Recently, when reading some personal histories of life in Romania during the war, I came across several references to “agencies” of gossip or wishes, which turned out to be a sort of inside joke, a humorous expression of the frustration of living in a vacuum.
Gossip was the subject of many wartime posters, the dangers of gossip. However, for Jews during the Holocaust, cut off from reliable news sources and stripped of any sense of control, gossip provided not just information but a sense of control, entertainment, and even hope.
I have learned that there were two distinct families of “agencies” for mouth-to-ear news. One for gossip (Yiddishe Plotke Agentur, IPA, YPA, Jewish Gossip Agency, Jewish Rumor Agency), and, for wishful thinking the Iden Willen Azoi, or IWA. The word “agency” was employed as a humorous expression of the frustrations of their situation.
Anny Mater tells a very interesting personal history on her girlhood in Czernowitz during the Soviet occupation. The important news that her aunt’s house had be raided – reached her when she had just arrived in school. And later the same day, after narrowly escaping being captured, she sat back in the classroom and received the news that her mother was alive but injured, and at a neighbor’s flat. “…nothing worked better at that time than the YPA”.
Interested in this aspect of Anny’s story, I searched the Internet for these “agencies”.
According to Hardy Breier, “Czernowitz was a town where gossip reigned. For such a small town, it had the information system of a modern computerized info center.” He calls the IPA “the Jewish Gossip Agency. The most unreliable news agency in the world.”
and in a story by Shalom Eitan about the Otaki ghetto:
“A theatre group was formed in the ghetto and they performed one of Goldfaden’s musicals. There was no radio or newspaper but there was a lot of news agencies, such as the Y.P.A. “Yiddishe Plotke Agentur,” (Jewish Gossip Agency) or the Y. V. A.. “Yiden Vilen Azoi” (Jewish Wish Agency) and others.
Wondering whether this was some type of underground news source, I brought this up to a group I belong to of ex-Czernowitzers, and they laughed (gently) in my face. “With such a Hebrew name you should have some knowledge about Jewish Humor and Irony“, scolded one. Yes, I have been schooled!
Apparently, the IPA existed as a term for “mouth-to-ear” news, according to Berti Glaubach, “for either normal bad events that happened or still had to come (Idische Plotke Agentur: Jewish Gossip Agency), or wishful thinking for hope and defeat of the Germans and their allies (Iden Willen Azoi: Jewish Wish Agency). We all knew the news had to be taken with a bit of salt!“
According to Mimi Taylor, “Jews knew not to believe the official Government comments and proclamations. Sometimes they listened to foreign broadcasts which were mostly correct. Jews discussed the current and past events and drew their own conclusions, which were transmitted from person to person. Their conclusions and predictions were far more reliable than the Romanian news published in newspapers and broadcast on national radio stations.
During World War Two, Jews in Romania were not allowed to possess shortwave radios. My uncle built one from scratch and from time to time, my family listened on it to the BBC news, which was totally reliable. When the Germans were defeated at Stalingrad, my father knew about it a week or more before it was announced on radio Rumania. He told his Romanian employer, who at first did not believe him, but later said, “Cum s’a poate? Evrei tot d’ a una stiu tot. (How is it possible that Jews always know Everything?)”
And beyond Czernowitz, a paper by Chaya Ostrower published on Yad Vashem on the value of humor as a defense mechanism during the Holocaust references a similar joke about news agencies, even at labor camps.
Ostrower interviews one Auschwitz survivor who tells her,”The latrine had a name “RTA- Radio Tuches (buttocks in Yiddish) Agency“, there you could learn all the news. Agency is an international word. Yes RTA, in Polish it also had a different name JPP (Jedna pani powiedziala – one woman said), there was no shame we were sitting in a row telling jokes, everything in that latrine.”
Thank you to all my online “friends” for the stories! Images and links below.
Links of Interest
- The Russian Occupation of Czernowitz by Anny Mater
- Survive and Tell by Shalom Eitan
- Humor as a Defense Mechanism in the Holocaust (Chaya Ostrower)
- WW2 Radio Archives (listen)
- The fake British Radio Show that Helped Defeat the Nazis (Smithsonian)