Maurilio Coppini on the “Jewish question and Romanian approach” in 1943

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Jewish question and Romanian approach.

My report no. 649/137 of 8.5.1943.

Nuncio Cassulo’s visit to Transnistria apparently had a far more definite purpose than had been assumed. I have heard, that is, that the Holy Father is said to have expressed the wish to exert a direct influence on the Romanian Government so as to obtain a more humane treatment of Jews. Monsignor Cassulo’s journey to Transnistria is believed therefore to have been a voyage of inspection in order to report to the Vatican on the matter. As to the question if the Nuncio’s journey served indeed the purpose of providing an exact picture of the Jewish situation in Transnistria, I already reported on this in the above-mentioned report. As far as I know, on the contrary, the Nuncio was not convinced by the tame ghetto he was shown.

Reportedly, the pressure from the Vatican concerning the treatment of Jews was joined by further pressure from the international Red Cross, which has friends and supporters among the highest Romanian circles.

As for Transnistria, the situation is as follows.

When Romanian and German troops occupied Transnistria, the situation of Jews at first experienced ups and downs. During the first days – particularly in Odessa where there were about a hundred thousand persons who had not been evacuatedRomanian authorities carried out a registration and some arrests. After the terrorist acts and particularly after the one of 23rd October there were

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brutal reprisals. It is not easy to give numbers, but many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Jews were eliminated and arrested. In was then that temporary ghettoes and places for concentration were created. Orders however were as yet unclear, and already in November many of these Jews were set free. It was only in December ’41 and in January ’42, during the harshest of winters, that Romanian authorities decided to remove the Jews from Odessa. I hardly need to describe how this emigration took place. The Germans themselves admit that it might have been carried out with greater humanity. Anyway, those who managed to reach on foot the places of concentration, were banned to ghettoes, that is to sites in the suburbs of small provincial towns. Considering the meteorological and political climate, they were treated with scant regard and no doubt the well-known oppressive measures will have continued there, set off by local authorities. The Germans, for their part, have acted similarly in the areas surrounding the territories inhabited by German communities.

This system of things, which by the way has been useful to all to rebuild what had been destroyed, to make up for losses and to create benefits, lasted more or less intensely, more or less arbitrarily until June of last year. After that the situation stabilized or, to put it more exactly, was rendered legal. For a start, rules began to be published regarding the place of residence of Jews, the deadline for reporting to the ghetto, also the activity of Jews inside and outside the ghettoes has been specified, they have been granted a form of self-government, and so forth. It is hard to say if the oppressive measures have ceased. A great deal would depend on the local authorities and on whether the Jews are able to reach a compromise with them. What can be said with certainty is that, as far as I know, during the past months the situation of Jews has not grown any worse.

I wanted to ascertain this in person. In Balta, for instance, there are approx. fifteen thousand Jews arrived from Romania.

The ghetto is in a suburban part of the town and is made up of wretched cottages where a great many families live in deplorable hygienic conditions. There is a curfew imposed on the ghetto

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which starts at sundown. The Jews are not allowed into the public market, nor can they frequent the town’s establishments. There is a municipal authority that manages the community and supplies the required manpower. Jews are employed in public works in the towns and in the surrounding areas. Those who work receive one mark a day and a substantial bread ration.

The more unfortunate Jews, however, live or rather vegetate inside the ghetto; the more able ones and particularly the young female elements manage to find ways to live outside the ghetto and in any case enjoy visible advantages for their lives.

It seems that this situation in Balta and also in Rybnitsa is more or less identical to that of the other ghettoes in Transnistria, where the numbers of deported or concentrated Jews change all the time. (I have myself seen in Balta about a thousand Jews just arrived from Romania, mostly young people assigned to four months of compulsory work there). In Bereswka a certain number of Jews has even been assigned to the Prefecture, to posts of varying importance, with regular salaries.

This denotes a marked improvement compared to last year. The fact in itself would not have any great significance, if some recent information, such as the news that has prompted the present report, did not confer on the situation an aspect that I believe ought to be pointed out. I have been informed by an excellent source that recently, at an ordinary conference of the Prefects of Transnistria held by the Governor in Rybniysa, these officials allegedly gave as their opinion that in the present situation, as long as the fate of the war remains uncertain at the very least, it seemed advisable to improve the treatment of Jews or to lessen the restrictions on their freedom and allow them ways to resume a greater activity.

Reportedly there was even talk of giving the Jews some compensation for the damages they have suffered. Thus their situation would be rendered equal to that of the Jews in Bucharest and in other Romanian towns.

Naturally this news, which is confirmed

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by the discernible general trend towards improving the condition of Jews, has annoyed German circles and made them mistrustful. They suggest that the Jewish question cannot be handled in Transnistria any differently from how it has been handled until now. The reasons given by the Prefects and by those in favour of improving the treatment of Jews arise from a pessimistic view of the Axis’s general situation, and that is totally unacceptable. They are therefore inclined to believe that this entire matter is essentially decided by the Government in Bucharest, which is influenced by the steps undertaken by the Vatican and by Geneva, and has easily taken root in the Anglophile and Francophile circles, whether military or civilian, of Romania. The Jewish question in Transnistria is therefore believed to be an indication of the general situation in Romania and of the opinion held by certain classes of Romanians concerning the development of that situation.

Obviously, I am reporting all this because it is in accordance with ascertained facts and conversations that have actually taken place. There can be no doubt, in any case, that in local Romanian circles there is a widespread feeling that the present events warrant serious worries, a feeling caused mainly by the uncertainty about German intentions and capabilities with regard to Russia.

Coppini

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