The fate of Sam Bonar’s European family members during World War II


This is an area of Europe where the Jewish People had lived for centuries as an autonomous ‘estate’ within the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania.

Although Sam had left the city of Kishinev during the early years of the 20th Century, and found freedom from oppression by ultimately settling in the United States,  those among his family members who remained behind in Bessarabia were not so fortunate.

It so happens that Bessarabia was part of a specific collection of Imperial Russian provinces known as the Pale of Permanent Jewish Settlement. At the end of World War I, when Imperial Russia was dissolved, the tiny province of Bessarabia, was annexed by Romania. As stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles of 1918,  part of the Pale was combined with Congress Poland (formerly an Imperial Russian possession) to become Interwar Poland;  the southern-most area of the Pale became the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine.

During Word War II, both Poland and Ukraine were overrun by Germany, and the Third Reich set up administrative divisions in these conquered territories. At the same time Romania, which contained the province of Bessarabia, had allied with the Third Reich. So, in essence, the entirety of what was once Imperial Russia’s Congress Poland and Pale of Permanent Jewish Settlement came under German control. These were the lands where the majority of European Jewry had lived for centuries.

In the early 1940s, the German government began its implementation of the Final Solution. As a result, most of the Jewish inhabitants of the towns and cities of the former lands of Poland and the Pale lost their lives; there were very few survivors among the millions of Jews who had once lived there.

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Not a single Jew living in Kishinev (Chisinau), where Sam Bonar was born, survived the Holocaust. Fortunately, Sam Bonar’s mother, Lea had moved to Moscow, most probably after the death of her husband Nuchim-Leib, which occurred before WW I; but the fate of Sam’s brother, Volf, is unknown.

The Holocaust in Chisinau itself, located within Romania’s new province of Bessarabia, had a unique history. Before the Kishinev (Chisinau) Massacres of 1904-06, Sam Bonar’s hometown of Chisinau was a city which was 50% Jewish. The reduced Jewish population which dared to return to Chisinau after these pogroms soon faced a new threat: Romania, was experiencing a rush of nationalism, and by the early 1940s Romania’s new Fascist leader, Ion Victor Antonescu, sought to make Romania a ‘racially pure’ country. Therefore, during World War II when Romania had become an ally of Nazi Germany, its army actually helped Germany kill the Jews remaining in Chisinau. To that purpose, Romanian and German troops sent the Jews of Chisinau to a large extermination area outside of the Romanian state borders called Transnistria, in Ukraine.

In a paradox that Jews outside Romania are still trying to come to grips with, Romania spared the lives of some of its Jews from Romania proper, while brutally exterminating every single Jew from Chisinau in the province of Bessarabia. Apparently some in Romania felt that the Jews of Chisinau were Communist or Soviet sympathizers, an anathema to the Fascist Romanian state, whereas Jews from the rest of Romania had a more ‘capitalistic’ outlook, a concept more acceptable to the Romanian government. The irony of the situation, as regards Sam Bonar’s problems in obtaining Australian citizenship during 1921 by claiming to be a Romanian citizen, is noteworthy.



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