Peasants, Armed with Crude Weapons, Saved 1,000 Jews from Bucharest Pogrom
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Peasants, Armed with Crude Weapons, Saved 1,000 Jews from Bucharest Pogrom

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Rumanian peasants, defying Iron Guard marauders with rabbit guns, clubs and stones, transformed their little village of Dudesti Coplea into a safe haven for an estimated 1,000 Jews during the Bucharest pogrom last week.

The unselfish action of the peasants was one of the most stirring incidents which occurred during the terrible hours of Wednesday and Thursday of last week when the Guardists attacked the Jewish quarter.

The village is on the outskirts of Bucharest, not far from the periphery of the Jewish area of the capital. It is populated by peasant dairymen whose wives come into Bucharest on little troikas every morning to distribute milk throughout the city.

On Wednesday night the inhabitants of the village sent emissaries into the Jewish quarter with offers of sanctuary to anyone able to escape. This correspondent was unable to learn how many Jews were able to take advantage of the villagers’ offer but their number must have been near a thousand.

Not a single Jew who sought refuge in the village came to any harm. The milkmen and peasants, armed with shotguns customarily used for shooting rabbits, formed a cordon around the village and resolutely refused to let any Guardists enter it.

The pogrom produced many other heroes and martyrs, both Christian and Jewish. Many Christians were killed or wounded when they attempted to save the lives of Jews and literally thousands devoted themselves during the massacre to the protection of threatened Jewish interests. The most common instance of heroism was that practised by many Christians who went to live in the homes of Jewish friends in order to appear in the doorways when the Guardist killers arrived and trick them into believing the house was occupied by a Christian family. Many lost their lives when the Guardists discovered they had been duped and that they were sheltering Jews.

The outstanding Christian hero probably was a Rumanian officer whose name this correspondent was unable to learn.

The officer, a refugee from Bessarabia, had been living with Jewish friends in Bucharest since has demobilization from the Rumanian Army at the end of November. Since he had not received orders to join his Army unit and assist in putting down the rebellion he was at home on the night of Jan. 22 when the massacre got under way.

He hastily donned his uniform and armed himself with a revolver when it became obvious that the Guardist mobs would visit the house. Ordering his friends to hide in the cellar, he waited near the doorway until the mob began pounding on it. He then flung it open and barring the way with outstretched arms warned the Greenshirts not to enter. He admitted that the house was owned by Jews but pointed out that he was a Rumanian Army officer who had been given sanctuary by Jewish friends after the loss of Bessarabia to Russia. He appealed to the marauders to put down their arms, go home and cease killing.

For a moment the mob surging in front of the house was silent. Then someone shouted “Jew lover.” Others began to laugh and hurl insults at the officer. Pulling out his revolver, the officer warned he would shoot the first man attempting to cross the threshold. Before he had a chance to carry out his threat someone in the mob shot him dead and the Guardists surged into the house across his body. They found the Jews in the cellar and, needless to say, killed all of them. The Guardists stripped the house of all valuables, sprinkled the floors and walls with gasoline and set it afire.

The Jewish hero who towered above all others was a Rabbi Gutmann, who refused to be cowed by the Guardists and stood in the doorway of his house, thundering warnings of God’s wrath.

His wife being absent, he picked up his two young children and holding them in either arm appeared fearlessly in his doorway when the Guardists approached the house. The mob was taken aback for a moment when the huge, bearded man began to scold them for their folly, showing no interest whatever in his own safety.

The rabbi failed, as did the lieutenant, to bring the mobsters to their senses. After a brief period of hesitation, Guardists fired several shots at Gunmen but when he failed to fall the mob became confused and left without ransacking the house.

Reliable witnesses of the incident told this correspondent that an old woman, who had been caught by the mob hysteria and had trailed along with the Guardists, suddenly fell to her knees at the sight of the venerable rabbi upbraiding the throng before her eyes.

Apparently confusing the rabbi with an orthodox priest–both wear beards and similar vestments–the crazed old woman cried out “Father, don’t condemn us all. We are not all guilty.”

Gutmann, himself half-crazed with emotion, staggered back into the house where he discovered that the Guardist bullets had killed both of his children but only creased his body in several places.

Refusing to succumb to his grief, the rabbi then became the Moses of the Jewish community, visiting stricken homes and giving comfort to the victims. Last Friday, Saturday and Sunday after quiet had been restored, it was this rabbi who officiated at most of the Jewish funerals. On Friday he read the funeral service at the burial of his own little sons.

All Bucharest devoted last weekend to the burial of the dead. The city resounded to the toll of church bells and the clatter of horse-drawn hearses as thousands of dead were transported to various cemeteries. Every church remained open 24 hours daily for funeral services and to permit the bereaved to pray. The Jews were deprived of even this consolation, however, as not a single synagogue was left in all Bucharest except those which escaped destruction because they were occupied as barracks by German troops. These were not available for religious services.

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