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50 Years of Silence

History and Voices
of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria

Undergound Activity of the Halutz Youth Movements in Romania

Following are excerpts from the article with the above title, by Dr. Arie Steinberg, published in Zionist Youth Movements During the Shoah, edited by Asher Cohen and Yehoyakim Cochav, New York: Peter Lang Publishers Inc., February, 1995.

The Zionist Youth Movement paralleled and worked hand-in-hand with the Zionist organizations of the adults in Romania. The Halutz movement operated within the organizational framework of the Brith Hanoar Hakhalutzi, which had been established in 1937.

The Romanian government began to act against the Zionist Youth Movements since before the outbreak of the war. In 1938, the movements' Hakhsharah<42> centres for Khalutzim were officially disbanded, but they continued to operate under semi-clandestine conditions.

In 1940, when Bessarabia and northern Bucovina were ceded to Russia, a severe blow was dealt to the youth movements in the country. Kishinev, the major city in Bessarabia, had been the national headquarters of the Romanian Hekhalutz; about seventy percent of the branches of Gordonia were also operating from that area. In spite of those adverse conditions, the Zionist Youth Movement found ways to overcome the separation from its Bessarabian branches. The leadership decided to establish a joint Hakhsharah program with branches throughout Romania. They continued to carry on the work of illegal immigration to Eretz Israel. Indeed, hundreds of young pioneers reached Eretz Israel during this period.

In 1941, the Gordonia movement decided to go underground. This action was taken both in anticipation of a coup by the Iron Guard and because some seventy of its members, originally from Bessarabia, had been arrested under charges of being "Communists" and "deserters". During the period 1941 and 1944, five stages of underground activities can be identified in the Zionist Youth Movement:

1. The first stage took place during the second half of 1941. At that time, the conditions under which the Youth Movement operated had become increasingly more difficult and dangerous because of anti-Jewish legislation, the pogroms and the deportations. Hakhsharah centres were shut down, and communication between the branches of the movements were almost completely broken. Conscriptions of young Jewish men to forced- labour began. The operational leaders of Hashomer Hatzair were arrested.

However, in spite of these adverse circumstances, the efforts to assist the Jews in Transnistria continued: collections of money, clothing, food and medication were sent through a variety of complicated and difficult routes to the camps. The efforts to prevent further deportations also continued.

2. The second stage lasted throughout 1942, when the Zionist organizations were officially banned, and the movements conducted their activities mostly underground. Despite the ban, Romanian authorities acknowledged the Zionist leadership as the representative of Romanian Jewry. Thus, representatives of these two groups tacitly negotiated for the possible return of the deportees from Transnistria, as well as for the stalling of further deportations.

In spite of their "semi-legal" status, the Zionist Youth Movements were able to maintain and to renew communications between their different branches as well as with their contacts abroad.

Disguised as monks, young people were sent to Transnistria to provide moral support to the deportees. Other activities of the Zionist Youth Movements at this stage consisted of forging documents and training in the use of firearms. The work of illegal emigration to Eretz Israel continued.

The Dror organization continued to maintain its Hakhsharah farm in Bucharest as well as its activities in the movement's branches throughout the country. Contacts between Dror members in Romania and those in the labour camps were maintained.

Hanoar Hatzioni continued to operate its Hakhsharah farm in Bucharest. This Zionist Movement also offered assistance to members who escaped from Poland and Hungary. They also set up a number of new Hakhsharah centres under the guise of forced labour camps.

The Hashomer Hatzioni movement also continued its operations, in spite of a trial and harsh sentences meted out to some of its members. Despite these difficult circumstances, its most active members resolved to continue to work on behalf of the Jews as a single united body.

Other Zionist movements like Gordonia, Betar and Bnei Akiva acted similarly.

3. The third stage began in 1943. Under the threat of the Final Solution in Poland, and the anticipated danger of deportation of the remaining Jews in Romanian, underground activities were intensified. Contact was established with the Eretz Israel Rescue Committee in Istanbul, with Jewish organizations in neutral countries, as well as with surviving activists in the Youth Movement in Poland. Information received from the Polish activists was communicated to the Hekhalutz Liaison Bureau in Switzerland. Assistance to refugees from Poland and Hungary was expanded.

Preparations for armed resistance began at the Hakhsharah farms. This was intended to speed up the German retreat as well as to prepare for the possibility of anti-Jewish violence at the time of their withdrawal.

Further collections of money for 'secret gifts' to some government authorities in Bucharest were required. This was necessary both for the negotiations pertaining to the return of the deportees from Transnistria, as well as to finance illegal emigration to Eretz Israel. It was difficult to maintain these operations secret, consequently, the members involved were in constant danger of arrest and deportation to Transnistria.

Towards the end of this period, the Youth Movements received significant reinforcements from parachutists who arrived from Eretz Israel. On October 2, 1943, the first of four groups of representatives from Eretz Israel had been parachuted onto Romanian soil. Other groups arrived in May 1944. They quickly established contact with the Zionist Youth Movements, which resulted in a significant boost in the morale of the Youth Movements' members. They experienced a spiritual revitalization, which intensified their determination to carry out their dangerous tasks.

4. The fourth stage began after March 19, 1944. It was in response to the German occupation of Hungary and the rapidly implemented deportation of its Jews to Auschwitz. The task at hand was to organize a speedy rescue of the Jews from northern Transylvania and to smuggle them into Romania.

In early August 1944, illegal emigration to Eretz Israel was renewed. Members of the Youth Movement escorted illegal emigrants to nine ships, which set sail from Romania with 3,415 passengers on board. Most of them were survivors rescued from northern Transylvania.

Torah Va'avoda, Bnei Akiva, Hehalutz, and Hamizrakhi had also established Hakhsharah centres in some regions of Transylvania. With the German occupation of Hungary, two Brikha centres manned by Youth Movement activists were established on the border between northern and southern Transylvania. The major crossing- point in the northern region was at Oradea Mare, and the reception point in the south was at Arad. A considerable amount of money had to be collected for these operations. With the help of paid professional smugglers, refugees from northern Transylvania, now under Hungarian control, were brought into southern Transylvania, still under Romanian control. Many refugees were then transported to ships on the Black Sea, which had been prepared for illegal emigration to Eretz Israel. Generally, the Romanians pretended not to be aware of these activities. However, these operations involved considerable risk to both the movements' activists as well as to the Jewish refugees. The official policy was to shoot those caught on Romanian soil.

5. The fifth stage began in the summer of 1944, when preparations for armed resistance became more urgent. Both resistance and rescue efforts were stepped up. The circumstances that created this state of urgency were the arrest of many Zionist activists in January 1944, and the arrival of refugees from Hungary.

Additional weapons had to be illegally acquired from German and Italian troops; bunkers with food caches were prepared; German army uniforms were stolen to provide disguise for the movements' activists; medical supplies were gathered, and personnel was trained in providing medical assistance; apartments were acquired to be used as hiding places, should the need arise. Meanwhile, in Palestine, there were organizations established to finance illegal emigration to Eretz Israel and to assist both legal and illegal immigrants.

With the help of parachutists from Eretz Irsael, emergency plans were prepared for the defense of the Jews of Bucharest, should they require protection. For this purpose contacts were established between the Jewish underground and other opposition forces in Romania.

The Youth Aliyah movement had been officially established as early as January 30, 1933, the day the Nazis came to power. Its main function was to rescue Jewish children from Nazi- occupied countries and to bring them to Palestine. Over the years, about 300,000 Jewish children benefited from the facilities and from a variety of cultural, social and educational projects set up by Youth Aliyah. These projects were organized in order to assist children to adjust to their new environment. Services were offered to youngsters twelve to eighteen years of age.

"Some of these children were so bewildered by their war experiences that they could have ended up at the fringes of Israeli society were it not for the assistance of Youth Aliyah and Youth Services. Instead, they came to make an enormous contribution to the development of Israeli society and were instrumental in the establishment of fifty kibbutzim.<43>

Note: Gordonia, Dror, Hanoar Hatzioni, Hashomer Hatzair, Betar, Bnai Akiva, Torah Veavoda, Hekhalutz, Hamizrakhi were the names of Zionist Youth movements, with varied political and religious orientations.

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