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4. Transit Camps and Ghettos, Deportations, and Other Mass Murders


Moldavia and Walachia

As early as June 21, 1941, Ion Antonescu ordered that all able-bodied eighteen- to sixty-year-old Jewish males in all villages lying between the Siret and the Prut Rivers be removed to the Târgu Jiu camp in Oltenia and to villages surrounding that camp. Their families and all Jews in other Moldavian villages underwent evacuation to the nearest urban districts. In addition to Târgu Jiu, the Ministry of the Interior and certain military garrisons set up camps in Craiova, Caracal, Turnu Severin, and Lugoj. Throughout Moldavia and in much of the rest of the country, hundreds more were interned as hostages against anticipated actions by other Jews. These internments would last only until January 23, 1942, when the policy of taking hostages was abandoned.

In a message sent in July 1941 to the Ministry of Internal Affairs the Iasi prefect, Colonel Dumitru Captaru recounted the concentration of Jews from northern Moldavia in the southern part of Romania: 829 Jews (275 adult men, 377 women, 98 boys, and 79 girls) in twenty-four railway cars (twelve passenger cars for the women and children, twelve freight cars for the men).

On November 12, at Marshal Antonescu ' s request, the Supreme General Staff offered statistics showing that 47,345 Jews were then employed in socially useful or, more precisely, forced labor, the luckier at projects in their own communities, others in external work detachments hundreds of kilometers away. An undated list from the Supreme General Staff shows that these assignments sent more than seventeen thousand Jews to twenty-one districts. Engaged in enterprises such as breaking rocks and repairing roads, these Jews toiled in a state of pronounced exhaustion.

The advantage that Jews in Regat enjoyed over those living in the territories that had been lost to and then regained from the Soviets reflected a distinction the government made between the two categories of Jews. A series of orders in the summer of 1942 sought the elimination of all Jews suspected of Communist sympathies, a purpose explicitly formulated in the July 24 instruction of the Office of the President of the Council of Ministers to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. All Jews who were Communists or Communist sympathizers were to be deported to Transnistria; as a result 1,045 Jews were sent to Transnistria in July. On September 3, the Bucharest Prefecture of Police arrested 395 Jews, many of whom were suspected of being Communists, including three who, in December 1940, had petitioned to go to Soviet-occupied Bessarabia under the exchange of populations arrangement; their petitions had just been unearthed in the archives of what had been the Soviet legation in Bucharest. A mere five days after their arrest, all of them were deported to Transnistria. During their trip their number grew to 578 as more Communists, sympathizers, suspects, and would-be emigrants arrested in provincial towns were boarded onto the trains. Another 407 who had already been interned in Târgu Jiu were likewise packed into the freight cars. Yet a further 554 Jews from still other towns, all suspected of Communist activity but not previously arrested, and 85 others already sentenced and imprisoned soon joined the caravan.

Suspected Communist affiliation was not the only justification for deportations from Regat. On July 11, 1942, the Supreme General Staff ordered evacuation to Transnistria as punishment for violations of the forced labor regime. Thus on September 22, 1942, a new group of 148 Jews and their families were sent to Transnistria following reports by General Cepleanu of their evasion of forced labor. Another group was arrested on October 2, 1942, but these Jews were freed eleven days later and not deported. Non-Jews too suffered torture, beatings, and exhausting labor in the Târgu Jiu camp. The General Staff coordinated and oversaw the forced labor of these other minorities. Just as the Hungarian authorities in northern Transylvania had dragooned Romanians into forced labor gangs, Ion Antonescu ordered able-bodied Magyars to be brought into his own forced labor detachments.

As late as May 13, 1943, a detachment of 250 Jews was sent from Bucharest to perform labor in Balta, Transnistria,23 but this appears to have been the final deportation from Regat.


Bessarabia and Bukovina

The Massacres

On July 25, 1941, Romanian troops led a convoy of 25,000 Romanian Jews beyond the Dniester River to German-occupied Ukraine, apparently in the hope that the Germans would swiftly dispatch them. However, the German military authorities refused the convoy, which had to return to Bessarabia. But even before their return crossing, the Germans did manage to cull about one thousand of the old, sick, and exhausted on the pretext of interning them in a home for the elderly; after the others had moved on, all were murdered and buried in an antitank trench. On August 13, as the original convoy approached the crossing at Iampol, the Germans killed another 150 who had stopped in the woods without permission. The Germans shot eight hundred more on the banks of the Dniester for holding up the operation. Of the 25,000 Bessarabian Jews originally herded beyond the Dniester, only 16,500 returned: more than 8,000 had perished between July 25 and August 17.

These weeks saw a number of comparable episodes. On August 1, Germans stationed in Chisinau rounded up 450 Jews, mostly intellectuals and young women, whom they then took to the suburb of Vistericeni to murder. All but thirty-nine were murdered, and these few were returned to the ghetto. Another massacre took place near the river on August 6, when a Romanian military gendarme battalion shot two hundred Jews and threw their corpses into the Dniester.

A week later the Chisinau police office laconically reported on another incident of this sort.

The Transit Camps

The deportation of Jews from Bessarabia and Bukovina entailed a systematic, wide-ranging process that Marshal Antonescu and his immediate collaborators put in place and that was implemented largely by the Supreme General Staff. While the Antonescu administration pretended that this was an orderly evacuation of a civilian population, it was in fact one of the major atrocious crimes of the Holocaust. But the official version remained the same from beginning to end. A memorandum from the general secretariat of the Council of Ministers on January 24, 1944, for instance, offered the following official justification for the deportations:

The deportations [from Bessarabia and Bukovina] were carried out to satisfy the honor of the Romanian people, which was outraged by (a) the Jewish attitude toward the Romanian army during its retreat from the territories ceded [to the USSR] in June 1940; and (b) the Jewish attitude toward the Romanian population during the occupation. . . .

Deportations of Jews from Moldavia, Walachia, Transylvania, and Banat occurred after Marshal Antonescu ordered [on July 17, 1942] that all Jews who had violated laws and provisions, and others similar infractions would be deported beyond the Bug [River].

The intention to satisfy the honor of the Romanian people was, however, by no stretch of the imagination a determinative factor in actual events. The historical record proves that baser motives were at play: the desire to find scapegoats for Romanian failures; the eagerness for revenge on anyone for Romanian sufferings; the boundless, violent greed of both state and mob; unrestrained sadism; and blind, unquestioning, boundless bigotry . Between the lines even Antonescu hinted that lust for revenge was central, when, for example, he spoke of Jewish agents who exploited the poor until they bled, who engaged in speculation, and who had halted the development of the Romanian nation for centuries; for him, the deportations meant satisfying the ostensible need to get rid of this scourge. On July 8, 1941, the dictator ' s kinsman, Mihai Antonescu, expressed the leadership's intent still more explicitly when he stated his indifference about whether history would consider his regime barbaric, and that this was the most propitious moment to deport the Jews.38

As early as the end of July 1941, the Romanian military began assembling Jews from Bessarabia and Bukovina for deportation across the Dniester River, succeeding in sending across tens of thousands before the Germans became aware of what was going on. However, Romanian soldiers and police soon met resistance from the Germans, who thought their program precipitous. Transit camps would have to be created because the Germans did not want the Jews in what was still a war zone. Raul Hilberg describes the situation:

During the last week of July the Romanians, acting upon local initiative, shoved some 25,000 Jews from northern Bessarabian areas across the Dniester into what was still a German military area and a German sphere of interest. . . . The Eleventh German Army, observing heavy concentrations of Jews on the Bessarabia side, . . . attempted to block any traffic across the river. The order was given to barricade the bridges.

On August 12, German intelligence informed Berlin that Ion Antonescu had ordered the expulsion of sixty thousand Jews from Regat to Bessarabia; assigned to building roads, German intelligence warned that these Jews might actually be slated for deportation across the Dniester. The Germans began to discern the specter of more than half a million Jews driven into the rear of a thinly stretched Einsatzgruppe D, already staggering under the task of murdering the Jews of southern Ukraine with only six hundred men. The German legation in Bucharest made haste to ask Deputy Premier Mihai Antonescu to eliminate the Jews only in a slow and systematic manner. The latter replied that he had already recommended to the marshal that he revoke his order since the Conducator had overestimated the number of Jews capable of work; indeed, police prefects had already been told to stop enactment of the measure.

In Tighina on August 30, 1941, the chief of the German military mission in Romania, Major General Hauffe, and a representative of the Romanian Supreme General Staff, General Tataranu, signed what would be called the Hauffe-Tataranu Convention for Transnistria; this agreement stipulated that Romanian authorities would govern Transnistria, and it gave them jurisdiction over any Jews living there. But the document also stated that deportation beyond the Bug River would no longer be allowed; consequently, Jews would have to be concentrated in labor camps until the completion of military operations could make further evacuation to the east possible.

In outline, two stages of the deportation of Jews from Bessarabia and Bukovina can be distinguished. The first phase occurred during the summer and early fall of 1941, when the Jews living in rural areas were herded into transit camps and urban Jews into ghettos. The second stage took place from September to November, when Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jews were systematically deported to Transnistria to complete implementation of Ion Antonescu ' s orders. These expulsions were accomplished by administrators selected by Mihai Antonescu as the bravest and toughest of the entire police force.

Meanwhile, the internment of Jews in transit camps accelerated. The Jews of Bessarabia and Bukovina were assembled in Secureni, Edineti, Marculesti, Vertujeni, and other, smaller transit camps. To reach these camps, the gendarmerie dragged the Jews in all directions over the Romanian countryside ' s rutted roads, most often without water and food; at least seventeen thousand died in August alone during these forced marches.

According to Hilberg's assessment, more than 27,000 Jews died in July and August 1941 in Bessarabia and Bukovina, in August alone 7,000 in the transit camps and 10,000 in Transnistria.

The quantitative picture is terrible enough, but the testimony of survivors, perpetrators, and witnesses paints an almost surreal canvas that more clearly conveys the horror of the transit camps. The Rautel camp, for example, established in the woods twelve kilometers from Balti on July 17, amassed Jews from the city ghetto into dilapidated cottages and antitank ditches, all surrounded by barbed wire. Between 2,600 and 2,800 competed for the six cottages, which together could hold 100 people at the most; those forced to seek shelter in the ditches covered themselves with makeshift roofs of branches.

The transit camp of Secureni opened at the end of July 1941. Initially, Jews from Hotin District were interned there, as well as some from Noua Sulita and other Bessarabian localities. According to Joe Gherman, the Hotin prefect, eating raw cereal grain caused the death of 30 or 40 percent of the internees during the first several days, though this later decreased to one-tenth of that rate. The Jews in Secureni, however, were generally in a better financial position than those in Edineti, who had come from Cernauti, Storojinet, Noua Sulita, and Radauti, totally destitute after having been plundered during previous transportations across the Dniester River and back again. At Edineti conditions were so atrocious that in October 85 percent of the children perished.


The Ghettos of Chisinau and Cernauti

 The ghetto of Chisinau was the largest in Bessarabia, in operation mainly from July to November 1941, after which time only a few hundred Jews remained. It had been established on July 24 by Order No. 61 of General Voiculescu, the provincial governor, and eventually housed as many as eleven thousand Jews; on August 19, somewhere between 9,984 and 10,578 residents inhabited the ghetto, of whom 2,200 to 2,300 were children and 5,200 to 6,200 were women. Throughout its short existence the ghetto never quite sealed its inmates hermetically from the outside. Some of the guards helped the Jews get food from the outside in return for any valuables the prisoners could offer. Voiculescu worried that the authorities maintained only an illusion of control, and at one point he warned that if measures were not taken to assert control, we will be surprised and overwhelmed by the Jidani, or see them flee. To minimize commerce between the guards and the inmates, he ordered the former to be changed every ten days.

As heartless as his attempts to suppress the black market may seem, Voiculescu nevertheless worried about certain elements of the situation that were detrimental to his inmates. In an August 31 report to the president of the Council of Ministers, for instance, he stated that Chisinau had the capacity to employ only eight hundred Jews to earn their daily bread; indeed, even their semilicit trade with the locals provided sustenance for only a small group. The majority of them had no means whatsoever and had to rely on handouts from an overtaxed ad hoc ghetto committee. Reflecting his own anti-Semitic prejudices and perhaps a cynical understanding of world politics Voiculescu proposed that the government approach the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (H.I.A.S.) in the hope of obtaining aid from the United States.

In the early days of the Chisinau ghetto Jews were permitted to exit with passes from the city ' s military commander, facilitating soldiers and gentile civilians exploitation of their plight.

An SSI report covering the period August 2031, 1941, stated that hygiene in all the camps and ghettos was worsening from day to day because of a lack of soap and underwear, presaging a possible typhoid epidemic. Another report stated that in the Chisinau ghetto with a population base of 5,377 families (as of September), or 11,380 individuals the Jews lacked clothing and bedding, and ten to fifteen were dying every day.

Mandated by Antonescu and the Council of Ministers on December 4, a commission investigating the conditions that produced these statistics determined that 11,525 Jews lived in the ghetto at its peak, 3,000 of whom had been utterly destitute. The commission ' s findings indicated that 441 Jews had died there, 20 of them suicides. Most had died from natural causes, especially the elderly or the very young.

Though deportation of nearly the entire surviving population of the ghetto took place during the fall, some flaw in the system permitted a reprieve for about 150 sick prisoners; others exempted for various reasons totaled fewer than this figure.

The ghetto in Cernauti attained a population of about 55,000 Jews, 30,000 of whom were deported in the fall of 1941 and 5,000 the following summer. Those remaining survived in the ghetto until the end of the war.

The Bukovina administration served under three governors during the war: Colonel Alexandru Rioseanu, who died on August 30, 1941; the aforementioned General Corneliu Calotescu, one of the chief authors of the 1941 and 1942 deportations; and General C. I. Dragalina, who became governor in 1943.

Rioseanu signed Order No. 1344 on July 30, 1941, barring Jews from circulating outside their quarters except during the hours between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (an order by the government of Bukovina changed this permitted span in late 1942 to the period between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.). Rioseanu also signed (on orders from the central authorities) a directive requiring Jews to wear a yellow star. The stars turned into a source of income for the local authorities under Calotescu ' s administration, which issued further regulations governing the Cernauti ghetto on October 11, 1941, placing the Jews under military jurisdiction and establishing penalties ranging from terms in concentration camps to execution for refusing to wear the Star of David or inciting others to do likewise. It is not known if the death penalty actually came into play over this issue, but hundreds of people were certainly sent to the concentration camp at Edineti for having been caught without the star. Several thousand Jews were permitted to remain there subsequently, the only such locale in Bukovina. During the 1944 retreat General Dragalina suspended the requirement of the yellow star for the Jews at Cernauti because he feared the Germans would press for mass executions. If evasion of deportation spelled life for many, circumstances nevertheless remained hard; it is indicative of the struggle that only those holding special permits enjoyed the right to work and that these numbered only one thousand out of the fifteen thousand residing in the ghetto as of 1943-1944.


The Deportations from Bessarabia and Bukovina


Ion Antonescu stated on October 6, 1941, at a meeting of the Council of Ministers, I have decided to evacuate all [of the Jews] forever from these regions. I still have about ten thousand Jews in Bessarabia who will be sent beyond the Dniester within several days and, if circumstances permit, beyond the Urals. The Bessarabian Jews were deported from the Chisinau ghetto, the Vertujeni camp (where the Soroca District Jews were imprisoned), and the Marculesti camp (where the Balti District Jews, previously imprisoned in the Rascani, Limbenii Noi, and Rautel camps, were interned). The Jews from the ghettos of Orhei, Cahul, Ismail, Vâlcov, Chilia Noua, and Bolgrad were also deported.

The Supreme General Staff organized and supervised the expulsions.

General Topor sent the following order to Colonel Meculescu on September 7, 1941:

1. The operation to evacuate the Jews must begin on September 12 with the Vertujeni camp toward Cosauti and Rezina, pursuant to directives from the Chisinau Gendarme Inspectorate.

2. Groups of not more than 1,600, including children, will cross the Dniester at a rate not exceeding 800 per day.

3. Forty to fifty carts should comprise each group....

9. The territorial station gendarmes will help cleanse the land [i.e., of Jews] and bury the dead with the help of locals.

10. The way to handle those who do not submit? ALEXIANU.

11. Do not take the prisoners through customs. Those who loot will be executed.

What was the meaning of ALEXIANU in Topor ' s order? Lieutenant Augustin Rosca, in charge of deporting the Jews interned at Secureni and Edineti, clarified the term when he stated that he had received the following order:

The Jews from the Edineti and Secureni camps will be evacuated beyond the Dniester. [We were ordered to] form groups of one hundred per day, supply them, and request a cart for every one hundred persons, and we [were given] the special task of executing those who could not keep up with the convoy because of weakness or sickness. . . . I was ordered to send two to three days before the departure of the convoys . . . a [blank space in text] which had to be presented to the station chiefs of those localities [on the itinerary] and to request paramilitary personnel and tools (shovels and picks) to dig ditches for about one hundred people at appropriate places, specifically away from the villages so that no one hears the screams and the rifle shots, and not on a hillside so that the water does not wash away the bodies. The ditches must be dug every ten kilometers. . . . For those who could not reach the ditches, the standard code word for on-site execution was ALEXIANU.

The Bessarabian Jews were systematically fleeced and not only by peasants in the villages they crossed, official orders to the contrary notwithstanding. Indeed, it was Governor Voiculescu himself who charged a committee of the National Bank of Romania in Chisinau with confiscating gold and other valuables from the Jews. All furniture from the deportees homes was distributed to local civilian and military officials. According to General Tataranu, a similar committee of the bank in Atachi robbed the Jews, assisted by officers of Police Company 60. As General Tobescu reported on November 20, [when the] deportees arrived at the Dniester, large quantities of luggage remained in the train stations or in the fields. The local authorities ordered the luggage stored in private homes and depots, but the measures taken to guard it were inadequate. We began to inventory [the possessions] today, and we will proceed with their distribution to the army, hospitals, Red Cross, and Patronage Society [i.e., Comisia de Patronaj, a national charity run by Ion Antonescu ' s wife, Maria]. So far the Fourth Territorial Command of Marculesti has taken ten railroad cars [of the Jews property] and the Ministry of National Defense another three.

The deportations to Transnistria signified death for thousands, and the roads leading to the Dniester River were soon littered with corpses. Sometimes the convoy guards executed Jews who wore the best clothes and then sold the corpses to neighboring peasants for their clothes at prices varying between 1,500 and 2,000 lei. The report of the committee set up by Marshal Antonescu to examine irregularities in the Chis?ina¬u ghetto contains details of the instructions to the convoy gendarmes and their manner of fulfilling them. Lieutenant Rosca, for example, carried out the orders in a manner that produced the death of five hundred of the Jews evacuated from Secureni to Cosauti.

A survivor of the last convoy, a member of a group originating from Hotin recalled:

We were told that the sick who could not leave the camp would be executed. It was impossible to describe how people, consumed with typhoid fever, dragged themselves through the mud or mothers carried agonizing babies in their arms. Throughout the journey we learned that the convoy before us had been robbed and partially eliminated by the escort. Our numbers diminished as we were forced, day and night, through hills, valleys, and swamps, under the rain and during the first frost of the fall....

On November 14, Dumitrescu sent to the government of Bessarabia a list of Jews exempted from these deportations. Four days later General Voiculescu proudly reported to the Council of Ministers that the Jewish question has been resolved in Bessarabia.

As a final note concerning the deportations from Bessarabia, it is important to mention that members of other minority religious sects were also persecuted in Bessarabia. Thirty-nine members of the Milenaristi (an Orthodox Christian) sect were confined to Onesti Noi in December 1941. As late as 1943, Jehovah's Witnesses were still interned in that same camp, as were seventy-four Baptists.



On October 9, the Bukovina administration ordered the military authorities of Cernauti to set up strict surveillance on the outskirts of the city to prevent Jews from leaving that municipality.

Deportation of the Jews of Cernauti began on October 13. The homes of the latter had already been looted by the Ukrainian and Romanian residents, as noted in a memorandum of the Siguranta (the Romanian security police). The first train left from the nearby Sadagura camp with four hundred families brought there for that purpose, but the nineteen other trains left directly from Cernauti. Half of the trains left at 9:05 each night for the Marculesti camp; the other half left at 2:05 each afternoon for Atachi. The Jews who had not received permission to remain in Cernauti were removed from the ghetto there (one witness recalled how it smelled of stale sweat, urine, fecal matter, mildew, and dampness due to the shortage of water and the overcrowding). The people who were to be deported were sorted out in groups of two thousand and then driven through mud to the loading docks at the main train station, runs one account:

Forty to fifty were packed in each car at Atachi and Marculesti they crossed the river into the empire of hell. Heartbreaking scenes unfolded at the loading areas and at train departures. Members of families were separated, children leaving, parents staying, or vice versa; brothers losing their sisters, husbands losing their spouses. The air was filled with wails, and this broke the hardest hearts. The separation often was forever, some leaving to suffer and die, others staying to feel pain and endure slavery.

The deportation of the Dorohoi Jews began on November 7 (other sources give the twelfth and the thirteenth), before they had been robbed of their money and jewelry. At that time there were 12,238 deportees, half of whom had been brought from rural districts. A Dorohoi police report of October describes conditions there: Nunhealthy houses; men, women, and children with miserable and inadequate food; watery soup and nothing else. Fifteen to twenty sleep in a single room with no light, naked and in rags.

The Jews of Darabani were deported on the same day. None were allowed to stay, neither the aged, the sick, infants, lunatics, [World War I] heroes, invalids, war widows, reserve officers, physicians, attorneys, pharmacists, nor dentists, in one victim ' s words. The Darabani deportees were robbed again at the train station in that town before embarkation. At the train station . . . they were loaded onto freight cars, piled in by groups of fifty or sixty, and then locked in. Since they had been originally evacuated from their rural homes in June, most of them had only the shirt and torn summer clothes they had then worn; infants and old people overcome by the cold offered a tragic sight that made people cry when they saw them.

The Jews of Saveni and Mihaileni were deported under the same circumstances on November 8. Some twelve hundred other Jews, who had been deported to the southern part of the country for hard labor in the summer of 1941 and then brought back, were also deported from Dorohoi. The deportation of the Jews from Dorohoi ended on November 14, 1941. According to the attorney Musat, sent to Dorohoi by the Union of Romanian Jewish Communities, about 12, Jews had been deported during those few days, leaving only 2,500. Some Jews froze to death on their way to Atachi; those who survived were robbed again.

A new wave of deportations befell the Jewish population of Bukovina in 1942 (many of these victims had been able to remain in their homes in Cernauti as a result of the protection Mayor Popovici had initially been able to secure). During a meeting of the Council of Ministers on May 28, the governor, General Calotescu, announced that he had decided to deport four to five thousand Jews from Cernauti, after having discussed the matter with Governor Alexianu of Transnistria. In June some four thousand were indeed deported, along with several hundred others from Dorohoi. The expulsion was carried out in this fashion: on June 7, Calotescu put his chief of staff, Major Stere Marinescu, in charge of a new round of deportations from Cernauti. It would appear as if this project envisioned the deportation of about four thousand people who had been given permits to remain in the city during the selection in November 1941 by the former mayor, Traian Popovici, who had since fallen out of favor, says Carp. Thousands of Jews were brought to the Macabi sports field, rigorously searched (including body searches of the women), and deported in sealed cars to Transnistria.

It is difficult to arrive at an accurate figure for the number of Jews murdered by the Romanian and German armies in Bessarabia and Bukovina because it is unclear how many were deported from the two provinces between July 1940 and June 1941 by the Soviets and how many of them had withdrawn with the Red Army or with the Soviet civilian authorities. The last Romanian census prior to World War II (1930) gave a figure of 756,930 Jews, at that time the third largest Jewish community in Europe. Of these, 205,958 lived in Bessarabia, 7.2 percent of the regional population; and 107,975 lived in Bukovina, 10.9 percent of that region ' s population. Hence, approximately 315,000 Jews lived in Bessarabia and Bukovina in 1930. According to estimates from the Romanian Central Institute of Statistics, 278,943 Jews were included in the population of the USSR as a result of its occupation of Bessarabia and Bukovina. The difference of 36,000 may reflect the number of Jews who lived in Southern Bukovina (which remained Romanian), as well as certain demographic modifications (e.g., migrations, differences between births and deaths). In Dorohoi District, later incorporated in Bukovina, there still lived fifteen thousand Jews. Tens of thousands of Jews from Bessarabia and Bukovina were killed during July and August 1941; on September 1, 1941, officials counted 126,634 still alive.

According to the estimates of Matatias Carp and Jean Ancel, during July and August 1941, about 150,000 Romanian Jews were killed in Bessarabia, Bukovina, Herta, and Dorohoi.