The Nizkor Project

50 Years of Silence

History and Voices
of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria

The Giant Forgotten Cemetery

Transnistria was a geographic freak, but a historic reality. The name was coined by the Fascists to designate a territory of about 16,000 square miles, designated for the annihilation of Jews deported from Romania. It was an area situated in south-western Ukraine, between the River Dniester to the west, the River Bug to the east, the Black Sea to the south, and a line beyond the city of Moghilev - Podolsky to the north. In Romanian the river is called Nistru. TRANS-NISTRIA meant "beyond the River Dniester". The name Transnistria was decreed into existence by the Romanian dictator, Marshal Ion Antonescu, in the summer of 1941. Territorially, Transnistria was the largest killing field in the Holocaust. Many authors refer to it as "The Romanian Auschwitz". The name of that territory was in existence until the spring of 1944, when the Soviet Army re-conquered southern Ukraine.

The Setting

The territory consisted of about 132 Ukrainian towns and villages the names of which appear on maps. Hundreds of hamlets and settlements were too small to be noted on maps. However, all of them became concentration, transit, labour or annihilation camps. Furthermore, a camp could have been designated as a labour or death camp at one point in time, and at other times it could have been a transit or concentration camp.

Some of those who reached the crossing points were simply herded into the river and machine- gunned. The majority were transported across the Dniester on bridges, over-crowded barges or rafts. Romanian gendarmes supervised the crossing of the Dniester, while German officers stood around taking photographs.

"The directives concerning the implementation of the deportation operations were drawn up by General Topor in accordance with secret verbal instructions from Antonescu. They were transmitted to commanders -- usually officers of the Gendarmerie (Romanian: consemn special) in charge of the Jewish convoys. The general staff of the Romanian army was ordered 'to shoot the Jews who are not able to keep up with the pace of the convoys either due to weakness or sickness'. The directives also contained a provisions whereby, two days prior to the departure of each convoy, gendarmes were to be dispatched ahead, and, with the aid of local residents, they would prepare 'one pit for roughly 100 dead every ten kilometres. Those executed for lagging behind the convoy could be buried there.'

The deportations commenced on September 16, 1941, and proceeded, more or less to Antonescu's satisfaction, with the exception of acts of looting and rape by the soldiers, and attacks by Romanian peasants on Jews in the convoys. Antonescu prohibited looting, since he considered Jewish property as 'state property' - (Romanian: averea statului). In Bessarabia, local residents used to 'buy' a live Jew from the gendarmes for 2,000 lei (Romanian currency) in order to get his clothes after the soldiers shot him."<20>

Once on the east side of the river, in Transnistria, soldiers herded the victim -- men, women, children, the elderly, sick, crippled, and mentally handicapped -- along the muddy dirt roads. They were aimlessly driven from village to village, often back to the previous village, and then back to the one they had been before. One by one, people who could not keep up with these death marches, known as convoys, were shot or beaten to death. Many bodies were thrown into ditches or mass graves, or simply left on the roads for the wild animals.

Many deportees died of exhaustion, cold, hunger and illnesses before they reached the camps. In the camps, rampant epidemics of dysentery killed thousands. Many found shelter in animal barns, horse stalls, sheds and shacks, where they lived in the most crowded and dirty conditions. People moved about covered with rags and newspapers, having exchanged their clothes for food. Some were almost naked and bare-foot in frosts of 40 degrees below zero.

Thousands were taken into fields and forests, ordered to dig enormous mass graves, and shot. Those who dumped the bodies into the graves were shot after their job was done; they were barely covered with dirt. At times the earth would move from people who were buried while still alive. The following numbers of Jews murdered by shooting speak for themselves "In Domanovka --18,000; in Bogdanovka -- 48,000; in Acmechetka -- 5,000; in Vertujeni -- 23,000; in Odessa -- 25,000; in Dalnik --16,000."<21> Thousands more were shot along the River Bug.

The Ukrainian Jews

Before the war, about 300,000 Ukrainian Jews lived in the area called Transnistria. They were scattered throughout the territory. Their standard of living was rather primitive compared to the living conditions of the deportees from Romania. Many of the local Jews had been mobilized into the Soviet army, and many men unfit for the army, as well as women, children and elderly were murdered before the Romanian deportees arrived. As of the fall of 1941, Romanian deportees were dumped into their settlements, and terrible overcrowding ensued. Due to the lice infestation, lack of food, lack of clean water and medical assistance, the local Jews were exposed to all the diseases and epidemics that befell the deportees. Most of them attempted to help the unfortunate deportees with whatever means they had. Eventually, 132,000 to 150,000 of the local Jews also perished.

Today, the area which was called Transnistria is strewn with mass graves, along country roads and ditches, forests, fields, and anti-tank trenches. They are the final resting place where the heinous crimes of the German, Romanian, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian murderers are concealed. Not a monument, or any kind of marker alerts a visitor to the gruesome crimes covered under the lush orchards, thick grain- fields and beautifully landscaped parks.


"Until December 1941, the Romanian Command Headquarters was in Tiraspol, then, it was moved to Odessa. The Governor of Transnistria was Professor Gheorghe Alexianu. The area was divided into thirteen regions: Moghilev- Podolsk, Tulcin, Jugastru, Balta, Rimnita, Golta, Dubasari, Ananiev, Tiraspol, Berezovca, Odessa, Oceacov, and Ovidiopol. Alexianu organized a veritable Council of Ministers, consisting of nineteen departments, in charge of different activities: Transport, Agriculture, Finance, Industry, Education, Health, Labour, and others.

The Romanian Gendarmerie was in charge of enforcing law and order in Transnistria. In almost every urban and rural community, there was a post of gendarmes under the command of an officer. All the posts from an area reported to the district command post headed by a Captain. The affairs of many cities were in the hands of a Mayor. The Headquarters of the Gendarmerie was in Odessa under the command of General E. Brosteanu, and later, General N. Iliescu.

The Germans insisted that the tender in Transnistria be a special German mark, 'Reichskreditkassenschein' (RKKS), which they had introduced in all their occupied territories. The exchange rate was sixty lei (Romanian currency) to one mark; or ten rubles (Russian currency) to one mark."22

Presently, fifty six years after the end of the war, Romania continues to deny its role in the tragedy of Transnistria, however, we acquired Romanian postage stamps (printed bellow) which attest to the truth.

October 23 - 25, 1941

The mass murders in Odessa and the surrounding areas constitute one of the most tragic calamities in Transnistria.

"After a two month siege, on October 16 [1941], Romanian and German forces had occupied Odessa. Six days later, at 5:35 in the afternoon, an explosion blew up the Romanian Command Headquarters in the city. Many soldiers, seventeen Romanian and four German officers were killed, including General Glogojeanu, the head of the Romanian Occupation Command. It was highly likely that since this building had previously been occupied by the NKVD<23>, it had been booby-trapped before they withdrew. However, the Romanian administration did not investigate the cause of the explosion. Instead, they blamed it on the Jews and the Communists. Antonescu, ordered that for every soldier who was killed, 100 Jews had to be executed, and for every officer, 300 Jews!

'I have taken steps, telegraphed Glogojeanu's deputy, General Trestoreanu, to hang Jews and Communists in the Odessa squares.' By noon of the following day, on October 23, as the reprisals gathered momentum, 5,000 civilians had been seized and shot, most of them from the 80,000 Jews who had been unable to flee before the city was surrounded in August.

That same morning, October 23, 19,000 Jews were assembled into a square near the port, which was surrounded by a wooden fence; they were sprayed with gasoline and burned alive. In the afternoon, the Gendarmerie and the Police rounded up over 20,000 persons in the streets-most of them Jews-and squeezed them into the municipal gaol (jail). The next day, October 24, they removed 16,000 Jews from the gaol and led them out of the city in long convoys. They were marched in the direction of Dalnik, a nearby village.

When the first Jews reached Dalnik, they were bound to one another's arms in groups of between forty and fifty, thrown into an anti- tank ditch and shot dead. When this method proved too slow, they were pressed into four large warehouses, which had holes in the walls. Machine gun nozzles were pushed into the holes, and in this manner, mass murder was committed in one warehouse after the other.

For fear that someone might escape, three of the warehouses, which were filled mainly with women and children were set on fire. Those who were not killed by the flames sought to escape through the holes in the roof, or through the windows; these were met with hand grenades or machine-gun fire. Many women went mad and threw their children out of the windows. The fourth warehouse, which was filled with men, was shelled in the afternoon of October 25, at 5:35, exactly three days after the bombing of command headquarters"<24>.

The soldiers who carried out the murders were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel N. Deleanu and Lieutenant Colonel C. D. Nicolescu. Some German soldiers also took part in the shooting. Others took notes of the crimes they witnessed to report them to their superiors.


"Some 130,000 Jewish deportees from Romania, not counting the local Jews who had survived the first wave of mass murder, had been concentrated until December 1941 in northern and central Transnistria.

Why was there a decision to cleanse southern Transnistria of Jews? The answer to this question lay hidden in Romanian archives that had been transferred to the Soviet Union, and have only recently become accessible to researchers. The documents reveal that late in 1941, the typhus epidemic among the deportees reached its peak, and it began to affect the Ukrainians. At least 50,000 Jews died from typhus during the harsh winter of 1941 - 1942; weakened by hunger, cold, lack of sanitation and brutal treatment, their bodies proved no match for the raging epidemic. The epidemic also posed a serious threat to the German and Romanian troops, as well as to the inhabitants of the areas south of Transnistria, including a large concentration of ethnic Germans who were not under Romanian jurisdiction"<25>.

In an attempt to avoid the spread of the epidemic, "Ion Antonescu ordered the army and the Transnistria authorities to concentrate tens of thousands of Jews on the banks of the Bug River."<26>

"The Nazi allies also evinced interest in the fate of the 70,000 Jews stranded on the banks of the Bug. They were put in cow sheds, pigsties, chicken coops, dilapidated storehouses, or in the fields without undergoing any registration, without food and water, in the harshest winter on record in the twentieth century"<27>.

"The number of 70,000 Jews, which was quoted during Antonescu's trial, is corroborated for the first time in these documents, as is the fact that the decision to execute and burn such a large number of Jews was indeed taken by the Romanians. However, some details of the murder operations and incineration of the bodies were known before the discovery of the archives."<28>

During the period of 1942 to 1944 the Germans decided to build the 'Durchgangstrasse IV' [Highway IV] between Poland and southern Ukraine. This highway was needed for military as well as economic purposes. The technical supervision of this project was provided by the German Todt Company. The recruitment of the manpower was the responsibility of the SS, aided by the Ukrainian militia and regiments of Lithuanian volunteers. Labour camps surrounded by barbed wire were set up about ten to fifteen kilometres apart along the length of the road. The camps were guarded by armed sentries standing at every few meters; camp commanders were always members of the German police.

"At the beginning the workforce was recruited from among the local Ukrainian Jews and Soviet prisoners of war. In the summer of 1942, due to the extremely difficult living conditions in these camps, a large number of the local Jews had perished. This prompted the SS to cross over to the Romanian side of Transnistria, west of the River Bug, to recruit additional manpower. On August 18, 1942, about 3,000 Jewish deportees were 'recruited' in this manner and transported across the river. Most deportees in this group were originally from Cernovitz. They had been living in concentration and labour camps in the Transnistrian region of Tulcin [Toolchin].

The organization of these labour camps was identical to that in the large extermination camps in Poland. Before the work groups were organized, children under fifteen, adults over fifty and the sick were 'selected' and 'eliminated'. There was a roll call every morning and every evening; the prisoners were then lined up in a formation of five in each row and escorted by a sentry to labour sites at a distance of six to ten kilometres apart. Each group was expected to meet a quota. There were selections of those unfit to work. They were periodically murdered. There was also beating, shooting and hanging of the victims. Terrified of these selections, people who became ill did everything possible to hide their wounds, fever, and illnesses. No medical assistance was available.

All 'labourers' were forced to wear the yellow Star of David on their chest and on the back of their rags. A Jewish kapo (chief) was selected for each group. Sleeping facilities consisted of tiers of wooden bunks. They got up at 4:00 a. m. winter and summer. Men and women worked side-by-side, some at breaking rocks, others at building the highway. They were guarded by Ukrainians and Lithuanians. The Lithuanian guards were more cruel than any of the others. They immediately shot anyone showing any sign of fatigue. Those who had the misfortune of having a gold crown in their teeth were shot. The gold was then pried out of the mouths of the dying with a sharp chisel or another tool. Sometimes gold crowns would be pried out from the living.

Work stopped at dusk. Those too tired to keep up with the tempo of the march back to camp were shot on the spot, and their bodies left in the ditches at the side of the road.

The food consisted of warm water in the morning, and a soup made from cattle fodder or a mixture of barley grains at lunch or in the evening. In addition, the labourers received 215 grams of bread per day (about one-third of a loaf). The bread ration was distributed every ten days. Since people had no other food, the whole ration was usually eaten up in two or three days.

Many died from the hard labour, disease, starvation, and exposure. In spring of 1944, from thousands of labourers working on the highway only about 150 remained alive. These were executed by the Germans before they retreated.

Another project of the Todt Company in Transnistria was the building of a bridge from Trihati to Nicolaev, across the River Bug. The work was contracted out to the German companies: Krupp-Brickenbau, Beton und Munierbau-Geselschaft, Luig, and others.

This project started in the spring and was finished in December 1943. The labour force consisted of Jewish deportees taken from various camps in Transnistria. On this project, several thousand workers perished under the same conditions as those working on the highway.

On March 14, 1944, the Soviets re-conquered Nicolaev. The Germans began to liquidate the remaining workforce, but the arrival of a Romanian patrol staved off the massacre of 370 Jews at the last minute"<29>.


The order to execute the Jews and thereupon to burn their bodies had been issued by the Governor of Golta, M. Isopescu, through a special S.S.I. envoy, who was 'authorized to carry out secret missions dealing with national defence and security in the territory of Transnistria.

The Bogdanovka camp consisted of forty cowsheds, the former property of the local sovkhoz (state farm), scattered over one square kilometre. Some 48,000 Jews, most of them from Odessa, and about 7,000 from southern Bessarabia, were packed into this area. Another 18,000 Jews who had been brought from three different districts in southern Transnistria, together with another small group from southern Bessarabia, were herded into the Domanovca camp. About 4,000 sick, elderly and women, described by the gendarmes as unfit for any forced labour, were incarcerated in the Acmechetca camp located on the outskirts of the village, half way between the other two camps. This camp consisted of four pigsties and a long storehouse, which served as living quarters for children who had been separated from their parents. The order to begin executions was transmitted verbally to the Prefect of Golta, who in turn passed it down to his deputy, A. Padure. The murders were carried out jointly by the Romanian gendarmes, the Ukrainian auxiliaries, and a number of local volunteers. The operation was under the command of a Ukrainian-born Romanian called Kazachievichi. The killings began on the morning of December 21 [1941], the last day of Hanukkah. Some 4,000 Jews-sick, invalids and orphans-were packed into two cow sheds and then burned alive. The method was the same as in Odessa: straw was thrown inside, all openings were barricaded, the building was doused with gasoline and set on fire. The remaining Jews were lined up in rows (three to four hundred at a time), marched to the woods, ordered to undress at the edge of a ravine by the River Bug, and shot in the head. Now and then, grenades were lobbed into the ravine to finish off those who might still be alive. The massacre went on until the evening hours of December 24. On Christmas Eve, Prefect Isopescu went on a sleigh ride in the camp area and along the ravine. He was accompanied by friends and relatives from Bucharest, whom he had invited for a visit. The massacre stopped only to enable the troops to celebrate Christmas.

The executions resumed on December 28 and were completed, with considerable effort, on December 31, just in time for the Sylvester [New Year's] parties...

The crimes committed by the Romanians on the banks of the River Bug at Bogdanovca surpassed even the savagery of the massacre carried out by the Germans at Babi Yar. The burning of bodies extended into the spring. After the thaw, the acrid smell coming from the site indicated that the burning was continuing.

After the liquidation of the camp at Bogdanovca, the same team liquidated the camp at Domanovka. At Acmechetca, there was no need to shoot anyone. The camp was fenced off with barbed wire, and the Jewish prisoners were left to die of hunger. Prefect Isopescu was fond of visiting every few days to see what was happening; he even took photographs of the dying Jews"<30>.

*   *   *

It is beyond the scope of this book to describe the individual camps in Transnistria. However, while life in all the camps was deplorable, there were some, like the above-mentioned three, and a few more which deserve a special mention because of their unique, barbaric character.

"In Peciora [Pechiora] people were randomly killed without any mercy. Sometimes, the deportees were locked in the camp and left to die of starvation, a 'natural death'. The sick, the handicapped, the mentally disturbed, the elderly, women, children -- all those incapable of labour from other camps were gathered here. Naked, unable to stand upright, they crawled on the ground and ate the grass from around their huts. In a short period of time, every blade of grass and every shred of tree bark in the camp disappeared. The situation became so desperate that there was even an incident of cannibalism."<31>

Mostovoi and Slivina were two disciplinarian camps, established by the Governor of Transnistria for people accused of sabotage, Communism, Zionism, and other "political crimes." The area around Mostovoi was populated by many Volksdeutsche. At the beginning of 1942, about 20,000 Jews from Odessa were murdered in Mostovoi. Thousands more were murdered in other camps in the surrounding area. Slivina also served as a source of manpower for the Germans. Deportees were terrorized by the fear of being recruited to these projects, since most never returned.

Vapniarka was an extermination camp until September of 1942. Over 2,000 deportees perished there from typhus, hunger, and bullets. In September 1942, Vapniarka became a "political" camp, responsible directly to the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Romania. Five to ten percent of the detainees were not Jewish. The inmates, accused of Communist, Socialist or Zionist activities were brought from different prisons in Romania and south- western Ukraine. They were fed cattle fodder for a lengthy period of time, although it was known to cause paralysis in humans.

In spite of the prevailing chaos and disorganization, the persecution and extermination of the targeted Jewish population was executed with cruel determination.

By May of 1942, two thirds of the Transnistria Jews were dead.

[ Index ]

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.