JEWS, CROSS THE DNIESTER!
Word to the readers
During the last decades, we have read much and learned almost everything about the nazi extermination camps scattered throughout Western and Central Europe. But we learned all too little, in fact almost nothing at all, about the events in Transnistria – the place where 50 years ago tens of thousands of Romanian citizens of Jewish origin were deported. What kept us from learning the truth? Internal and foreign political interests, which wiped the word Transnistria from our vocabulary? Tendencies to falsify history, which sealed much of the past under a veil of lies? A sense of “national decency”, which blurred our insight into any negative events? Quite likely, all of the above. And presently, when freedom of speech is theoretically ours, the latest debates have but inflamed the problem without clarifying it.
Literature has previously attempted to make certain points in its transparently obliterated forms – from the short stories of Norman Manea to the documentary novels of Oliver Lustig. But as far as we know, the book of Sonia Palty is the first direct testimony about the deportations in Transnistria.
In 1942, as a teenage girl of only 14, she was torn, along with her entire family, from a secure home, from a society she trusted and identified with completely – to be tossed far away on strange soil, in work colonies where beyond frost, famine, physical pain and the threat of death, the greatest torment one faced was represented by humiliation and the lack of any meaning. What happened to the Jews? Sonia Palty reports it, without forgetting or forgiving, but also without hatred and without any wish for revenge. She recounts it all – from heroic acts to trivia, from selfishness to altruism, from cowardice to courage, from resistance to collaborationism with the oppressors.
What happened to the Romanian people? Our attitude toward this great tragedy reveals itself to be – now as well as then – deeply divided. Revealing from this point of view is the polemic between two important writers, both friends of Sonia’s family: One of these was Geo Bogza – one of the most indignant but also most naïve literary figures of the time – who believed in the innate goodness of the Romanian soul, and hence the inability of the Romanian people to kill any innocent human being. Opposing him was Miron Radu Paraschivescu, who took it on himself to point out the existence of animal instincts, mass psychology currents, the role of war in revealing man’s inner beast, and the effects of a deceptive and poisonous propaganda.
Truth proved to be closer to the point of view of the skeptical and lucid M.R.P. And along with truth come the conclusions. People mirror their times: Good times stimulate the good in man, whereas bad times unleash the beast.
Reading Sonia Palty’s book can teach us much about ourselves – good and bad alike. And the deeper meaning of this lecture is to prevent history from repeating itself, to warn humanity about the hideous consequences of crimes – including, beyond active participation to crime, the consequences of ignorance, self-absorption and non-involvement.
Magdalena Popescu Bedrosian