TRANSNISTRIA


TRANSNISTRIA, geographical designation, referring to the area in the Ukraine situated between the Bug and Dniester rivers. The term is derived from the Romanian name for the Dniester (Nistru) and was coined after the occupation of the area by German and Romanian troops, in World War II. Before the war the area had a population of 3,400,000, but in the course of the occupation it was reduced to 2,250,000, as a result of the mobilization of men and of mass flights.

Jewish Population

Before 1939 the Jewish population was 300,000 according to the statistical data of 1926. According to reports of the Nazi Einsatzkommandos ("action groups") which entered the area in July 1941 in the wake of the occupying troops, two-thirds of the local Jewish population had fled the area. However, there remained local Jews and Jewish refugees, primarily from neighboring *Bessarabia; these refugees had fled previously from the advancing German troops. It must also be assumed that many local Jews were apprehended while escaping and were murdered by German troops or by Einsatzkommandos. In general, Einsatzgruppe "D" under the command of Otto Ohlendorf, was most active in Transnistria. In the north Einsatzkommando "10B," and in the south "11B" were also active. Their reports contain some information on the murder actions committed by the units (e.g., in Yampol, Kokina, Mogilev), but the figures given on the local population are far too low and unrealistic. To illustrate the magnitude of the murder actions perpetrated by the Nazis: in one town alone, *Dubossary, on the east bank of the Dniester, two common graves contained the bodies of 3,500 Jews from Dubossary itself and 7,000 from the vicinity, killed in the town after being rounded up by the Nazis.

Deportations to Transnistria

After its occupation Transnistria became the destination for deported Romanian Jews. At the end of July 1941, 25,000 Jewish survivors from towns in northern Bessarabia were expelled

Camps and ghettos in Transnistria. Based on T. Lavi (ed.), Pinkas ha-Kehillot: Romanyah, vol 1, Jerusalem, 1969. Camps and ghettos in Transnistria. Based on T. Lavi (ed.), Pinkas ha-Kehillot: Romanyah, vol 1, Jerusalem, 1969.

to Transnistria by the Romanians, but they were sent back to Bessarabia by the Germans, after 4,000 refugees were murdered. Other groups sent to Transnistria wandered about the area of Mogilev, Skazinets, and Yampol for about two weeks, before the Romanians agreed to their return. Finally, on August 17–18, another 20,500 were readmitted to Bessarabia; many were shot or thrown into the river, by both German and Romanian troops.

Systematic deportations began in the middle of September. In the course of the next two months, all the surviving Jews of Bessarabia and *Bukovina (except for some 20,000 Jews of *Chernovtsy) and a part of the Jewish population of the *Dorohoi district of Old Romania, were dispatched across the Dniester. This first wave of deportations reached 118,847 by mid-November 1941.

Deportations resumed at the beginning of the summer of 1942, affecting 4,200 Jews from Chernovtsy and 450 from Dorohoi. A third series of deportations from Old Romania came in July 1942 affecting Jews who had evaded the forced labor decrees, as well as their families, Communist sympathizers, and Bessarabian Jews who had been in Old Romania and Transylvania during the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia in June 1940, and had asked to be repatriated to their homes. Of the latter group, 350 Jews were shot to death by *SS troops on their arrival at Berezovka (in Transnistria).

The Communist sympathizers, among them many socialists, were taken to a special concentration camp in Vapnyarka Transnistria. Some individual deportation orders were directed against Jewish merchants and industrialists accused of economic sabotage, bribery, and similar "economic crimes."

The Romanian general staff submitted an additional list of 12,000 Jews who had violated the forced labor laws. In the meantime, however, the Romanian government policy changed and the deportation of this group was not implemented; neither did the Romanian government give its consent to Germany's insistence on the deportation of all Romania's Jews. According to a German source, a total of Romanian archival sources 146,000 Jews were deported to Transnistria. In December 1943 the Romanian Ministry of Interior informed its government that 50,741 deportees had survived.

Ghettos and Expulsions

The status of the Jews in Transnistria was determined by a decree (Nov. 11, 1941) serving to follow up the Tighina Agreement, which expressly referred to the imprisonment of Jews in ghettos. At the end of the month large numbers of Jews were dispatched to the northern part of Transnistria. In the southern part they were put into several large ghettos in the Golta district: 54,000 in Bogdanovka, 12,000 in Domanevka, and 18,000 in Akmechetka. All 48,000 Jews in the Bogdanovka concentration camp were murdered by Ukrainian police and local German members of the SS and Sonderkommando R, on the initiative of Fleischer, the German adviser to the district commander. At first, 5,000 sick and maimed Jews were locked into sheds and burned alive, and in the course of the following two months the remaining inmates of the camps were shot to death and their bodies cremated. In January and February 1942, 18,000 Jews were murdered in the Domanevka 18,000 and Akmechetka. Another 28,000 Jews were murdered by SS troops and local German police in German villages in the Berezovka area. By March 1943, only 485 Jews were still alive in the southern area, between *Odessa and Mogilev; of these 60 were in Odessa itself. When Odessa was taken, by Romanian troops in October 1941, 25,000 Jews were killed on the personal orders of Antonescu after a Russian-made time bomb exploded in a building housing high-ranking Romanian officers. The rest of the Jews of the city were driven out. Members of the local Ukrainian militia participated in the murder though in many cases Ukrainians provided Jews with food and hideouts. The deportees from Bessarabia, Bukovina, and Dorohoi were sent to the northern part of Transnistria. At first they wandered from place to place, as some of the towns refused to accept them. Some groups from southern Bukovina had money and bribed the local authorities for the right to stay (e.g., in Mogilev). In some cases entire communities were expelled as a group together with the community leaders, e.g., the communities of *Radauti and *Suceava; the latter also saved the community's funds with which they managed to obtain better living conditions. In some instances the deportees took it upon themselves to repair local factories in ruins – as in the case of the sugar factory in Vindiceni. In Mogilev, where the local Romanian authorities at first refused a residential permit to the deportees, a group of 500 Jewish deportees successfully undertook repairs of the local electric power station and a local foundry; they established a repair workshop for automobiles, and were generally useful in the rehabilitation of the city. In some of the towns – *Shargorod, Dzhurin, and Mogilev – Jewish committees were set up comprising community leaders from Romania and representatives of the local Jewish population. In other places the Romanians themselves appointed local Jewish committees and forced them to collaborate with the regime. After the war some of the latter committees were brought to trial by both the Russians and the Romanians on charges of harshly dealing with the deportees. On the other hand, others, especially former leaders of their communities, sacrificed themselves for the welfare of the refugees.

In places where the local Jews still survived, the deportees received shelter in homes or in those synagogues which had not been destroyed. Jewish refugees from the Ukraine (who had crossed the Bug River) were hidden by local Jews or by the deportees from Romania. In some cases the local committees provided them with forged identification documents. The first winter (1941–42) was extremely harsh, with temperatures dropping to 40° C below zero. Many died of cold or starved to death. The bodies of the dead accumulated in the cemeteries until the spring, when graves could be dug for them. Various epidemics, such as typhus and dysentery, also claimed tens of thousands of victims. In Dzhurin, Shargorod, and Mogilev the local committees succeeded in organizing the internal life of the refugee communities. In some ghettos the committees established public kitchens, hospitals, orphanages, bakeries, and soap factories, and organized sales cooperatives. All this helped make life more bearable. Post offices were organized by a number of Jewish committees, and a register of deaths and births was kept. Jewish police detachments were formed, but these not infrequently became a tool in the hands of the occupation power, who used them for drafting men and women for forced labor. Improved internal organization controlled epidemics. In the second winter (1942–43) only four out of 25 patients died in an epidemic in the town of Shargorod, as compared to 1,400 the year before. The doctors among the deportees vigorously combated the epidemics, and many died in the execution of their task. In those camps where no internal organization was created, the mortality rate reached almost 100%.

The Jews were completely at the mercy of the local authorities. Their situation was especially grave in the area adjoining the Bug River, as from time to time the Germans crossed the west bank to use Jews for forced labor on the other side of the river. At Pechora, a sign at the camp entrance identified it as a "death camp." There were several German raids from across the Bug, and in the fall of 1942, 1,000 Jews were dragged across the river. In the camp at *Bar, which was over the Bug River and in German occupied territory 12,000 Jews were put to death on Oct. 20, 1942. The people who had been taken to eastern Ukraine for forced labor were put to death as soon as their job was done, while those who were unable to work were instantly murdered. The head of the *Tulchin district was particularly efficient in handing Jews over to the Germans, especially to the Todt Organisation. Tens of thousands were murdered in the second deportation to the German-administered territories beyond the Bug, in such places as *Gaisin, Krasnopolye, and Trihati. In the spring of 1942 the Romanians initiated the deportation of several thousand Jews to the other side of the Bug, in order to dispose of them; this however, did not fit in with *Eichmann's overall plans for the "Final Solution" and he protested to the German Foreign Office; as a result, the Jews were returned to Transnistria where some of them were murdered. The special camp at Vapnyarka for Communist sympathizers fed the prisoners poisoned beans which caused paralysis and death.

Aid Operations

From the very beginning, Jewish leaders and institutions in Bucharest made efforts to provide help to the deportees. In December 1941 the Council of Romanian Jewish Communities received permission from Antonescu to extend aid to the refugees. The special central committee established for this purpose collected money and contributions in kind, and dispatched financial aid, clothing, and medicines to the refugees. Other sources of help were provided by the Joint and the Zionist Organization and by special committees established by natives of the deported communities who were residents of Old Romania.

The central aid committee was finally granted permission in 1943 to send a delegation to visit the area. The papal nuncio, Monsignor Andrea Cassulo, visited Transnistria from April 27 to May 5, 1943, and an International Red Cross mission arrived there in December of that year. Jewish leaders in Bucharest established contact with Jewish organizations abroad, and obtained financial aid for the deportees from the American Jewish *Joint Distribution Committee, the Rescue Committee of the Zionist Organization, the World Jewish Congress, and OSE. In the first two years, 500,000,000 lei were spent in aid to the Jews in Transnistria, of which about 160,000,000 was spent in cash and the rest provided salt, coal, glasspanes, wood, medicines, and equipment for artisans.

In February 1944, as a result of Cassulo's visit, the pope donated 1,300,000 lei to alleviate the conditions of the Jews of Transnistria.

Rescue and Assistance

At the first reports of deportations to Transnistria, W. Fildermann made efforts to stop the deportations and, failing in this, tried to alleviate the refugees' plight. A secret committee was formed in Bucharest, with both Fildermann and Zionist leaders participating. The committee's major purpose was to put a stop to the deportations. In November 1941 it persuaded Antonescu not to deport 20,000 Jews considered essential for the smooth functioning of the city. In the spring of 1942, as a result of German pressure, 4,000 of the remaining Jews of Chernovtsy were also deported. The deportation of the Jews of Southern Transylvania was canceled during the fall of 1942 for reasons yet to be understood; this deportation was intended to be the first stage in the deportation of all the Jews of Romania to the death camps in Poland. One factor was the protests of foreign diplomats, such as the ambassadors of neutral countries and the papal nuncio, and of the representatives of the International Red Cross, leaders of the Romanian Church, the queen mother Helena, and leaders of Romanian political parties. This intervention, along with the turning tide of the war, prompted the Romanian government in November 1942 to enter into negotiations with Jewish leaders in Bucharest on the return of the deportees and the emigration to Palestine of 75,000 survivors.

In March 1943 a selection commission was sent to Transnistria by the Romanian government. In April Antonescu approved the repatriation of 5,000 orphaned children, and of persons who had been "innocently" deported. As early as December 1942 the German Foreign Ministry, the German minister in Bucharest, Manfred von Killinger, and Eichmann's representative, Gustav Richter, protested against any decisions to repatriate Romanian Jews from Transnistria. In March 1943 Eichmann informed *Himmler of the planned emigration of Jewish orphans from Transnistria to Palestine and asked the German Foreign Ministry to prevent it.

In the spring of 1943 Fildermann, who in the meantime had himself been deported to Transnistria, called upon the Romanian government to permit the return of all the deportees. By mid-December 1943 the first group, consisting of 1,500 Jews from Dorohoi were allowed to go back to their homes. Repatriation was stopped at the end of January 1944, but the secret committee persevered and in March a group of 1,846 orphans, out of a total of 4,500, arrived in Jassy. Earlier, in February 1944, the chief rabbi of Palestine, Isaac *Herzog, appealed to the papal nuncio in Istanbul, Monsignor Roncalli (later Pope *John XXIII), to ensure the safety of the Transnistria deportees, now threatened by the withdrawing German armies. Roncalli transmitted this request to Monsignor Cassulo, the nuncio in Bucharest. On March 15, 1944, the Soviet armies crossed the Bug. Within five days they advanced northward up to the Dniester. A Jewish commission from Bucharest had in the meantime arrived in the south and arranged for the repatriation of 2,518 Jews in the towns of *Tiraspol and *Balta to Romania. On their arrival in Romania, 563 deportees from the Vapnyarka camp were seized by the Romanians and sent to the Targu-Jiu concentration camp in the western part of the country. The Transnistria deportations resulted in 88,294 deaths, out of a total of 146,555 persons deported. At least another 175,000 persons among the local Jewish inhabitants of Transnistria also fell victim to the Holocaust.

See also *Romania.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

A. Dallin, Odessa 19411944; a Case Study of Soviet Territory under Foreign Rule (1957), 45–110; M. Carp, Cartea Neagrǎ, 3 (1947); PK Romanyah, 349–86, bibl. 386–8; J.S. Fisher, The Forgotten Cemetery (1970). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Ancel, Transnistria, 19411943: The Romanian Mass Murder Campaigns (2003); R. Ioanid, Holocaust in Romania: The Destruction of Jews and Gypsies under the Antonescu Regime, 19401944 (2000).

[Theodor Lavi]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.