Memories of the Holocaust: Kishinev (Chisinau)

The Establishment of the Ghetto in Chisinau and of the Camps in Bessarabia


A. The general situation in Chisinau in the first days after occupation.

On July 18, 1941, the Romanian troops captured in their successful advance the capital of Bessarabia which was consumed by fire, with its foundations shaking, dynamited by the retreating Red Army.

Colonel D. Tudosie, Assistant Chief of the Major Staff of the Fourth Corps, is named Military Commander of Chisinau and its surroundings which he reached on July 19 with a reduced staff of support and security.

The city reflected in its totality the living tragedy. Smoldering ruins and scattered corpses of people and animals everywhere, robbing bands of tramps and ravens of disasters, deserters and armed elements, from the communist army, who ruled the peripheries, as well as a total paralysis of any living activity.

The establishment of order and security was the chief concern, aimed at returning normal living conditions as well as achieving the needed tranquility behind the fighting troops at the front. With all the efforts that were made, the turbulent elements continued their activities by means of signals of light and arms fire during the night and peripheral disorders[12].

B. The presence of the Jewish element.

Present in significant numbers, they represented the first and most serious obstacle in the work of reconstruction and the establishment of peace and public safety.

This conclusion is drawn from the following facts:

  1. The not too distant past of 22 years of Romanian rule in Bessarabia was sufficiently tested by the permanent hostility which they manifested against all Romanian interests. Ignoring completely the goodwill of our rule, which treated them equally with Romanians in all their rights, they continued to think of and look towards the sickle and hammer in the east, creating on Bessarabian soil the main nest for the recruitment of the majority of lawbreakers against the security of the State and public order.
  2. In June of 1940, when Romanian troops were undergoing the painful moments of retreat without fighting, the most bitter humiliation, it was also the Jews who provoked it. Praising loudly the Red happiness which was approaching, they slapped with derision and defiance the tense face of the Romanian soldier, who succumbed unwillingly to an overwhelming humiliation.
  3. The same attitudes of persecution and suppression were expressed towards Romanians temporarily left under communist rule. The evidence of priest Vladimir Burjacovski, professor Ilica and lawyer Constantin Stoenescu, presented before our Commission, is sufficient proof of the hate unfolded by these elements against all that was Romanian in the Bessarabia brought to its knees.
  4. The Jews which retreated with the Russian Army have also sought to demonstrate their sentiments of enmity towards the Romanian State, which has protected them, by destroying their own buildings, so that they would not fall intact into the hands of the State, while some of those who remained, in the presence of the occupying Romanian forces, have contributed to a large degree to the sabotage of the initial security and order measures undertaken by the Military Command.[13]

C. The initiative of establishing the Chisinau Ghetto and the special area assigned to it.

Given the stated facts and following a consultation between the Governor of Bessarabia and Colonel Tudosie, it was decided to establish a Ghetto in Chisinau starting on July 22-23, 1941, i.e. four days after the entrance of Colonel Tudosie in Chisinau. The area assigned for the Ghetto was the lower part of the city, towards Visterniceni, at the beginning being a larger area and later a reduced one in order to facilitate the possibilities of guarding and security.

D. The establishment of camps in the rest of Bessarabia.

As far as the rest of Bessarabia is concerned, where the danger of the Jewish element was the same, it was ordered by the Governor of Bessarabia, order No.61 of July 24, 1941, to the County Prefectures to establish camps in which all the Jews should be gathered.

The collection points were at RautelLimbeni, and Rascani, for the Jews of the Balti county; the Forests of Alexandru cel Bun and Rublenita, for those in the county of SorocaSecureni and Ediniti, for the ones in Hotin and the North of Bucovina. Also at OrheiCahulIsmailChilia Noua and Bolgrad.

However, after finding that some camps were providing unacceptable living conditions, steps were taken for their removal as follows: the Jews from the camps of the Forests of Alexandru cel Bun and Rublenita were interned in Vertujeni, and those from Rautel, Limbeni, and Rascani in the camp of Marculesti.

On August 16, 1941, the date on which the settlement in the camps was almost finished, 13,000 Jews were brought by the Germans from Transnistria[14] , without prior formalities, across the bridge at Iampol-Cosauti, under the pretext that they might have been among those who ran away ahead of our troops. These Jews were also directed to and interned in the camp of Vertujeni[15].

E. Initial orders and instructions.

We must note that from the beginning both the Major General Staff and the Government of Bessarabia did not provide instructions to establish the arrangements applicable to the Ghetto and the camps.

Initially only overall directives were given, and detailed orders were taken only as various management difficulties arose. We shall demonstrate below that, for these reasons, many shortcomings developed due to this basic deficiency and partly due to the special regime applied in different camps as a result of the lack of a unifying total concept.

Also, there were no instructions given in reference to nominal statistics of the Jews interned in the camps and in the Ghetto of Chisinau.

F. The operation of establishing the Ghetto.

This was done by notices to the homes of Jews in the city, after which they were transported by military patrols, by the police, or by themselves, to the Ghetto, where everyone was free to house himself according to his own ability.

There were no instructions, however, on the allowable quantity of luggage, on the living conditions that waited them, or on means of support. Because of this fact, an evident confusion was observed in the concerns of the internees, and in particular, in their numerous returns to the city in order to satisfy their needs with objects taken from their previous homes. These returns, based on authorizations originating from the Military Commander of the Ghetto, continued until September bringing with them a procession of transactions and uses of valuables by the interned Jews who were already enlightened of their situation and the fate that was being prepared for them. (The statements of Int.Cpt. Roescu and Dr. Voina Potcoava). The latter, in his capacity as Director of the Inventory Service of the Town Hall of Metropolitan Chisinau, made a report to the Mayor on September 6, 1941, indicating that "the Commander of the local Ghetto allows Jews to come to the city, accompanied by soldiers, to take household objects which used to belong to them. Some of these take objects which were already inventoried while others extract household items from hidden places and take them away", and insisting in conclusion that an intervention be made to stop this behavior.

In conclusion, the Ghetto of Chisinau was established four days after the entry of Romanian troops into the city without having, as its basis, precise orders and instructions which allowed the commission of various abuses and infractions.

Translator's Notes:

12. From personal experiences and observations, I can add some comments on this initial period.  The city burned f or some days before its fall, with severe battles in its vicinity.  Many Jews who tried to escape the f ires were' caught and killed by the advancing fascist armies.  The f irst soldiers who came into the courtyard of our home were German officers.  They swore at us as "dirty Jews" but, in every case, they behaved individually in a disciplined manner.  On our tortured way into the Ghetto, I witnessed robberies of homes by local Christian inhabitants, for example the sacking of my uncle's home, Dr. Vladimir Cervinschi, located one short block from our house.  Also, and including the f irst days in the Ghetto, it was individual and small groups of Romanian soldiers who killed, robbed and raped Jewish people.

13. Self serving explanations and rationalizations of fascist antisemitism are not new and do not deserve refuting arguments.  A few relevant things, however, might be of interest based on personal knowledge.

Until that time, Kishinev had been a ,Jewish city" for almost a century, with a Jewish population of approximately sixty percent.  As such, the community covered a large spectrum of views, including young communist elements as well as middle and upper class people who lived through the 1930s in constant fear of a Soviet occupation of Bessarabia.

When it finally happened, peacefully in June 1940, sorae of these left for Romania with the retreating troops.  However, during the first half of 1940, Romania began to turn fascist and this caused about 10,000 Romanian Jews to move to Kishinev to live under the Soviet regime, within the three days after June 28, 1940, which were available for such moves.  The majority of the Jewish population, as well as others, suffered during the Stalinist period.  Many, regarded by the Soviets as "potential enemies of the people", were arrested and forcibly 'moved east, in a major operation during the night of June 13, 1941, only two weeks before the German invasion.

When the war started and the Russians began to withdraw, many Jews also succeeded in evacuating eastward.  The Russians started to burn the city systematically a couple of days before its occupation, the beginning of their "scorched earth policy" which was followed in all areas which they evacuated throughout the war.  The above antisemitic "reasons" against the Jews of Bessarabia, did not prevent the fascist Antonescu regime to carry out, starting on June 29, 1941, an organized murder of about 12,000 Romanian Jews, at the very beginning of the war, just west of Bessarabia in the Romanian city of Iasi.

Quoting from the Memoirs of Rabbi Alexandre Saf ran, the Chief Rabbi of Romania during 1940-1947:

    "When the Romanian troops entered Bessarabia in July 1941. they massacred the Jewish population with unbelievable ferocity.  The cruelty with which the Bessarabian Jewish population had been treated by the Romanians surpassed even the cruel treatment to which Bucovinean Jewry had been subjected by the same Romanians.  The antipathy, hostility and prejudices of the Romanians toward the Jews of Bessarabia had erupted in the immediate post-World War I years and were sustained by the government, press and public opinion. which considered Bessarabiati Jews, especially the'littelligentsia and students, Communists and Russian sympathizers.  It therefore did not lake much for the Romanians to work up a rage against the Jews.' (Saf ran, 1987, p.78)

Jewish victims seem to be always given multiple and contradictory reasons for their murder and persecution.  I clearly remember two German soldiers coming into our crowded courtyard in the Ghetto one day.  Impressed by the poor living conditions, one told me that "you are suffering because you are rich Jews; back in Germany, working Jews are treated very well".

14. One may wonder where exactly is Transnistria.  Searching a world atlas will not help.  A better source is Julius S. Fisher's book.  The introduction to the book is succinct and illuminating:

    'Transnistria was a geographic freak.  A short-lived province carved out of the Ukraine, it was decreed into existence by the Romanian dictator Ion Anionescu at the beginning of the German-Russian war in the summer of 1941.  It comprised the territory between the Dniestr (Nistru) and the Bug in the southernmost corner of the Ukraine.  The province's total life span encompassed two years and seven months - from August 19, 1941, after the Russians had evacuated it until March 20, 1944. when the Red Army reconquered it.

    Today it is an historic shadow, having vanished without a trace.  But in Jewish history it is inscribed in blood and tears; it will never be forgotten.  Transitistria spells horror - horror that defies description; scenes of cannibalism in which one group of men torture. rob and destroy their helpless victims in cold blood.  Transnistria symbolizes genocide.

    The extermination of a race or group of men. was the mission of the Germans under Hitler and the Nazi movement.  They pre-planned their procedure. blueprinted the strategy, set up edifices and facilities for mass murder.  Their large chemical plants prepared, after careful tests, the fastest-k,-'lling poisons.. their extermination experts (Adolf Eichmann, Dieter Wisliceny. Kurt Becher. etc.) were sent from countr), to country to handle the 'job'.  In their infernal work the Na,-ris remained true to themselves - thorough, systematic, diabolical.

    The Rumanian genocide was of a different character.  Ion Anionescu, the dictator, was 'a lunatic, like Mussolini and Hitler. but without the leadership qualities of the first and the iron will of the second.' In vain he sought the support of the Rumanian political parties. He stood alone.  Behind his grandiloquent statements and declarations there was no real power or organization.  He issued the decrees for the deportation of the Jews without establishing any plan for the conduct of the mass departure.  In the ensuing confusion and chaos all the demons of the netherworld were set loose.  Ever), governor. prefect, clerk, every military and municipal officer could act according to his will or whim.  And they did - with unimaginable cruelty, greed and sadism.

    In grotesque imitation of their German counterparts they beat and clubbed their Victims, caused them to suffocate in locked cattle wagons. and starved or worked them to death.  But the Rumanians added some brutalities of their own: the marching in severest winter of men who were stripped naked or wrapped in paper; the mass rape of daughters and wives of their victims; and as a grim climax, the burning alive of 20.000 Jews in Odessa.

    Transnistria became the cemetery for more than 200.000 Jews.  Their story is little known, even to students of this period of history.  This book attempts to present some details of this immense tragedy - some of the details,. others are lost forever.  The entire story will never be known.' (Fisher, 1969, pp.9-10)

After escaping from the Ghetto and after our arrest in Bucharest (see note #25), my parents were deported to Transnistria in April 1942 to the camp of Dumanovca in the department of Golta in eastern Transnistria.  They were very lucky to miss not only the death march to Transnistria, which all my family missed by escaping from the Ghetto in October 1941, but also the terrible murders committed in Golta a very short time earlier.  Although killings, hard labor and starvation continued, they were less massive than in December 1941.  Let me quote again from Julius S. Fisher's book:

'The department of Golta was assigned as the site for their concentration. [Fisher discusses here the fate of the local Russian Jews of the Ukraine; they were joined in Golta by the Jews of Bessarabia and Bucovina who survived the death march.] In Bogdanovca, there were concentrated 48.000 Ukrainian Jews.. in Dumanovca, 18,000; and in Acmecetca, 4.000.

The prefect of this department was Col.  Modest Isopescu [in the war crime trials in 1945 he was 'credited' with the destruction of about 70,000 Jews in a most horrible manner, see (Fisher, 1969, p.153)], a sadistic monster, whose aide, Aristide Padure, was worthy of him.  These beasts with human faces, as their indictment calls them. decided to exterminate all the internees. 

    'In Bogdanovca, 48.000 men were massacred in the days preceding Christmas[1941].

    On December 21, early in the morning. they took out of the lager the invalid, the sick. and those of the women who. after weeks of starvation, were unable to march.  They were herded into stables which were flooded with kerosene and set afire.

    In these buildings, 4.500-5.000 people were burned alive.  The remaining 43,000 persons were sent to a nearby woods and while the buildings and the victims were still burning. the vast majority of men realized that this was their death-march -The scenes ghat developed were terrible - mothers lifted their children heavenward, beseeching God for mercy,. other parents, on the contrary encouraged their children to face death with firmness and calm ...

    Arriving in the desert first they were robbed of all.  Then they were ordered to undress, whereafter groups of 300-400 were formed and murdered with grenades. Thus it went on until Christmas.  On December 24th the massacre was suspended. that same day Isopescu came and took pictures of the scene.  On December 28-29, the bloody work was continued and finished.

    Two hundred robust men were left alive to burn the corpses.  This job took two motzths; at the end of it. 150 of them were executed.' (---, The Trial..., 1946, pp.298+)

In destroying 48,000 men in four 'days.  Isopescu set a record unrivalled not only by Ohlendorf, Kube and other S.S. leaders, but even by the German death factories of Maidanek or Auschwitz.

This monster cannot be accused of lack of ingenuity.  In the extermination of the other lagers he used different methods. 

    'At Dtimanovca. there were 18,000 Jews concentrated.  In order to prolong their sufferin,-s he ordered that at the interval of 3-4 days groups of 300-400 should be killed.  Thus the process of extermination was dragged through the months of January and Februar),.

    ... at Acmeceica the 4,000 people were exterminated by hunger.  This lager was located in a kolhoz far away from any human settlement.  Isopescu isolated it perfectly and prohibited the shipping there of any food.  After days of starvation the entirely exhausted inmates were given raw potatoes.  Whereafter raw maizeflour was distributed among them.  The hunger-crazed inmates devoured whatever they were -iven, with the result that their bellies puffed up and they died amidst terrible pains. (---, The Trial.... 1946,pp.298+)

This lager with its starving and desperate population was often visited by Isopescu.  This sadist and drunkard wotild watch his i,ictims; he enjoyed their agony. took pictures of their tortured writhing and sent them to the Bucharest papers. (---, The Trial..., 1946, pp. 298+)'  (Fisher, 1969, pp.122-123)

While interned in the camp of Dumanovca, my father was able to visit Acmecetca at the beginning of August 1942.  He wrote about his experience in 1944 (see Appendix 4).

A recent excellent book on "The Ghettoes of Transnistria" is by Dr.Avigdor Shachan (Shachan, 1988).

15. While it is not the intention of these notes to document additionally, in any detail, the suffering of the Jews in those tragic days, it seems instructive to contrast the "simple" story of this paragraph with the more complete description from Julius S. Fisher's book of what happened just after the entrance of the Germans and Romanians into Bessarabia:  

    'On July 8 [1941] the [Romanian] Gendarmerie Inspector of Bessarabia ordered all rural Jews of that province segregated. [As Fisher's note points out, this was in 'Circular order . No.l. The f irst order (No.1) issued af ter the occupation of Bessarabia!  In the turmoil of the newly-launched war, this was their great problem!'] Sixteen days later 25.000 Jews from North Bessarabia were transferred at the town of Coslar into Transnistria.' (Fisher, 1969, p.45)

    'In these early days of the war Transnistria was occupied by the Germans, so that the Atiachi side of the bridge [this is a bridge over the Nistru; in the Report the city is spelled 'Atachi'] was guarded by the Rumanians and the other side by the Germans.  After the Germans had permitted the entry of 25.000 exiles at the town of Coslar on July 24 they abruptly changed their policies.  They decided to halt the influx of Jews and to eject those already admitted - a decision that spelled untold suffering for these 25,000 exiles.  For four days after their entry they drifted aimlessly around.  The only food they received was some kind of maize unsuitable for human nourishment.  Then the Germans transferred them, in groups of 400-500 to former collective farms.  On August 2, they were brought back to the city of Moghilev.  Within these few days 4.000 of them perished of hunger, exposure and the bullets of their guards.  From Moghilev they were marched to the town of Scazinetz.  There in good Nazi fashion the Germans selected about 1.000 old or infirm Jews, promising to send them to sanatoria and thereupon murdered the lot of them.  On August 5, the remaining contingent was driven to Allachi from whence 3,000 of them were to be marched back to Bessarabia.  On August 7, an addition 4,500 were to return to Bessarabia.  But the Rumanians had closed their side of the bridge.

    Now a cruel game started between the Germans and Rumanians.  The Germans marched the exhausted Jews to another bridge at the town of Jampol [spelled Iampol in the Report]. The Rumanians rushed troops there to block the re-entry of the Jews.  The real sufferers in this game. of course. were the miserable Jews who. forced for weeks without food to wander from place to place, perished by the thousands.

    Finally the Rumanians yielded.  Opt August 11. the Head Pretor's Office decreed that the Jews would have to be readmitted to Bessarabia.  In behavior that typified the lack of discipline and order in Rumania, the police refused to obey the decree, the Head Pretor had to repeal his instructions with the recrimination that 'it is deplorable that the Commander of the police does ?tot understand his mission (duty).'

    Thus after weeks of enforced marching. inhuman exertions, privation and degradation, 13,500 of the unfortunates returned to Bessarabia and were interned in the lager of the town of Vertujeni.  Soroca Department.  The missing 11.500 Jews had died in Transnistria.' (Fisher, 1969, pp.46-47)

Source: Memories of The Holocaust: Kishinev (Chisinau) 1941-1944