An artificial geographic term, created in World War II, referring to the part of the Ukraine conquered by German and Romanian troops in the summer of 1941. Before the war, this area had a Jewish population of 300,000. Tens of thousands of Jews were slaughtered by Einsatzgruppe D, and by German and Romanian forces. When Transnistria was occupied, it was used as a concentration point for the Jews of Bessarabia, Bukovina, and northern Moldavia who were expelled on the direct order of Ion Antonescu. The deportations began on September 15, 1941, and continued until the fall of 1942. Most of the Jews who survived the mass killings carried out in Bessarabia and Bukovina were deported to Transnistria by the end of 1941. Also deported to Transnistria were political prisoners and Jews who had evaded the existing regulations on forced labor. The total number of deportees was apparently 150,000, although German sources put the figure at 185,000. On October 13, 1942, the Romanians called a halt to the deportations to Transnistria.
The Murderous Activities of the Romanians
The ghettos and camps in the region were in the hands of the Gendarmerie and the Romanian administrative authorities. In late November 1941, most of the Jews from Bessarabia and Bukovina were herded into ghettos and camps in northern and central Transnistria. Following the Antonescu-ordered murder of the Jews of Odessa, the Romanian occupation authorities deported the survivors to camps in the Golta district: 54,000 to the Bogdanovka camp; 18,000 to the Akhmetchetka camp; and 8,000 to the Domanevka camp. In Bogdanovka, all the Jews were shot to death, with the participation of the Romanian Gendarmerie, the Ukrainian police, and Sonderkommando R, made up of Volksdeutsche. In January and February 1942, 12,000 Ukrainian Jews were murdered in the two other camps. Another 28,000 Jews, mostly from the Ukraine, were killed by the SS and German police, with the help of local Germans, in southern Transnistria. By March 1943, no more than 485 Ukrainian Jews were left in all of southern Transnistria. A total of 185,000 Ukrainian Jews were murdered by Romanian and German army units. The Romanians had no plans for the resettlement of tens of thousands of deportees from Romania, and their sole aim was to drive the Jews further east and north. No provisions were made for the most basic necessities. The winter of 1941-1942 was severe, with tens of thousands of deportees perishing. The deported Romanian Jews organized on their own and tried to establish mutual aid. The situation improved as the winter of 1942-1943 drew near, when the first shipments of aid from the Jewish communities in the Regat and southern Transylvania reached the Jews in Transnistria.
Attempts to Provide Aid to Jews in Transnistria
On December 17, 1941, Wilhelm Filderman obtained Antonescu's consent for aid to be sent to Transnistria, but the authorities placed all sorts of obstacles in the way. Still, the aid played an important role in helping at least some to survive. The determined efforts made by the Jewish organizations, together with the second thoughts that the Romanian leaders were having about their policy, paved the way for representatives of the Comisia Autonoma de Asistenta (Autonomous Committee for Assistance) being permitted to visit the area. Toward the end of 1943, aid for the deported Jews in Transnistria was being sent there by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the rescue committee of the Jewish Agency in Turkey, the World Jewish Congress, and the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE). In February 1943, Pope Pius XII made a nominal contribution to the aid effort. The Consiliul Evreesc (Jewish Council) focused its struggle on the repatriation of the deportees and on the release of some of them to go to Palestine. Also in April 1943, the council, with the help of the Centrala Evreilor (Jewish Center), obtained Antonescu's permission for the return to Romania of 5,000 orphans and other Jews. The 5,000 were not repatriated, owing to German opposition, obstructions put in the way by the governor of Transnistria, and the intervention of the mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini. Filderman was expelled to Transnistria in May 1943, and upon his return to Romania in August, called on the government to enable all the Jews to return to Romania.
The Return of Deportees
Finally, with the Soviet army closing in on Transnistria, permission was given for the Jews to come back, and in mid-December 1943 the first group of 1,500 survivors returned. In March 1944, a group of 1,841 orphans, out of 4,500 still alive at the time, came back. On March 15, the Soviet army launched the liberation of Transnistria. At this point, a Jewish committee from Bucharest succeeded in repatriating another group, consisting of 2,518 deportees. Of the Jews who had been deported to Transnistria - a total of 145,000-150,000 - some 90,000 perished there. Many of the remaining survivors were allowed to return to Romania in 1945 and 1946.