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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 20Ð31, 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.

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