The Nizkor Project

50 Years of Silence

History and Voices
of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria

The Unknown Killing Fields of Transnistria

The following is a discussion of some of the contributing factors of the historical gap leading to the conflicting and confusing perception of the Holocaust in Romania in general, and that of Transnistria, in particular. Why has there been so little discussion about those chapters of the Holocaust, when about half a million people perished there?

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The history of the Holocaust in Romania is generally not well known because the unfolding of events and the fate of its Jews varied depending on the geographic areas where they lived, the frequent shifting of borders, the fact that Transnistria was not a part of the territory of Romainia, but only under its administration, changing political circumstances, and erratic government policies.

Due to the fact that northern Bucovina and Bessarabia were ceded to the Soviet Union in 1940-1941, the fate of the Jewry from these areas is sometimes described in Holocaust literature pertaining to the Jews of the Soviet Union. Similarly, the fate of Jewry from northern Transylvania is sometimes found under the history of Hungary. These shifts in territories and in boundaries obscure the picture of the historic events in Romania.

The fate of the local Ukrainian Jews in the territory of Transnistria is also obscured in historical writings since after the war this territory was a part of the Soviet Union, as it was before the war, and if at all mentioned in Holocaust literature, it would not be listed as Transnistria.

Another aspect of history, which further camouflages the tragedy of the Holocaust in Romania, is the fact that at the time when the tide of the war changed, Antonescu realized that he allied Romania with the losing partner in the war. In order to protect his "reputation" he allowed himself to be swayed and to stop further deportations of the Jews to which he had agreed in 1942. By so doing, he saved half of the Jewish population from destruction. Although it was in his own best interest to disengage from Nazi Germany, this dichotomy in Antonescu's approach to the Jews has led in the past decade to attempts for his "rehabilitation" in Romania.

The history of the Jews of Romania during the Holocaust is also obscured by the fact that the name "Transnistria" as a geographic entity existed only from the summer of 1941 to the spring of 1944. Therefore, it cannot be found on any pre-World War II or post-World War II maps. It is like a historical phantom. While the names of the larger towns and villages where the drama of Transnistria took place are listed on the maps, readers may not connect them to the name Transnistria.

Furthermore, while the allied forces in Europe documented and publicized their findings after they liberated the camps of Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka, and others, the Red Army, which liberated Transnistria, concealed its findings. The Soviet Union was reluctant to publicize how closely many citizens of its Ukrainian Soviet Republic collaborated with the German Nazis in the destruction of the Jews in Transnistria. Many Ukrainians, having aspired to an independent country, were eager to collaborate with the German Nazis, hoping that a German victory will fulfil their aspirations for independence from the Soviet Union.

In addition, the Soviet Union did not consider Jews to be a national entity, therefore, even the few memorials that do exist on the territory of Transnistria, mention the number of Nazi victims buried there, but do not specify that most of them were Jewish.

Also the survivors of Transnistria did not talk about their tragedy, partly because they were too traumatized by their experiences and partly because, after the war, most people were not receptive to further horror stories. On occasions when survivors of Transnistria did attempt to share their pain and losses, their experiences were trivialized because Transnistria has not been publicly acknowledged for the tragedy it really was.

Many of us who survived the Holocaust in Transnistria returned home to search for scattered family members and what might have been left from our belongings. Then, under the Communist dictatorship, we felt unsafe to talk about Transnistria, since many of government and party leaders were none other than those who had persecuted and deported us in the first place. Talking to them about the crimes in Transnistria may have again put our lives in jeopardy. Furthermore, we continued to be oppressed and persecuted by a different form of anti-Semitism. Since most Jewish people had been part of the middle class, we were harassed and persecuted by the regime by stigmatising us for our "unsuitable family background," and being of "bourgeois origin," meaning unfit for the new Communist society. We felt unwanted, insecure, unsafe and frightened. Consequently, when people did succeed in emigrating, they arrived to the free countries with considerable damaged to their self-esteem caused by the anti-Semitism prior to the deportations, by the trauma and losses experienced in the camps, and by the persecutions of the Communist system.

Those who emigrated to Israel, which created a true safe haven for sixty percent of Holocaust survivors, had to cope with an attitude of humiliation from those who blamed us for "going to our graves without fighting back." The ignorance of people who made such statements only deepened our pain and suffering.

In the Western countries, we found assistance from Jewish institutions and some help from governments. However we also met many people who were unreceptive to our plight, who did not want us here. Some people had no knowledge about the crimes perpetrated in the caps and compared our trauma to their own difficulties during the war, such as having to stand in line for certain food items, rationing, etc.

These are some of the reasons why Transnistria remained "The Forgotten Cemetery."

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