by Diana Dumitru
* fragments from the study published in Holocaust. Studies and Research (Bucharest: The “Elie Wiesel” National Institute for Holocaust Studies in Romania), vol.1, no.2 / 2009, selected and republished here with the permission of the author
In the context of our attempt to evaluate the attitude and behavior of the population of Bessarabia and Transnistria, it is important to note that the relations between the Jews and the local population were strictly limited and controlled by the regulations and situations imposed by the authorities. The Romanian civil-military administration undertook a series of measures meant to ensure minimal contact between the two groups. When the deportation routes, places of rest during the march or the location of transit camps were specified, the primarily aim was to ensure maximum isolation of the Jews from the rest of society. The main reason for this decision was the desire (?) to avoid the spread of contagious diseases. The frequency of carriers among prisoners was extremely high from lack of food and disastrous hygienic conditions. Another purpose was probably to prevent any potential social tension that could result from confronting the population with the way “the Jewish problem was resolved.” In this regard, the authorities wanted to maintain “order” during these operations and follow the “planned course of anti-Jewish actions.” Also, this was an attempt to avoid any form of solidarity of the non-Jewish locals with the victims.
The non-Jewish survivors and witnesses observe, with surprising unanimity, that on the road to the deportation sites, as well as in the transit camps and ghettos, the local were prevented by gendarmes from approaching the Jews: “No one could approach us, they were all were scared.” “It is difficult to assess the attitude of the population, since the gendarmes did not allow them to approach us.” The fear of being punished by the military authorities who coordinated the arrest, deportation and guarded the Jews, is a basic explanation, often invoked by Jews and non-Jews to justify avoiding mutual contact.
During our research, it became clear that survivors, comparing the behavior of the Bessarabians to that of the population of Transnistria, conclude that “in Ukraine the attitude was better than in Bessarabia.” This view is also shared by the survivors born in Bessarabia and Bukovina. Several survivors said that “Ukrainians helped us” and that, in fact, “the Ukrainian were not bad”; they had “a compassionate attitude”, “most of them gave us bread.” A Jew deported from Bukovina to Moghilev expresses the following opinion on the population of Transnistria: “They were nice. They were as poor as we were, but they gave us food when they could (afford it).” An interesting perspective is offered by a survivor originating from Orhei (Bessarabia); he had the impression that in Transnistria you could not feel a lot of hatred towards Jews, with the exception of collaborators?, and that, in fact, “there was this impression that most people did not perceive Jews as strangers.” Rather, “the majority perceived the occupying power as foreign and their own.” Another survivor, born in Mogilev, concludes that the population of his hometown had an attitude of sympathy towards Jews and only a small part was pleased by the fact that the Jews were driven out of town to the ghetto.
At the same time, the conclusion of survivors regarding the attitude of the Bessarabian population is different. Without denying that some Bessarabians helped the deportees, survivors say that, in general, their attitude was worse than the one in Transnistria. In an attempt to generalize, the survivors describe people of Bessarabia as indifferent or “cold to Jews.” It does not seem surprising, in this context, that the Romanian gendarmes noticed the same mood.
We believe that in order to explain this obvious difference in the perception of the attitude of the population in Bessarabia and Transnistria towards the Jews, we must take into account the issue of identity. In Bessarabia, the problem of national loyalty – deeply connected to the identification, as incomplete as it may have been, of Moldovans with the Romanian nation – placed the compassion towards the victim and general human solidarity in a complex relation. In Transnistria, any act of charity towards the Jews could be justified both individually and socially, being depicted as an act of resistance against the occupiers. This last hypothesis was less appealing – and therefore less politically motivating – for Moldovans, either in the sense of helping the Jews or in expressing critical opinions towards the actions of the government. […]
 Interview 51: Sara Gruman, December 2005, Washington, D.C.
 Interview 54: Melita (She prefers not to have her last nume published), January 2006, Washington, D.C.
 Interview 55: Iechim Fishman, January 2006, Washington, D.C.
 Interview 53: Aron Bergher, January 2006, Washington, D.C.
 Interview 62: Ida Tsimerman, January 2006, Washington, D.C.
 Interview 48: Sara Miteliman, December 2005, Washington, D.C.
 Interview 57: Dora Strutin, January 2006, Washington, D.C.
 Interview 33: Jeannette Gutman, December 2005, Washington, D.C.
 Interview 19: Leonid Kupchik, December 2005, Washington, D.C.
 Interview 15: Alexander Gaba, December 2005, Washington, D.C.
 Interview 52: Samuel Aroni, January 2006, Washington, D.C.