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Yehuda Bauer: My Brother's Keeper

A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1929-1939

[Holocaust preparations in Europe and resistance without solution of the situation]

The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1974

Transcription with subtitles by Michael Palomino (2007)



Chapter 5. Prelude of the Holocaust
[B. Destruction of the Jewish existence in Romania 1929-1939]

[5.17. Nationalization laws - emigration terror without organized emigration 1938]

[1938: Nationalization of all cooperative institutions - Reconstruction Foundation and Free Loan kassas have to go - fight about the kassa system - the normal kassas can stay]

The situation continued to deteriorate during 1938. In the spring of that year the Romanian government decreed that all cooperative institutions would be incorporated into government cooperatives. This meant the end of the Reconstruction Foundation and Free Loan kassas. JDC and its ICA partner tried to prevent this liquidation, and ICA obtained the British government's agreement to intervene with the Romanian government. As a result, the liquidation, which was to have taken place on June 1, 1938, was postponed. In the meantime, Alexander A. Landesco, a prominent member of JDC's Executive Committee, who was of Romanian Jewish origin, went to Bucharest to try to influence the government. At the same time, Hyman intervened with the Romanian minister in Washington.

On June 16, 1938, Landesco cabled from Bucharest: "Liquidation cooperatives Romania suspended one year." But on June 23 the minister with whom Landesco had negotiated, Militia Constantinescu, went back on his word and declared that the liquidations would soon begin. Liquidators were in fact appointed on June 28.

ICA and JDC again tried in every possible way to influence the Romanians. The State Department was asked to intervene. On July 21 James C. Dunn of the State Department wrote to Hyman that (p.216)

the Romanians had told the American representative in Bucharest that Landesco had "misunderstood" the Romanian minister: what Constantinescu had meant was not postponement for one year, but one year's time for the cooperatives to liquidate. Since the Romanian government had not received a prompt answer to this generous offer, it was now withdrawing it and would liquidate the cooperatives as required by its laws. The exchange of letters with the State Department continued into August, but the State Department was inclined to blame JDC for not having promptly accepted the Romanian offer and declined to take any further steps in the matter. Fortunately, the remnant of the Romanian kassas was saved by a ruling of the Romanian Court of Cassation in March 1939.

(End note 81: Ibid.
[-- 48-Gen. & Emerg. Romania, general, 1938-39, 4/28/38 [28 April 1938];
-- report of Kahn and Schweitzer on meetings in Bucharest]
-- for correspondence with the State Department in June and August 1938. See especially 5/27/38 [27 May 1938], memorandum by Paul  Baerwald. Executive Committee, 5/19/39 [19 May 1939], Hyman's report).

[1938: Romania: All denationalized Jews become foreigners: about 150,000]

In the meantime, denationalization proceeded. Two decrees, on September 15 and December 2, 1938, provided explicitly that all denationalized Jews would henceforth be treated as foreigners and required to obtain certificates of identity that would authorize them to reside in Romania for one year at a time. No licenses for trade, industry, or the professions would normally be issued to such persons. The number of persons affected by these decrees was in the neighborhood of 150,000.

(End note 82: Ibid.; memorandum re legalization of social welfare activity in Romania, 3/1/39 [1 March 1939])

[Jewish organizations have to close]
In the wake of these draconian laws, all Jewish organizations of a political nature were ordered closed down. This affected the Union of Romanian Jews led by Filderman and the Jewish political party (Volkspartei).

[Language terror against Jews]
In certain areas of the country Jews were forbidden to use any language except Romanian, even though that was not the language generally spoken there.

[Emigration terror without organized emigration - memorandum by Noel Aronovici]

Economic and political ostracism of Jews reached unheard-of proportions. The only Jewish organization permitted to exist, declared the foreign minister, would be a committee for the emigration of Jews.

(End note 83: Ibid.)

Paralleling the development in Poland, Romanian politicians now began an intensified propaganda campaign for Jewish emigration. Illegal immigration into Palestine was encouraged, and further declarations in favor of Jewish emigration were made.

JDC, overwhelmed by the effects of Nazi expansion on Central (p.217)

European Jewry and deeply worried about the fate of Polish Jewry, which was also facing threats of expulsion, did not know how to deal with the Romanian situation. A memorandum by Noel Aronovici, himself a Romanian Jew, proposed remedies in more or less traditional terms: more homes for apprentices, vocational retraining, establishment of Free Loan kassas (despite the fact that the existing ones were being closed down), and aid to children.

(End note 84: R11, memorandum of December 1938)

[1937-1939: Not much help of JDC possible]

Indeed, there was very little that JDC could do in this situation except increase their help in the form of thinly disguised relief until the overall situation eased. Attempts by the World Jewish Congress to arouse public opinion by political action at the League of Nations met with no greater success.

(End note 85: WJC submitted a sharply worded memorandum to a subcommittee of the League of Nations that was supposed to investigate complaints regarding the treatment of Jews in Romania, 3/1/39 [1 March 1939])

[There is the same suspicion like in Poland: The Yiddish speaking Jews in Romania shall be exterminated, and the German Jews may go to Palestine to create the new Israel state. And this is regulated by the Zionists].

The feeling of gloom and lack of any real hope found its way into Joseph C. Hyman's speech in September 1938, when he declared: "While we sit here and talk of budgets, of quotas, of campaign agreements, a remorseless torrent sweeps away everything that our brethren have believed in, have prayed for, have fought for, and have built up during their existence."

(End note 86: Speech by Joseph C. Hyman at the JDC National Council, 9/18/38 [18 September 1938])

JDC was trying its best to stem the flood, but those who directed its fortunes were well aware not only of the hopelessness of their task but also of the fact that the very foundations of their humanist and liberal philosophy were being swept away.

Finally, as in Poland, the very grimness of the situation was beginning to force upon local Jewry the necessity for unification. As in Poland, JDC in 1939 tried to set up a Central Committee of Romanian Jews, for economic purposes at first. But unlike Poland, negotiations in Romania did not advance beyond a preliminary stage. Nothing had changed by the time war broke out.

(End note 87: 48-Gen. & Emerg. Romania, general, Troper to JDC, New York, 1/13/39 [13 January 1939])