Bălţi Under Romanian Rule

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.

At the end of July 1941, the German units and SS men left Bălţi, leaving the Jews' lives in the hands of the Romanians.

The order to murder some of the Jews of Bessarabia and Bukovina was given by the Romanian leader Ion Antonescu. To carry out the mission he appointed the gendarmerie, under the command of the ministry of the interior, as well as the army civil administration, known as "Pretoria." General Ion Topor, "Supreme Commander of the Pretoria" and commander of the gendarmerie units in the liberated territories, was given clear orders regarding how to treat Jews, communists and Soviet officials found in Romanian territory: send all the pro-communist Romanians and Ukrainians across the Dniester River, and exterminate all the "minoritari" (a colloquial word for Jews) in the same category.

The Romanian policy was carried out in Bălţi by Capitan Ion Gradu, Major Fălescu, military police chief, Dimitrie Agape, head of the police Moria Filipescu and detective agent Vassili Sprinciglo. Gradu brought the Jews of Bălţi to a camp set up in the Răuţel Forest, 12 km from the town. There they were imprisoned in extremely crowded conditions, in dilapidated buildings surrounded by a barbed wire fence and armed soldiers. Disease and hunger rapidly spread, and many died. They were not allowed to buy food from the farmers nearby. The mayor of Bălţi, Judge Artseliano, sent the exiled Jews daily sacks of cornflour, oil and vegetables.

On 6 September 1941, some 9,000 Jews, the last of those from the camps in the Bălţi region, were sent to the Mărculeşti Camp. The prisoners included 2,800 Jews from Bălţi that had been imprisoned at Răuţel. This was a journey by foot of 40 km under careful guard. They were given no food on the journey, and the gendarmes even forbade residents of the villages they passed through to give them water. Their entry into the camp was accompanied by the theft of any property they had on them.

The refugees from the Răuţel Camp came to Mărculeşti … they murdered the rabbi and others on Yom Kippur. In the evening they took out some 1,500 Jews from their homes, brought them to the fields and shot them. Just one, Margolis, fled and survived… after two days they marched more people from the camp towards Râbniţa for forced labor. Some of them died along the way.

Goldiak Wolf, Sefer Bălţi, p. 605

For the few days after the Jews arrived at Mărculeşti until their deportation to Transnistria across the Dniester River, they were put to work at the camp and made to dig up gravestones in the Jewish cemetery to pave a road in the camp. They worked under a torrent of beatings. Many of the Jews died. Young Jewish women were taken by force by Romanian army officers. Those that fought off their rapists were tortured and murdered.

On 10 September, General Topor gave an order that the Jews at Mărculeşti be deported to Transnistria in transports of 1,600 people at a time. On 19 October 1941, Antonescu rejected the request of Wilhelm Filderman, leader of the Romanian Jewish community, to halt the liquidation of Jews in Bessarabia and Bukovina, justifying his decision with their "behavior" during the retreat of Romanian forces in the summer of 1940: "Before the Soviet forces had even arrived, the Jews… from Bessarabia and Bukovina spat on our officers, ripped their shirts, tore off their uniforms and when they could, killed the soldiers with clubs. We have proof." The ruler continued to justify the actions in this manner after he was found guilty of cooperating in the murder of the Jews of Europe in Romanian national trials, never utilizing Nazi antisemitic ideology.

At the end of October, the deportations began. The Jews were sent in two different directions, one via Cosăuţi in the north, and the other via Rezina in the south. No records were made. Before they left the camp, all personal documentation was taken from the Jews and burned to cinders. The convoys were put together arbitrarily, and family members were torn apart. The deportees were robbed by their escorts, as well as by farmers along the entire route. They marched 30 km every day, without rest or water. Many Jews were shot or collapsed along the way. They were counted at the riverbank. Crossing the river was itself a death trap. On the other side stood Transnistrian gendarmes who took out their rage on the wretched Jews.

We walked. We walked for close to three weeks. Some nights we slept under the stars. As the days passed, the escorting guards grew more and more impatient, and began beating us with clubs and even shooting those lagging behind. Those that collapsed were left at the side of the road, and anyone that tried to help them was shot too. Slowly we began to notice what looked like people sleeping in the ditches at the sides of the road. But they were not sleeping – most of them had died and next to them were small packages.

Hadassah Raam, Sefer Bălţi, p. 613

On 10 November 1941, the deportation of Jews brought from Bessarabia to Transnistria came to an end.