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The Holocaust in Romania and Transnistria

Romanian Jewish conscripts forced into labour camps

Today I received an email from a friend in Romania telling me about a commemoration  of the Holocaust in that country. I was pleasantly surprised. Half an hour later another friend, also from Romania, advised me of the same event and this confirmation prompted me to write  this article.

The event was called “The National Commemoration Day of the Holocaust” held  on Oct. 9. I am not sure if this has been done before, but the title implies an annual event. I am getting on in age and this is another reason I am reminding people of this little  known tragedy.

Among vicious pogroms and slave labour camps in Romania, the Fascist Government,  under the leadership of Marshal Ion Antonescu, also resorted to deportations in order to make  Romania “judenfrei” (free of Jews). Before W II Romania was home to about 800,000 Jews;  about half of them were murdered during the Holocaust. Today, there are about 600 elderly  Jews living there and they are getting on in age too.

In 1940, Nazi Germany conquered Ukraine and put a large territory in the South West of it  under Romanian administration.  This piece of land was about 16,000 square miles, about  as large as Nova Scotia.  That is where all the Jews from Bucovina and  Bessarabia, provinces of Romania, have been deported in cattle cars to “an unknown  destination”.

My family lived in Bucovina in the resort town of Vatra-Dornei.  Seventy five years ago in October, we were deported, I was 10 years old and that is  when the nightmare of my life began.  We arrived in Transnistria after a terrible journey in  cattle cars and a vicious death march of three days, where those who could not maintain the  required pace by the Romanian soldiers were simply shot and stripped naked by local peasants.    

This was a piece of land between the Rivers Dniester and Bug and the name Transnistria  (across the Dniester) was coined by the Fascists and existed only from October 1940 to April  1945. Transnistria was a geographic freak, but a historic reality, therefore, it is still called “The  Forgotten Cemetery of the Holocaust.”

If anyone would like to find its map on Google he/she  has to search it under “Transnistria during WWII.” To complicate matters, since 1991, there is a  much smaller piece of land in the South of Moldavia, which is now called Transnistria and the  former province of Bessarabia is now the country of Moldavia.

In Transnistria, many cities, towns and thousands of villages, hamlets and collective farms  became labour, concentration,  transit or death camps, where the deportees were dumped on  top of the Ukrainian local Jews and terrible overcrowding prevailed. One third of the deportees  perished from starvation, freezing, typhoid fever, infections, lack of medication, exhaustion  from slave labour and being herded from one village to the next and back again, from living  in terrible squalor and from mass shootings.


Thirty six members of my family remained in the many mass graves of Transnistria.  After  the war these graves were hidden by building  parks, parking lots, wheat fields and apartment  buildings on top of them.  Shortly after the war, the survivors of that tragedy settled in Israel, Canada, United States,  Venezuela and other countries. Romania officially denied its murderous treatment of its Jews for a long time, then it  became a controversial issue and it seems that now it has finally been recognized.  Now the Holocaust is discussed at Romanian conferences, publications  and even some exhibits  are available to the public in different localities .

In October this year, a delegation of Romanian Jewish Community travelled  through many cities and towns in Bucovina to place memorial plaques  and visit Jewish  cemeteries and synagogues although many are dilapidated.  These leaders are still  actively trying to maintain the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, deniers of the Holocaust by some of the older generation of Romanians, living in Romania and abroad, still exists. Geographically Transnistria was the largest killing field in the Holocaust. Its soil is drenched with Jewish blood and forever imprinted in the memories of those who survived

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