The political circumstances in Romania and in Transnistria made any significant physical resistance extremely difficult. The dehumanisation of the Jews by the anti-Jewish legislation, pogroms, ghettoes, hostages, deportations, and convoy marches -- all contributed to a sense of helplessness. While there were cases of active physical resistance, for the most part resistance had to be expressed in more subtle ways.
In Romania, at the time of the deportations, local rabbis would walk at the head of the convoys. Rather than carrying bundles with their personal belongings, they carried Torah Scrolls high above their heads, so that they could be seen by all the people in the convoy. The scrolls represented the hope and the faith that eventually the people would be rescued.
Resistance was also expressed by lobbying and petitioning authorities and by collecting goods and money to help the deportees in Transnistria.. Negotiations for the return of orphans and other groups of deportees were relentlessly pursued.
Transnistria was overrun by German soldiers, Romanian gendarmes, Ukrainian militia, and Volksdeutsche. Well dressed, well fed, and well armed, they were viciously anti-Semitic. The Jews, on the other hand, were starving, dressed in tattered clothes and worn out foot wear, they had no medical assistance, and lived in inadequate shelters. They were herded from one village to another, beaten and robbed, they were in constant fear for their lives. However, the fact that they had no weapons was the most important factor, which precluded any physical opposition against their barbaric oppressors. Even Russian partisans were relatively inactive in the area until 1943, when the tide of the war changed.
Falling back on the century-long tradition of Jewish community support systems, people with leadership skills established rules, which enabled the deportees to deal with the chaotic conditions in the camps. When the Jewish committees had been organized, they began to provided assistance as customary in Jewish tradition, first to the most needy --the orphans, the widows, the sick, and the elderly.
Some time later, the deportees were able to establish contacts with partisans, and relationships of mutual aid began to develop. Deportees who occasionally escaped from camps found shelter amidst partisan groups, which they later joined. In turn, some partisans found shelter in the camps, where they were able to use the identity cards of deportees who had perished in order to hide their true identity.
In the Bershad area, there was an active centre of partisan activities. The chief of the group was a local Ukrainian Jew, Iasa [Iasha] Talis. On one of his missions, he was followed by Romanian gendarmes. Fortunately, he was rescued and hidden by deportees in the camp. Some time later a funeral was staged and he was smuggled out of the camp in a casket. Later, Iasa Talis and his partisans sneaked into the German labour camp at Mihailovka, east of the River Bug, and killed the German camp commander and two sentries. Then, they liberated the Jewish "workers," and Iasa assisted them in reaching Bershad.
Many young Jewish deportees participated in acts of sabotage such as the mining of railway tracks, and attacks on German and Romanian military convoys in the Bershad area. The leader of this group was a deportee from Storozinets, Michael Schrentzel, the Vice- President of the Jewish committee in the camp. He also acted as a contact between the deportees and the partisans. Unfortunately, the local Gestapo uncovered the group. Thus, in January and February 1944, 228 Jews, were shot. Michail Schrentzel was cruelly tortured before he was killed.
In November 1943, a similar incident occurred in Balta. There, eighty-three Jews, who were involved in various sabotage activities, were caught and shot.
In Transnistria the mere act of surviving was an act of resistance, a triumph of the human spirit.
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