Cemetery - Mohyliv-Podilskyy, Ukraine


This is a translation of the chapter “Moghilev”, Geschichte der Juden in der Bukowina
{History of the Jews in the Bukovina} Edited by: Dr. Hugo Gold,
As told by: Hermann Metsch, Published in Tel Aviv, 1962
Translated by: Jerome Silverbush

Anyone who undertakes to write the terrible story of the Jews in Transnistrien will not be able to protect himself from the reproach that he repeated the same story of horror. For at all the locations where the Jews were brought, the allied German and Romanian killers used the same methods and the same sadistic brutality. Their goal was to wipe out without exception everything Jewish. Only about the ghettos in and surrounding Moghilev can one say that they were an exception. Of the approximately 100,000 deportees in these camps (there were approximately 60 ghettoes) 80% survived the catastrophe M. Carp, the writer of the “Black Book” (Cartea negra) wrote in this connection of the “wonder of Moghilev.”

The “wonder,” however was the result of a series of chance happenings. The Romanian and German authorities had their headquarters in the city. In emergencies, the Jewish Central Committee could gain access to the officials who gave the orders and through skillful intervention prevent much evil. According to the will of those in power, no Jews were to remain in the city, but after one year, there were more than 20,000 who enjoyed relative security. Further, by chance, a Nazi officer gave the deportee Max Heissmann a camera to repair. The photographs taken secretly with this camera found their way to Bucharest, were enlarged, provided with commentaries and put into the hands of Antonescus. Thereupon, he promised a Jewish delegation in 1943 to allow the return of the orphans in Transnistrien if the community promised to care for them. That a man appeared then, Engineer S. Jägendorf from Czernowitz (he was deported from Radauti where he had lived at that time) who was able to carry off this job was a further coincidence. Engineer Jägendorf received permission to put the foundry “Turnatoria” into operation in which a great number of deportees found work and protection from persecution.

Finally, the deportee Hermann Metsch was by chance, from his youth onwards a passionate gardener. In 1942, he planted a large vegetable garden from which the children with rickets and starving people sharing the same fate could get the vitamins important for life. After the defeat at Stalingrad, the local officials became more ”mellow” and provided land for the gardening. The foundry provided tools and 40 Jews were used for labor. When in 1943, the pope's representative came from Bucharest to visit Moghilev he was shown the vegetable garden by the local authorities. He was supposed to believe that the government was concerned about the feeding of the deportees.

Among the 20,000 Jews in the city, 6-7,000 were natives, that is, they had lived there before the war. Every ghetto was led by a “colony chief” who was not elected, but was appointed by the authorities. There were three orphanages with a total of 1500 children. At first there was a nursing home, but as the inhabitants died from diseases or because of the lack of food and hygiene, it had to be closed. The efforts of the doctors were in vain, even the striving of the Radauti doctor, Dr. Jakob Budik, who dedicated himself to the task selflessly, did not have the desired success.

The various groups of hand workers formed cooperatives, among others, the cooperative of the buyers and sellers of groceries. There was a pharmaceutical depot, a druggist and a dentist's office. For instructing the youth, there were several schools under the direction of the teachers Preuss and Ehrenkranz.

The taking of Jewish lives was successfully avoided. So, for example at the orders of the German command in Odessa, 4000 deportees were to be sent to Skasinetz. In reality, only 2000 were sent away of whom, the majority died from hunger and cold. Intervention didn't always help. 1000 people were sent to the death camp Picioara, 3000 to forest work in Crischopol, 1000 to the peat work in Tulczin. Of these 7000, very few returned. Many Jews preferred suicide to the torment. For example, in Czernowitz Prof. Amalia Spire, Prof. S. Drimmer and his wife and the doctor couple Dr. Grünfeld, in Radauti Mrs Thea Weber, the daughter of the famous doctor Dr. Weber and in Atachi the pharmacist Strominger and his mother took poison.

One time the delegates of the International Red Cross visited Moghilev to learn about conditions there. The streets were cleaned and the Jews were forbidden to show themselves in their ragged clothing. When in 1942 the blood smeared chief of state Antonescu visited Moghilev no Jew was permitted to leave his dwelling. The Jews had to build the ghetto wall themselves. With the repatriation of the orphans carried out in 1943 the delegate of the Repatriations Commission, J. Herzig (Arsi) worked very effectively.

Mr. Hermann Metsch (Naharia) wrote a report about the events in Moghilev from which we will quote excerpts: His writings especially apply to the activities of the engineer Jägendorf, the central personality who provided services of incalculable value to the Moghilev ghetto, but the true-to-life description gives an insight into the conditions at that time and therefore should be of general interest.

Considering the flood of fateful events that broke over the Jews of Bukovina after the arrival of the German-Romanian troops in July 1941, which began with robbery, plundering, arson and mass murder and reached their high point with the deportations to Transnistrien, there is no lack of material for the chapter “Transnistrien.” Quite the contrary. The difficulty lies in choosing what to leave out of the chapter. If one wanted to describe everything that the survivors had to suffer and bear one would have to write many chapters. Not to mention those who died whose numbers go into the hundred thousands.

When one writes about Transnistrien, one cannot forget the name of a man who with his energy, drive, goal directed initiative and not least, his civil courage was the central personality in Moghilev. This man who today lives in the USA is Engineer Siegfried Jägendorf. The Romanian authorities in Transnistrien allowed the deported Jews “autonomy.” Using this autonomy, an action committee was formed in Moghilev whose first president was Jägendorf. That is how he got into the center of the action.

After I returned from Moghilev I was questioned from all sides in Bucharest. Is it true that Engineer Jägendorf did such and such? It was not difficult to soon realize that irresponsible elements were spreading judgments and criticisms that misrepresented and slandered Jägendorf's character. Who could get justice for unhappy hungry freezing, people trembling for their very lives? Certainly Jägendorf couldn't even fill the most modest and primitive needs of these unhappy people. In Moghilev alone there were 20,000 deportees. And who was Jägendorf in those difficult days. He was a defenseless and unprotected deported Jew like all the others. One who knew the conditions in Moghilev and had the ability to think clearly must soon recognize that these groundless slanders came from egotistical and primitive men, who based their criticism on what Jägendorf had done or not done for them.

In contrast to that, I want to do justice to this deserving man. No one can dispute the value of his undeniable accomplishments. Arriving in Moghilev, He didn't succumb to depression and didn't bemoan the loss of his wealth. What drove his was the desire to find work for himself and many others. On a tour of Moghilev which had been severely damaged by the war and high water he came to a deserted half destroyed foundry in whose yard, he found a large quantity of raw materials stacked up. One could not say that he saw this with the eyes of an expert - Mr. Jägendorf as is well known was an electrical engineer - but, he saw with the eye of a goal oriented person the possibility to create something. For that, he needed the approval of the prefect. He waited in line for days before he paid the price of a club blow on his head from one of the sentries before he was successful in being admitted to see the “almighty.” His energetic and self confident bearing didn't fail to impress the Romanian functionary. When Jägendorf left the office, he was the man in charge of reactivating the foundry. Immediately, the mobilization of all the hand workers took place (foundry men, mechanics, plumbers, welders, electricians, etc.). Jägendorf had far reaching plans to employ as many men as possible. He got much grief. Many were unsatisfied and disappointed since every hand worker wanted to be an expert and a specialist. To keep the effort from becoming absurd, naturally, all non hand workers had to be turned away. These people then became irreconcilable enemies of Jägendorf. Latter, lock manufacturing, cabinetmaking, metal stamping and auto repair facilities were added. Every department was directed by an engineer.

Hardly two months after Turnatoria started production a very regrettable incident illustrated in what respect Mr. Jägendorf was held by those in power. In the beginning Jewish men and women were rounded up daily on the street like dogs and made to do completely useless work. By chance, Engineer Kaufmann was caught in such a round up on his way to work. Engineer Jägendorf went immediately to the guard station to have his man released. He insisted that his fellow workers had immunity from such attacks. Lieutenant Popescu to whom he spoke did not let the opportunity to brutalize a Jew, especially such a prominent one escape him. He did this so brutally and cruelly that Jägendorf had to stay in bed for several days. This vicious act drew the ire of official circles. Popescu was held responsible. The prefect and the gendarmerie commandant went personally to the sick bed of the mishandled Jew to apologize. The authority of Jägendorf worked favorably for all the Jews in Moghilev and it went so far that his signature on a document saying some one was occupied in the foundry made the document official and protected against being dragged into the interior of the country or to the death camps on the far side of the Bug. According to Governor Alexianu's notorious “Ordonanta Nummer 23” every Jew who worked was to be compensated with one mark's worth of food every day. That would have been enough to just about sustain live. That this compensation was often stolen and that the disenfranchised Jews were often given short rations could be taken for granted. In contrast, Engineer Jägendorf created a faultlessly functioning food service. He made his own bakery so all the workers together with their families received a ration of bread and two times daily, warm soup. A medical service and a dentist's office did what was possible to maintain hygiene and cleanliness and this lead to a significant reduction in mortality.

Jägendorf directed a regime based on strict discipline. The authorities gave him unlimited discipline authority for Turnatoria and even an independent court. Only short sighted people saw in that a dictatorial regime. The poor had no idea what advantages the jurisdiction of Engineer Jägendorf brought for them. For every unbiased observer, it is and remains a fact that many, very many deportees owe their lives to the energy and organizational talent of Engineer Jägendorf.

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