Prior to 1942, there were multiple Jewish organizations in Romania. On December 9, 1940, one of these, the Union of Jewish Communities of Romania submitted a twenty-six-page appeal to Marshal Antonescu, summarizing the abuses thirty-nine Jewish communities had experienced during the preceding months. Antonescu replied by ordering an investigation. By the end of the next year, all these organizations would be dissolved, to be united in one, corrupt, wartime-regime-owned group called Centrala Evreilor (CE), or The Jewish Central Office. These types of Jewish, self-governing bodies were referred to as Judenrat. Learn more about Judenrat in Wikipedia and Jewish Virtual Library.
Formation of the CE
In late 1941, after consultation between Marshal Antonescu and Radu Lecca, the wartime director of the Office for Jewish Problems, Antonescu set up the Jewish Central Office to replace the Union of Jewish Communities of Romania. Also involved in creating this central office was Lecca’s German advisors Gustav Richter and Manfred Freiherr von Killinger. The public purpose of the CE was to ultimately to replace all Jewish political bodies and ensure the compliance of senior Jewish community leaders, some of whom held office in the CE.
There were Jewish community members tasked with symbolic roles in the new Jewish Office – President and Secretary were prominent local Jews who may have believed this was the path to survival. The actual purpose of the CE was clear: to catalog, extort, and exploit the Romanian Jewish community. Much of the funds extorted from the Romanian Jewish community were used for Lecca’s personal benefit.
- Decrees for all non-deported Jews to contribute special cash funds for social causes benefiting ethnic Romanians (not Jews). Those not having the funds required were now criminalized and prosecuted.
- Taxes from Jewish business owners (under threat of deportation)
- Monies extorted from Jews in exchange for promise of emigration to Palestine
Aid for Transnistria
In November 1943, Antonescu instructed Lecca to collect funds and food for the Jews deported to Transnistria. This is believed to be due to his worry to be perceived as the sole perpetrator of Romanian Holocaust crimes. Lecca was to collect items from the remaining Jews. Their copy was intercepted by the US Army and made public at the end of the war.
As the Office was exclusively representing the interests of Romanian Jewry now, they also were in receipt of all petitions by Jews.
Ultimately, the CE processed several requests by my grandmother, Ettel Blei Schmatnick.
I found these requests within a database of records classified as Odessa, Ukraine Holocaust Records from Romanian Occupation, 1941-44. The scope and contents are classified as files from the central administration of Transnistria (Ukraine) dealing with the local Jews and with the Jews deported from Bessarabia, Bukovina and Transnistria, and their fate in the ghettos between the Dniestr and the Bug (rivers).
Ettel was aware of the CE and hoped that they might help. Her sister Regina had recently died in Bershad, Transnistria, and her husband Fillip was there with their three children. Thus far, the paperwork I have been able to track down relates to attempts to help her sister Regina and her family, by sending money to Regina’s husband Fillip Hoenigsberg in 1943.
Ettel filed papers with with the CE in order to send money, parcels, and to submit a request for release from internment, on behalf of her relatives. More on the Hoenigsberg family HERE.
Ettel sent $44 and also $33 to Fillip in the summer of 1943.
According to the US Holocaust Museum, the monetary unit on these documents is the Reichskreditkassenscheine (RKKS-Reich’s credit treasury note).
This military currency was used in occupied countries by Nazi Germany during WW2. RKKS was originally created for use within Germany. In occupied countries, all banks were forced to accept RKKs by decree and the exchange rate was set to be of advantage to the occupiers. The process screwed the bank of the occupied country in the process. In this way, the occupied country was forced to actively participate in its own exploitation.
As far as I have been able to find, monies sent through the CE never reached the Jews in need. Radu Lecca was notorious for lining his pockets and redirecting funds meant as aid for Jews. According to the Nizkor Project, “by November 1943, a total of 79,462,000 lei (exchange rate was 143 lei to one US dollar) had been sent.”
Other Organizations Sending Aid to Transnistria
According to Yad Vashem, towards the end of 1943, aid for the deported Jews in Transnistria was being sent there by
- the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
- the rescue committee of the Jewish Agency in Turkey
- the World Jewish Congress
- the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE)
Soon after the first deportations to Transnistria in October 1941, a private group was formed in Bucharest known as ‘the Bukovinian Committee’. A synagogue headed by a Rabbi Rubin was at the center of these efforts. Activities began when any aid to Transnistria was met with severe punishment. Their first dispatch was medicine for typhus.