German Occupation of Bălţi

On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The Romanian army joined in the conquering of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. During the invasion, Bălţi suffered a series of heavy bombardments that caused two-thirds of the tiled-roofed houses to be burned to the ground.

Bălţi in ruins after the German invasion of the town. From an album belonging to a German soldier documenting the invasion of the Soviet Union

Bălţi in ruins after the German invasion of the town. From an album belonging to a German soldier documenting the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Many Jews were killed in the bombings, and others fled en masse from the town towards the surrounding villages, leaving behind the bedbound sick and elderly. The refugees took with them a few possessions, but they were robbed by local farmers and Romanian and German soldiers. These thefts were accompanied by rape and murder. In the villages where they sought shelter, thousands of Jews were killed.

The wagon drivers that were normally downtrodden farmers saw this as the opportunity of a lifetime. They must have thought to themselves, "If the Yids want to run away, let them run, it won't do us any harm to fill our empty pockets with their cash." They hurried their horses along their way, maybe even managing to carry us across the river, unloaded us and then to returned and loaded up with more Jews over and over again… Bălţi was consumed by fire.

Naomi Avi-Yitzhak (Tor-Caspa), Sefer Bălţi, p. 596

On 7 July 1941, gangs of local farmers fell upon the fleeing Jews of Bălţi hiding in the village of Vlad. They robbed, murdered and beat them, chasing them out of the houses in which they had taken refuge. The following day, on 8 July, some Romanian soldiers chanced upon a group of Bălţi refugees, 42 adults and 8 children, on the road between the villages of Taura-Veche and Taura-Nouă. After forcing them to strip naked, they pushed them into a swamp and made them lie face down. The men were shot and the children beaten to death. Two women were spared by German soldiers and taken to a hospital.

On 9 July, Bălţi was conquered by the 11th Division of the German Army commanded by the German general Eugen von Schobert, which established its headquarters in the town. The refugees returned to Bălţi from the surrounding villages by order of the German police. 813 Jews from Bălţi (250 men, 345 women and 218 children) were sent to forced labor at the Giurgiu Camp in southern Romania. The rest of the Jews were gathered in the courtyards of the Moldova Bank and the prison. The following day, on 11 July, the Romanian army ordered 400 Jews from Bălţi to gather together in order to be shot dead. The German commander objected on the grounds that it would do damage to the discipline of his soldiers. Consequently, no more than 50 Jews were shot. On 11 July, the Einzatgruppen D unit began its murderous operations in Bălţi. From the group gathered at the Moldova Bank, 10 Jews were taken out and shot in the courtyard of the town's ancient “Sobor” Church. The excuse for their murders was the false accusation they had shot at German soldiers.

The Germans ordered the establishment of a Jewish committee with 12 members, with Bernard Walter as its head. The committee took care of food and sanitation at the two places where the Jews had been concentrated. They were ordered to provide the Germans with a list of 20 communist Jews to be executed, with the warning that if they did not do so, the Jews would be shot without distinction, including those on the committee. Despite the threat, the committee members refused to give over such a list, and they were arrested. All the while, the Jews in the courtyard of the Moldova Bank were being tortured in front of their families as they were found to be holding valuables. The Germans filmed the event. Afterwards, 44 Jews being held in the bank's basement, including the 12 committee members, were taken away in trucks to beyond the borders of the town.

At about 8 o'clock, the trucks with the Jews arrived at a quarry on the outskirts of the town. The Jews were divided into groups of about 15 people and ordered to dig their own graves. They were provided with shovels brought especially for this purpose. After the pits had been dug, each group was ordered to lie face down, and each person received a bullet to the head from a soldier. Some died instantly; others had to beg their murderers for a second bullet to end their misery. The dead were covered with earth by the groups not yet killed. The final group was buried and covered with earth by the murderers.

Testimony of Bernard Walter, Sefer Bălţi, p. 603

Bernard Walter, the head of the Jewish committee, was the only survivor of the murder due to the intervention of Romanian officials and the Romanian police chief Agape.

On 15 July, the Germans killed a further 20 Jews in the courtyard of the church, once again on the false pretence that they had killed German soldiers.

Photo Gallery