The Nizkor Project

50 Years of Silence

History and Voices
of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria

Personal Testimony:
Samoil Rosu

Samoil was born in 1914, in the city of Iasi, in the beautiful Romanian province of Moldova. He was born into an upper middle class family.

His father, Zaida Rosu [Roshoo}, fought in the Romanian army during World War I, and was decorated for his service. He worked as a wholesale distributor of ropes. Zaida was a pillar of the community, a great philanthropist, well respected by Jews and non-Jews alike. He was the first Romanian Jew to whom The Chamber of Commerce Award was conferred.

Samoil's mother, Bertha, used to work with his father in the business. Samoil had three sisters, listed here by their married names: Renee Kupferberg, Ernestine Rothenberg and Malvine Secter.

Samoil and his wife Adela emigrated to Canada in 1951. They came to love their adoptive country.

Having survived the ordeal of the Iasi Death Train, Samoil Rosu dictated his memoirs to his sister, Mrs. Tina Rothenberg. After his passing, the manuscript was kept in the family personal files, until Dr. Berenice Secter Mandelcorn, Mr. Rosu's niece, released it for publication in this book.

He who closes his ear to the cry of the poor,
Will himself cry out and not be heard.
Proverbs 21:13

The Iasi Death Train
June, 1941

By Samoil Rosu

I had a very happy childhood. I would often spend my free time at my father's business. Early on, I became familiar with both the religious and cultural aspects of Judaism, since my family was steeped in Jewish tradition and learning. Nevertheless, I had both Jewish and non-Jewish friends.

I was proud to be a Romanian citizen. As an adolescent, at the age of nineteen, motivated by strong patriotic feelings, I voluntarily enlisted in the Air Force. Upon finishing my military service, I worked as a salesman in my father's business. In this role, I travelled extensively in order to contact customers and collect payments. During those travels, I learned disturbing news about the persecution and killing of Jews in German-occupied Poland. However, like the Jews in other European countries, we thought that such terrible things would not happen to us.

At that time, our life in Iasi was still peaceful. We would socialize and party with friends and neighbours, without ever suspecting that many of them would soon turn on us with a vengeance. When that time came, it was impossible to know whom one could trust and who would eventually betray us. For many years, the Bulinaru family had been our good neighbours from across the street. Their two sons were close to my age. The older one, Fanake, had moved to Bucharest, where he became a ferocious anti-Semite; the younger one, Mishu, remained my friend for the rest of my life.

On June 22, 1941, Romania joined in the German attack on the Soviet Union. For Jews, uncertainty, anxiety and rumours began poisoning the fresh summer breeze. That week, we heard that Jews had been killed in an area of the city called Tatarashi. That same week, a group of Romanian and German soldiers came to our street, dragged Jewish men out of their homes, and loaded them into trucks. Nobody would tell them where they would be taken, or for what purpose. Panicky wives and children ran after the trucks, pleading with the soldiers: "Please don't kill them! Please don't kill them!"

On Sunday morning, I heard the authorities cautioning citizens to stay off the streets. Since I had never been afraid to walk the streets of my native city, I disregarded the warning. I intended to pay a visit to my hospitalised cousin and cheer her up with some fresh cherries. Little did I know that I would never get there, nor that this walk was to change my entire life. On my way home, I was stopped by Romanian soldiers, who took me to a city square, where a large group of Jews had already been gathered. The soldiers ordered us to put our hands up and march to the Police Station located about a mile away. Marching with our hands up was exhausting. The courtyard of the Police Station was overflowing with scared and confused Jews, brought from all areas of the city. In the afternoon, the soldiers started shooting over our heads. Expecting the worst, we fell to the ground. We did not dare move until about eight in the evening, when the soldiers ordered us to get up and march to the train station. Upon arrival, they ordered us to lie down on the pavement. We remained there until dark, when a long German cattle train arrived, and we were ordered to get up. When the huge doors were pushed open, the soldiers forced us into the train. There were at least 120 people in my car; we were packed like sardines. At dawn, the doors were closed and the train left the station.

It was a torrid late June. The air inside our car got hotter and hotter. We felt as if we were standing in a stuffy steam bath; many of us were close to fainting. The train was moving at a very slow pace, back and forth, back and forth, without a destination, but following a diabolical plan --to suffocate us. The few of us who were able to survive found out later that, in order to further intensify the heat in the cars, the soldiers had placed charges of carbide underneath them. The trickle of air coming in through the little grill in the wall did not make much of a difference; the heat became unbearable. Four hours into this tragic trip, I was climbing on top of a meter-high pile of suffocating moaning people: "water, water, water!" After many more hours spent in this burning hell, we reached the town of Targu Frumos.

During my first night in the train, I had met the pharmacist, Tica, a friend of my brother-in- law. G-d bless him, Tica taught me how to survive the terrible thirst. "Drink your own water," he said, meaning my urine. The thought of doing that was so repulsive to me that initially I rejected it. However, Tica insisted until I gave in. I will never forget that terrible salty-peppery taste. Miraculously, both of us survived.

While the train stopped in Targu Frumos, we waited a long time for the car doors to be opened. We hoped that those of us who were still alive would be given some food and water. However, when the doors finally opened, we were met by German soldiers carrying machine guns. I told myself that this was the end of us... Suddenly, several trucks pulled up and soldiers started to drag the bodies out of the cars and load them onto the trucks. No sooner were the trucks filled with the dead and dying, when empty trucks replaced them. The stench was asphyxiating, as the heat facilitated the decaying of the bodies. To protect themselves from the foul smell, the supervising officers had stuffed cotton in their nostrils. Eventually, the soldiers informed us that the bodies were to be taken to a mass grave that had been prepared in advance.

[The following information was obtained by the author during an interview with Mr. I. Iancu of Toronto. It was included bellow, since his eyewitness account pertains to the subject matter of Mr. Rosu's testimony].

"I was born in Podul Iloaiei, a village adjoining the city of Iasi. At the time when the Death Train was passing through the area, a number of young Jewish men from Iasi and the surrounding areas had been "mobilized for labour." The soldiers would grab the men from the street or from their houses. I was among those "mobilized." They ordered us to dress in obsolete army uniforms, loaded us onto a truck, drove us to the outskirts of Targu Frumos, and ordered us to dig a huge deep hole in the ground. Anxious about my fate, my nine-month pregnant wife had boarded the truck, and stood by as we were digging. When the hole was about nine feet deep, the soldiers ordered us onto the truck and drove us back to the train station. Before we left, I lowered my wife into the hole, to hide her from the soldiers.

At the station, we were ordered to pull out bodies from the train and load them onto the truck. Often we would recognize some partly decayed bodies of family members, neighbours, or friends, but there was no time to fall into despair. The soldiers ordered us to work fast. They had stuffed cotton in their nostrils because of the horrific stench. Once the truck was filled up, they drove us back and ordered us to unload the bodies and stack them into the hole. Only then did we realize that we had dug a huge mass grave. Naturally, as soon as I jumped off the truck, I looked for my wife. I found her lying at the bottom of the grave, covered in blood. At first I thought she had been beaten up; then, I realized that she had given birth to our first child! I jumped into the grave, gave her a hug, and pulled myself back up to continue unloading the bodies. When our task was finished, I bribed one of the soldiers to drive my family back to Iasi. Under the care of an experienced midwife, both mother and child survived. That baby is now a fifty-eight-year-old man, living in Toronto, Canada".

Once the bodies had been disposed of, the train left Targu Frumos, and continued its journey at a crawling pace, back and forth, dragging its unfortunate cargo for yet another day. People kept on dying... Finally, the train stopped, lo and behold, in... Targu Frumos! It was raining. We were quite ecstatic when the soldiers ordered us out of the cars. The feel of the raindrops on my skin was incredibly soothing. As I jumped out of the car, I stumbled into a puddle of muddy water. I threw myself at it, filled my palms with the brown water, and gulped it down. Over and over again, I swallowed the dirty water, until I realized that the grit was sticking in my throat. I imagine that the others were equally as eager to get a "drink," but I was oblivious to everything around me.

After a while, the soldiers lined us up in a column and herded us away through the rain. We were too exhausted to even wonder about our destination. On the way, a group from our convoy was separated and taken away, never to be seen again. The rest of us were marched downtown and pushed into a synagogue. We stayed there for the entire night, numb beyond any feeling.

The next morning, they marched us back to the train station. On the way, I saw a man named Botez, whom I knew from Iasi. As a police officer, he was dressed in a fashionable white jacket. I thought for a moment that he might help me out of my misery. I was just about to approach him, when Botez drew his gun and started shooting at our beleaguered people. I quickly reconsidered my plan, as I understood that he was now in the enemy camp. When we reached the train station, I saw another cattle train waiting for us. This one was a Romanian train, a much shorter one. After all, there weren't many of us left alive! We were ordered to board the train, but the step was so high I did not have the strength to pull myself up. One of the gendarmes stuck his bayonet in my back, thus "helping me up." Soon there were bodies lying on the floor of our car again; however, the air was less stuffy since there were only forty of us left.

We had departed from Iasi on a Sunday. By Tuesday, several hours after our second departure from Targu Frumos, the soldiers opened the car and, finally, pushed in a pail of water. The men went berserk over it. They threw themselves at the bucket, and, in no time, the precious liquid was spilled all over the floor. At that point, I realized that if anybody was to survive, some leadership and discipline needed to be enforced. I took my belt out and held it up in a threatening gesture, while explaining the need for some restraint and control. Many of those people knew and respected my family, so they allowed me to take control of the group. The next time we were given water, I called the men to the pail one by one. Later that day, we were given some burning hot black bread baked from some unidentifiable flour. When the loaves cooled, I divided them into small pieces and distributed them into the trembling, outstretched hands. I must have made a mistake in counting, for in the end, there was nothing left for me.

Our train ride continued, until we reached the little town of Pascani [Pashcani], where the train stopped for the night. The soldiers took turns guarding us. One of them looked somewhat friendly; and I started a conversation with him through the small grill in the wall. G-d bless him. Eventually, he gave me a piece of bread from his own rations.

Early the next day, we moved on with our aimless, absurd journey. By the next stop, a tiny train station, all of us were sick. I peeked out through the grill and noticed a little boy standing on the platform, offering a bottle of brandy for sale. I instantly thought of its medicinal value for those who were sick. Since the door was closed, the only way to get the bottle into the car was through the grill. But the space between the bars was too narrow. Finally, I summoned all the strength I had left and succeeded in bending some of the bars and pulling the bottle through. I administered the brandy, drop by drop, to all those in need. I truly think that drink saved some lives.

At the next stop, a Romanian general was waiting for us on the platform. He comforted us: "From here, you are going to the nearby city of Roman and everything will be all right." His words gave us some hope; after all, who would not trust the word of a general? By then, all of us were infested with lice sucking whatever blood we had left.

Upon our arrival in Roman, we were once again kept locked in the train for a very long time. When the doors finally opened, the soldiers ordered us to get out and march to a nearby field. There, they ordered us to strip off our ripped clothes and hand them in to be disinfected. I was left wearing only my shoes. Once again, I thought that this was the end of us. However, to my surprise, the soldiers had arranged with the local Jewish community to have some clothing brought to us. We had to slowly parade our nakedness in front of the men and women who brought the clothes; our humiliation did not matter to anyone. We were no longer perceived as people but rather as inanimate objects. Even talking among ourselves was forbidden. Eventually, I got a clean shirt... At night, we were herded back aboard the train.

After three more days of torturous travelling, during which more people had died, we arrived in the city of Calarasi [Calarashi] in southern Romania. We were ordered to disembark and march to an empty shed; the soldiers pushed us in for our overnight lodging. The next day, we were taken to a little synagogue. Being inside a house of prayer gave us, at last, a semblance of comfort. Some of us found room to sleep curled up on the floor; others slept in the yard. Almost everybody was covered with furuncles, a common effect of malnutrition. Furuncles oozing with puss covered every part of our anguished bodies. The suppurating boils were extremely painful; the dirt we were covered with increased the risk of infection.

In the synagogue, I got in touch with several people from the local Jewish community. Upon hearing of our ordeal, they brought us some food, which our shrunken stomachs would not take. They also provided us with vinegar and petroleum, which we mixed together to produce a tincture we used to rid ourselves of lice. It worked, but wherever we put it on, the mixture burnt off the skin. I was in agonizing pain both from the furuncles and from the patches of burnt skin. Luckily, we had limitless water, which I poured all over my body, by day and by night. That was the only way to sooth the burning.

Eventually, we were allowed to visit the Jewish community offices where some of the men received clean clothes. It took several days for my wounds to start healing, and for my stomach to re-learn the processing of food. Only then was able to walk on my own again, and I too visited the Jewish community offices. In retrospect, I find it unbelievable that human beings are able to actually overcome such anguish!

In Calarasi, we had hardly anything to do but to sit and wait. There were no soldiers on guard so we were allowed to walk around freely. What a treat!!! One day, we discovered a concentration camp located in a decrepit area of the city. We walked around it, looking for friends or relatives who might have been interned there. Before long, I recognized a friend of our family. He was sitting in a corner, in a section designated for the terminally ill. His eyes had a blank stare. He was covered with hundreds of flies. He recognized me, but was unable to move. Very slowly, he raised his fingers to his mouth as if to send me a kiss. Two days later, I found out that he had died.

Finally, we were given the necessary documents, as well as train tickets which allowed us to return to Iasi. Our three months of horror had finally ended.

Unbeknownst to us, while we were on the train, a terrible pogrom had taken place in Iasi. Thus, some survivors of the Death Train learned that their families had been killed during the pogrom. Luckily, my family was still alive due to the courage of one of our Gentile neighbours, a judge. When the soldiers came looking for my family, the judge offered them glass after glass of wine, until they forgot what they had come for and left in a drunken stupor.

The pogrom (June 29-July 6, 1941) and the Death Trains brought the number of Jewish victims in Iasi to about 12,000.

In 1943, I was introduced to, and subsequently married Adela Yankovici. She was a lovely young lady, with a special talent for a variety of crafts. Adela was to bring much joy into my life.

Once the war was over, having realized that the country of my birth, which I had served so proudly and patriotically, had betrayed my trust, we decided to emigrate. Leaving the country legally was impossible at that time. In 1948, we risked our lives by travelling illegally from Romania to Hungary. The fact that I spoke Hungarian fluently, helped us to pass as Hungarians. From there, we travelled to Germany where we lived for about one year. However, this was not the place where we wanted to settle, especially in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Eventually, we applied to emigrate to Canada and our application was approved.

Upon our arrival in Canada in 1951, we settled in Chibougamou, Quebec, where I rediscovered my early business training and opened up a department store. Our life had finally become tranquil and pleasant. We grew to love our adopted country and longed to see more of it. In the early 1960s, we moved to Vancouver where we lived happily until 1989, when we moved to Toronto to be closer to my sisters and their families. Adela and I never had any children of our own.

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