of the deportations, when Marshal I. Antonescu, having been made aware by the petition of Lawyer Stepancovshi of Chisinau, issued an order setting out the criteria of preventing the deportation across the Nistru of some categories, namely: Jewish women married to Christians; those baptized some time ago; and those who were indeed good Romanians.  The order was transmitted to the Government, by the Presidency, through Nr.15035 of October 22, 1941.

During our investigation, a number of persons appeared before the Commission petitioning the Government to be included in the criteria established by Marshal I. Antonescu and, having been rejected, asked for our intervention for the favorable resolution of their situation.

Having examined the submitted documents, we found that indeed their cases had special merit, with respect to the following:

(a)  When a Christian woman is married to a Jew, the husband should have the same benefit as Jewish women married to Christians.

(b)  If a Jewish woman was married to a Christian, now deceased and has a baptized child from this marriage, she should either benefit or be separated from the child and deported.

(c)  What is the breadth of the concept of a "good Romanian" and what is that of the situation of "baptized some time ago"?  We mention the case of the Jewish woman Claudia Bragar who, wanting to marry a Romanian, was baptized in June 1940 in Chisinau under the regime of terror against Christianity undertaken by the Bolsheviks.

The Government, without soliciting additional needed instructions for such cases, took decisions which could have exceeded the substance of the order by the Marshal.

Because we considered the cases presented as meriting a revision, as mentioned above, the Commission intervened to the Governor, with our Nr.9 of December 20, 1941, bringing it to his attention for action.  

6.  Findings related to the administration of property which was due to revert to the State.

In conformity with the order of Marshal I. Antonescu, the Government of Bessarabia gave, on July 22, 1941, a telephonic order to all County Prefectures to compile immediately an inventory of property left from the Russians, the Germans, and the evacuated or deported Jews so that the general situation be known as soon as the whole territory is occupied.

Because of the lack of an organized procedure in Chisinau, however, this inventory is not finished even today and no evidence has been kept of transactions of these properties.

Consequently, many possibilities were created for removal or changes in disposition of a large part of State property.

However, in this regard we must note the activity of the organs of the Gendarmerie of the Bessarabian Inspectorate, which was remarkable in taking immediate and judicious measures related to the property left by the retreating enemy.

Specifically, the Gendarmerie Posts and related organs assembled this property, made legal inventories and preserved it, making it available to the State.  

7. Findings related to the work of the B.N.R. commissions.

Because of the delayed notification of the B.N.R., the purchasing of valuables and the changing of lei, connected with the deportations, were started after ten convoys had already crossed the Nistru.

From all the collected information, we established that the operation was performed with perfect honesty.  

8. Findings related to the behavior of officers and soldiers in the Ghetto and on the evacuation routes.

From numerous statements to the Commission, we found that, in general, humanity and good treatment were the criteria of behavior towards the Jews by the officers and guarding troops and also by the escorting gendarmes. Soldiers were observed who, during the deportations, helped Jews with the loading of the carts or gave them their bread.

The escorting gendarmes were searched at the end of each convoy.  

9. Findings related to some charges contained in the Informational Notes from the Presidency.

(a) With respect to the removal of furniture and dishes, by the Third Army Corps, from the store located in the Ghetto we established the following:

 - On October 23, 1941, the Third Army Corps, having arrived from the front to its residence Garrison of Chisinau and totally lacking the needed necessities of establishing its Headquarters and officers' mess, obtained the approval of the Military Headquarters of the Municipality and delegated an officer to take from the Ghetto needed furniture and dishes.

An inventory was made of all the objects taken and transferred to the Headquarters.  This was also witnessed by the Government, through Int. Cpt. Roescu, thus allowing for the initial lack of proper procedure that the approval had to be obtained from the Government and not from the Military Headquarters.

At the same time, we want to underline the fact that the officers of the Headquarters of the Third Army Corps and the units under their command established in Chisinau, although they came from the front and as such merited special care for their needs, were nevertheless installed in inferior conditions.  Junior clerks and privates who came earlier to Chisinau were stationed in good houses, centrally situated and sometimes with all comforts, and these officers, pioneers of heroism and sacrifice for the country, stayed in the periphery under difficult conditions including shortages.

(b)  It was not possible to establish that the soldiers guarding the gates of the Ghetto received bribes for allowing entrances and exits.  The few isolated cases which were brought to our attention cannot be considered a general rule.

(c)  The convoys of Jews, the carts and luggage, were not received by Germans at the Nistru but by units of Romanian gendarmes, who escorted them to the points of destination according to the itinerary established by the Gendarme Inspectorate in Transnistria.  Also, we do not confirm the information that later the convoys were overtaken by trucks which loaded the Jews, with the carts and luggage remaining behind to be appropriated.

(d)  Major Vasilescu, the former Chestor[?] from Chisinau, was sent for investigation to the Martial Court of the Third Army Corps and, his innocence having been established, the file was closed.

(e)  The purchases of valuables and the exchanges were performed in Vesterniceni and not in the Ghetto, because the Military Commander of Chisinau refused the B.N.R. Commission permission to execute these operations in the Ghetto, reasoning that he had no suitable premises and that the Jews, once informed, will hide or dodge the valuables before the control, while if they did not know of the search to which they will be subjected they will leave for the deportation with all their valuables with them.

(f)  The Gendarme Inspectorate of Bessarabia punished all gendarmes in its territory who have been proven to have committed irregularities or abuses. 

For most of them, arguments were presented at the Gendarme Inspectorate of Bessarabia that their punishments be increased, and some of them were sent to appear in front of military authorities.

CHAIRMAN, General Constantin Niculescu(signature)

MEMBERS:     Attorney General Stroe Stefan (signature)
                         Laurentiu Preotescu, President of the  Appeals Court (signature)
                         Traian Niculescu, Chief Prosecutor (signature)
                         Lt. Colonel Alexandru Madarjac, Prosecutor (signature)
                         Inspector General Paunescu, B.N.R. (signature)

Memories of The Holocaust: Kishinev (Chisinau) 1941-1944