The Nizkor Project

50 Years of Silence

History and Voices
of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria

The Volksdeutsche

The most loyal support for the extermination of the Jews came from the Nazis mobilized from the ranks of the German colonists in the territory of Transnistria. About 125,000 Volksdeutsche were living in rural communities, mostly in the surroundings of Odessa, the districts of Berezovca and Golta, along the River Bug. Others were located in the regions of Dubasari, Tiraspol, and up to the northern part of Transnistria. In view of the German-Romanian alliance, citizens of German origin enjoyed special privileges both in Romania, as well as in Transnistria, from the very beginning of the war. They received bigger food rations than the rest of the population. Alcohol, cigarettes, matches and salt -- all expensive and hard to obtain commodities -- were easily available to the Volksdeutsche.

In August 1942, an agreement between Alexianu, the Romanian Governor of Transnistria, and Hoffmeyer, a German SS officer, ensured that the 7,500 German colonists in Odessa would receive all the apartments (including their contents) of the Jews who had been killed or deported from that city. The former Yiddish Theatre in Odessa was turned into the German Community Centre.

That same agreement authorized the Volksdeutsche to organize a self-defence army, which grew to 8,000 men. It was set up to supposedly maintain order and fight against the partisans. In reality, it was strictly a military operation serving the goals of the German army and its anti-Jewish agenda. SS members were chosen from its ranks, and the colonists also supplied personnel for transactions, which benefited Nazi Germany economically. By August 1942, twelve large German companies had appointed representatives in Transnistria. They were to transport to Germany local products as well as goods pillaged from living and murdered Jews. The treatment of the Jews by the Volksdeutsche was most savage. Headed by an SS officer, their kommando units participated in the most ferocious massacres.

Their usual "system of operation" was to assemble a group of 25 to 30 Volksdeutsche, armed to the teeth and with large reserves of ammunition. They would travel in two or three horse-drawn wagons to a Jewish camp. Pretending to "play by the rules," they would request that the commander of the Romanian gendarmerie should release a certain number of Jews into their custody. Usually, the commander would put up some resistance, either because he needed the manpower himself, or, on rare occasions, because he had a spark of humanity left, and wanted to protect the Jews. During the ensuing negotiations, the Germans would accuse the Romanians of protecting the Jews. Finally, an agreement would be reached, and a number of Jews, usually smaller than the number initially requested, would be released into their custody. The Jewish victims were then led to the outskirts of the community and shot.

At some point, the Volksdeutsche organized their own "Sonderkommando R" (the R standing for Russia). This unit was responsible for the affairs of the entire Volksdeutsche community in Transnistria. It dealt with matters concerning upgrading the standard of living for their communities and with recruiting men into the SS units. Eventually Hoffmeyer became head of this Sonderkommando unit and he continued his close cooperation with Alexianu.

When the Germans retreated, most of the Volksdeutsche fled to Germany. Hoffmeyer was in charge of their evacuation. In August 1944, when the Romanians joined the Soviet forces, Hoffmeyer was taken prisoner. He committed suicide in the Romanian camp where he had been detained.

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