National Socialist Influence on the Relationship [of Ethnic Germans] with Jews in Bessarabia

Bolte, Manfred. "National Socialist Influence on the Relationship [of Ethnic Germans] with Jews in Bessarabia." Mitteilungsblatt, October 2013, 6-9.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO.

Note: This is the fifth in a series of reports from the November, 2012 Conference in Hildesheim with its overall theme “The Influence of National Socialism on the Bessarabia Germans.” This presentation was given by P. Arnulf Baumann and summarized for the Mitteilungsblatt by Manfred Bolte. (The previous four presentation summaries have all been translated and posted on the NDSU-GRHC web site.  - Tr.)

Mrs. Wiener introduced the final presentation of the conference in the autumn of 2012 by pointing out that Pastor Arnulf Baumann was the long-time publisher of a series of writings by the ”Studienkommission Kirche und Judentum [Study Commission on the Church and Judaism]” concentrating on Christian-Jewish dialogue, and that he is therefore a special “expert” on this problematic topic.

Arnulf Baumann stated the following right away: before one can sensibly confront the topic of the influence of National Socialism on the relationship between Bessarabian Germans and Jews, one must first observe what the starting conditions were. Only then can one demonstrate how this relationship was transformed through influence from Germany. To do so, three aspects of these changes must be distinguished:

  1. The fear of incursion into Bessarabia by the Bolshevik power
  2. Economic competition
  3. The spread of anti-Jewish racial teaching

Baumann insisted that all three aspects were tied with the Jews and increasingly affected a growing anti-Jewish attitude among Bessarabia Germans.

Starting Situation: Christian anti-Jewish Attitudes

The presenter, going far back into history, reminded us from the outset that Christianity itself emerged from Judaism. Jesus was a member of the Jewish people, just as were his disciples and the first Christian communities in the Biblical lands. The Bible of the early Christian communities was the Bible of the Jews, which only later, with the addition of New Testament writings, became the “Old Testament.” In short, Christianity began as a special sect within Judaism.

Pastor Baumann explained the subsequent historical developments by showing that, with the rapid growth of the Christian faith within the entire Roman Empire and the concurrent transition to Greek as the universal language, many things began to change as early as the first Christian century. By Paul’s decision, which was supported by many of his adherents, to confer baptism on non-Jewish heathens, membership in Jewish people via circumcision was no longer required. Clear distinctions were increasingly made between Jews and Christians, which led to competitive situations, particularly because numerous sympathetic groups of Gentiles near synagogues (”proselytes” and “God-fearers”) often went over to Christian communities en masse.

According to Pastor Baumann, this situation became even more serious following the Constantine watershed during the early third century, when the Christian faith, step by step, became a state religion of the Roman Empire—a phase during which pagan cults were pushed back and gradually made to disappear. At the same time, although Judaism was the only religion tolerated alongside Christianity, it more and more thereby assumed an outsider role and increasingly became the prime example of the deterrent “other.

Henceforth, a church tied to the state power stood across from a synagogue that was protected weakly by the law. This situation evoked a kind of feeling of superiority in a church that viewed Judaism as an outdated form of faith, one that would increasingly be deemed strange, even hostile. The theory of “The murder of God” had disastrous effects because its use put the blame for Jesus’ death not only on the Jews of the time of Jesus, but on all Jews of all time, notwithstanding the fact that crucifixion was a Roman form of punishment for crimes against the state and in the case of Jesus was carried out by Roman soldiers. Later, from the “God murder” theory, especially coming after certain sermons in Christian churches during Holy Week, regular attacks on Jewish neighbors occurred. The Russian word “pogrom” (destruction) would become synonymous with attacks against Jews.

At this point, Pastor Baumann reminded the audience of a major related historical event, the terrible Easter-time pogrom in Kishinev of 1903, in which forty-five Jews died, several hundred were injured, and many homes were destroyed.

Following the horrors of the Holocaust/Shoa, a rethinking process set in regarding the relationship between Christians and Jews. With a sense of shock, there came a realization of the extent to which Christian ant-Jewish attitudes had helped to bring about this crime on humanity, a basic attitude that somehow had made Christians of all confessions disinterested in the fate of the Jews and insensitive to their suffering. During the course of this rethinking a new kind of designation took hold, that of “Anti-Judaism,” which is intended to distinguish the old basic attitudes toward Jews and Jewry from other anti-Semitic attitudes.

Pastor Baumann explained that what characterizes anti-Judaism is a general feeling of strangeness toward Jews, one which in certain circumstances can grow into open hostility. It is this basic attitude which Lutheran Christians in particular have introduced back into the Bible. Jesus and his adherents were seen as “our own,” while Jews who stood against Jesus were deemed “enemies of Jesus”--without remembering that Jesus and his disciples were themselves Jews. A contrast was constructed between the revengeful “God of the Old Testament” and the “God of the New Testament” who demanded love of neighbor--without remembering that the latter law is first found in the Old Testament (3rd book of Moses 19, 18). Put in opposition of one another were the Jewish “Ethic of the law and revenge” and a Christian “Ethic of love and mercy”--without remembering that denying love of neighbor to the Jews is in crass contradiction to one’s own claims. The covenant of God with the people of Israel was held to have been abolished and Christianity declared to be the sole heir of God’s promises--without remembering that a call from God cannot be canceled, even with the advent of the New Testament. (see., e.g., Romans 11, 29).

With regard to Bessarabia, one can assume that the Germans who settled there brought some of those basic attitudes with them from their old homeland. At first, however, there was no occasion to deal with the relationship with the Jews and with Judaism, for in the newly established settlements there were initially hardly any Jews at all. They lived mostly in the northern part of Bessarabia, which in the Tsarist Empire had in a way been given the status of “Immigration Rayon,” that is, an area in the far West of the Empire where Jews were able to live without special permission. There they lived predominantly in the cities. In Kishinev, for example, the Jewish population at one time reached about half of the total number of residents. But following the 1903 pogrom in Kishinev, its Jewish population began a strong move to German settlements farther south, where they felt more secure than elsewhere. In this process, contacts occurred at least gradually. Still, a sense of strangeness remained, although nobody really worried about the fact that a German Samuel had the same Biblical first name as a Jewish Shmuel, or a German Jakob as a Jewish Jaakov or Jankel. Nobody spent much thought on the fact that understanding the Jews’ language was made fairly easy due to their Yiddish language. Of course, the latter can be traced back to the persecution and banishment of many Jews from medieval Germany, and they brought their German-Jewish dialect with them. Pastor Baumann summarized this as follows: “They lived side by side, without showing much interest in the other.”

A First Aspect: Threat from Bolshevism

Things changed with the end of World War I, when Bessarabia became part of Romania and thereby the traditional connections were abruptly cut with neighboring Russian areas and especially with Germans living there. The Bessarabian Germans, who until then had aligned themselves with the Black Sea Germans and with the Germans in the Baltic provinces of the Russian Empire, now had to reorient themselves. Increasingly, they aligned themselves with the strongest German ethnic population within the initially rather strange Romanian state, the Siebenbürgen Saxons, through whom they began to rediscover the old German motherland, with which any contacts had increasingly been atrophied during Tsarist times. Particularly because a growing number of young ethnic Germans were now studying in Germany itself, the Bessarabian Germans increasingly came under the influence of intellectual and political currents in Germany.

At the same time, people observed with growing dismay the developments in the neighboring Black Sea region: at first the bitter war between the Reds and the  Whites, then the brutal takeover by Soviet might and, above all, the catastrophe of horrible famines occurring during the collectivization process, which today’s Ukrainians call the holodomor [“extinction by starving” – Tr.] Despite the blockade of information coming from across the Dniester, again and again new tales of horror reached the Black Sea German neighbors in Bessarabia, and those messages constantly stirred new fears of an incursion coming from the Bolshevik side. A 1924 Communist uprising in Tatarbunar was put down–with the help of Bessarabian Germans--but it served as a warning of how easily Soviet power might spill over into Bessarabia.

Somehow, at some time, the thought arose that the Soviet system could have something to do with Jewry. It fit into the fears of a Jewish world conspiracy that had been stirred up, as in “The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion”, an early 20th-Century pamphlet that had been falsified by the Tsarist secret police, but continued to haunt any and all world regions and today even the Arabic countries. These “protocols” allegedly divulge that the “wise men of Zion” are working systematically toward an inner and exterior breakdown of occidental society. Even from the outset, these “protocols” were intended to discredit revolutionary tendencies in the Tsarist Empire, and after the Bolsheviks, the extreme arm of Russian Communism, gained a majority in the so-called October Revolution and toppled the Tsarist Empire, these fears gained new currency. The indisputable fact that among the leading Communists of the first hour there were several Jews, among them the significant theoretician Leon Trotsky, was considered “proof” of the truth of a Jewish world conspiracy. In reality, those Jewish Bolsheviks never exercised any decisive influence. Trotsky was murdered in Mexico, and during the last part of life, Stalin himself had developed a special hatred for Jewish doctors, whom he had sentenced and executed subsequent to spectacular show trials. None of this kept many people in Europe and, as a matter of fact, in the entire world, from tying the Communist desire for world revolution with the theory of a Jewish world conspiracy, a concept that increasingly led to the “idea” of a “Jewish-Boshevik rule.

That can be said for Bessarabia as well. In her documentation of the Bessarabian German press, Stefanie Wolter has shown succinctly that, from about 1933 on, in both German-language newspapers, a “consistent parity between World Jewry and Bolshevism” had been reached. This can be traced back not only to a constantly strengthening influence from Germany itself, but also to developments inside Romania.  

A Second Aspect: Economic Competition

Pastor Baumann traced this second aspect of economic competition back to a change in the population make-up. After Jews settled down in many German villages, they often worked in various occupations involving trading. That in turn can be traced back to the time of the introduction of Christianity as a state religion, when legislation in the Roman Empire practically excluded Jews from agriculture because they could not have Christian slaves, without whom agriculture on a major scale was unthinkable. Additionally it can be traced back to regulations regarding the trades, by which various guilds were organized as Christian fraternities, but which Jews were not allowed to be a part of. Furthermore, Christians at one time had been forbidden to engage in financial businesses, allowing Jews to find a niche they could be active in—although often with great danger. One may recall that the Bible of the Old and New Testaments--one need only to consult the parables of Jesus--in fact made it necessary that the Jews of old were to engage primarily in agriculture.

After Bessarabia became part of Romania following World War I and thereby became more involved in the world economy, the German farmers became more aware of their dependency on Jewish merchants. Pastor Baumann illustrated this with the fact that German farmers simply couldn’t get it through their heads why prices went down after a good harvest and rose after a poor one. To them, the concept of supply and demand was simply unfamiliar and obscure. They felt at the mercy of the trading merchants and all too easily believed the world conspiracy theories, without knowing or thinking that the merchants were also dependent on price developments in the world market. Gradually, the idea took hold that by establishing cooperatives in individual locales and by starting up economic associations (1921) they could get better control on the marketing of their products and thereby become their own power in the market. Because the German farmers had little or no experience in this area, their initial efforts experienced some setbacks locally and regionally. Only when Dr. Otto Broneke, an economist educated in Germany, took over leadership of the economic association, did more professionalism enter into their efforts.

Cooperatives and economic associations can be considered a rounding out of the occupational spectrum available to the Germans, perhaps as an effort of self-help. However, they would also inevitably thereby have to compete with the trade merchants who had thus far set the tone in this arena. Baumann noted that, at least covertly, anti-Jewish ideas kept creeping into the proceedings. Evidence of this can be seen early on in a series of articles in German newspapers (1928 to 1930) through which Broneke advertised on behalf of his association. In them he wrote of “the world of trade merchants” who “work without scruples,” viewing them and even some ethnic German competitors, but above all most likely the Jewish merchants, as foes.

Through the work of the cooperatives and the economic association in the 1930’s, Bessarabian Germans did gain new occupational possibilities. It was a process that was a natural part of the necessary transformation from a purely agrarian society to a more diversified economic structure. However, this process was also accompanied by a growing animosity toward Jewish merchants of all kinds, who certainly were not about to disappear from the scene. Pastor Baumann added that in this context Bessarabian Germans made use of argumentation offered from National Socialist Germany (and from Romania).

This transformational process in Bessarabia did not lead to boycott measures on a large scale. Up to the time of the resettlement [late 1940 – Tr.] one could find, particularly in the market villages, a considerable number of specialized Jewish shops that continued to have their German customers. The situation was similar for Jewish crafts people. Slogans such as “Don’t buy from the Jews!” were not allowed. Still, from the mid-1930s on, advertisements emphasized that one was dealing with “German businesses,” and Jewish merchants had hardly a chance to advertise in German publications. Baumann noted that Jewish advertisements were simply not printed.

A Third Aspect: The Spread of Racial Teaching

Pastor Baumann introduced his third aspect with the statement that Christianity and Judaism had traditionally been viewed merely as two great religions. In Germany in the 1870s, however, a new concept for traditional anti-Jewish sentiment arose and quickly took hold internationally as well. It eventually took on the term anti-Semitism. It fit above all into middle class thinking, which deemed itself too “fine” for a primitive hate of the Jews that in the extreme is expressed by plundering and destruction. The term “anti-Semitism” sounded more scientific, more like ideology and, according to Pastor Baumann, it made hatred for the Jews socially acceptable. In elevating the status of hatred for Jews, it now rested on an apparently scientific basis, on the idea of race. A few researchers had been looking into the physical appearance of humans and discovered differences that one might designate as “races,” such as the Nordic one, the Eastern, the Dinaric, etc. They thought they had also discovered a “Jewish” race. At first it was difficult to decide whether that meant a specific physical appearance (in which case many Jews did not fit the type) or in fact a religiously determined grouping. (This did not fit the assertion that it was an objectively determined marker. By now the theory of a “Jewish race” has been proven to be completely untenable, while the “Jewish type” constructed at the time simply pointed to the geographical origin of the Jews in the Near East, similarly to how the Sinti and Roma are associated today with India as their original homeland.) Connecting the concept of “anti-Semitism” with teachings on race would eventually lead to disastrous consequences. A person was able to leave or resign from Judaism as a faith community, but it was impossible to do so from the Jewish race—a fact that eventually made persecution of the Jews in the Holocaust a merciless, inexorable reality.

In Bessarabia, Pastor Baumann stated, initial acceptance of this teaching on race came from the medical community (at first used in “racial hygiene,” for the prevention of hereditary disease). Although at its outset it was nothing like a frontal opposition toward the Jews, it would become a gateway for biological interpretation of the classifications of humans into different groups. Next, younger doctors, like Dr. Albert Necker and Dr. Erhard Haase, took up the teaching of a “Jewish race.” And even in broader circles such thinking began to spread and was assumed as further confirmation of a secret connection among all Jews, as the “scientific” basis for the fear of a Jewish world conspiracy.


At the time the Bessarabian Germans were resettled to Germany [1940], they had already been affected by the “mental confusion” that had befallen Germany starting with the 1920s and even more strongly during the 1930s. That also made them insensitive to the suffering of Jewish suffering, and it even moved individuals to participate actively in measures of destruction.

Pastor Baumann concluded his presentation with the following challenge: All of this puts the responsibility on us, too, to rid ourselves of all remaining hatred of the Jews, which had such horrendous consequences and besmirched the German name for all time. Pastor Baumann then moved to the present by pointing to recent polls showing that among a fifth of the population there remains a basic seed of anti-Jewish sentiments, often religiously motivated and, although rarely demonstrated in normal times, could become active during times of crisis.

According to Baumann, the only conclusion can be that we, too, participate personally and intensively in a rethinking of German history, and to determine the relationship between Christians and Jews on the basis of the Bible and membership in the same family of faith.

Pastor Baumann ended his presentation by emphasizing the importance of the latter statement, namely, by repeating the point of “common membership in the same family of faith.”

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller