The first people to become aware of the importance of a community structure within the camps were the former leaders of the Jewish community from Romania. They decided to organize the only means of resistance that was possible under those circumstances. They realized that a sense of organization and discipline was necessary in order to provide a support system and leadership. They were hoping to instil a spark of hope in the deportees, since many of them had become demoralized and apathetic.
Usually, the members of the committees were chosen to represent each community of deportees, and from those who had distinguished themselves with their leadership skills and earned the trust of the people. At some point there was even a coordinating committee in Moghilev, which succeeded in establishing and maintaining contact with the Aid Commission for Transnistria set up in Bucharest.
The Romanian authorities usually tolerated these committees. Although their efficiency varied, their existence was nevertheless instrumental for the survival of some deportees in Transnistria. They instituted a degree of discipline, ameliorated the chaos, and encouraged a more hopeful atmosphere in the camps.
In some of the camps, the committees took on the functions of a civil registry, documenting birth, sanctioning marriages, and, to some extent, keeping track of deaths.
From the point of view of the Romanian authorities, the most important responsibility of the committees was to provide labourers for specific work projects. The work projects consisted of road maintenance, upkeep and repair of bridges, cutting trees in the forests, loading and unloading trains, working in the fields, caring for cattle, digging mass graves, burying the dead, etc.
Before the committees came into existence, the people required for labour were randomly rounded up. They were simply dragged out from their huts and houses. Often, the forced labour sites were far away, and because some of these people were sick or frail, many died before they ever reached the destination. When the committees started to compile lists of names, a more disciplined approach of mobilizing people for work was set up. While this was to the advantage of some of the deportees, it was the most difficult task the committees had to face -- they had been put in a position where peoples' lives depended on them.
The committees were also in charge with selecting the Jewish police, who had the difficult task of enforcing the selections for labour. Nevertheless, the Jewish police acted as a buffer between the deportees and the Ukrainian militia or the Romanian gendarmes. Jewish police was also called upon to resolve conflicts among the deportees who, under those terrible conditions of life, were most often agitated and hypersensitive. "In some places the Jewish police had a self-defence role. In Shargorod, they fought off bands of hooligans, and especially the Ukrainian militiamen, who often entered the camp at night to rob and torture."<32>
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