"The Death Trap" – Transnistria

Transnistria was conquered by the Germans and Romanians in the summer of 1941. Before the war, some 300,000 Jews lived in the region. Tens of thousands were murdered by the Einsatzgruppen D, commanded by Otto Ohlendorf, as well as by German and Romanian soldiers. After the occupation, Transnistria became a concentration point for Jews from Bessarabia and Bukovina deported there at the command of Ion Antonescu. The few survivors of the mass murders in Bessarabia and northern Bukovina were mostly deported and concentrated in ghettos and camps in northern and central Transnistria. They were forbidden to travel or choose where to live, and were sent to forced labor.

We came to Obodovka… there we met Levis Zania and his wife, and many people from Kishinyevski Street, the wife of the lawyer Lifshitz, Mordechai Fod, Yasha Tzirlonik, Shimon Galanter and others… they "welcomed " us and pushed us into a stable instead of the animals where we suffered from the terrible cold… to this hell the wretched and miserable of Giurgiu, Romania, also arrived, among them Bori Feldman and his family, Lyoba and her sister… many of those in the stable died… life in Transnistria was a hell of  torment and suffering.

Goldiak Wolf, Sefer Bălţi, p. 605

In her memoirs, Bella (Maims) Rot, born in Bălţi, describes Yom Kippur in the Scazinets Camp in Transnistria:

Throughout the camp, the silence of a graveyard and a stifling feeling prevailed… in the building were distorted people, some of them completely naked, some covered with rags… we entered the long, clean hall in which the stench of death also lingered… in the depths of the hall stood a holy ark made of four planks of wood… we sat down among the worshippers… women, men and older children, some of them so bloated we could not recognize them, almost dying… all shaking from cold and sickness… one of the women wished us all a chatima tova and announced that everybody was fasting that day. Suddenly, a tall desiccated male figure appeared, with the face of a skeleton. It was the shaliach tzibbur, the rabbi. The entire congregation gathered there prayed and cried with him.

Bella (Maims) Rot, Sefer Bălţi, pp. 609-610

The deportees organized themselves and tried to help each other survive. Their resources were few, and help from the Autonomous Refugee Aid Committee was delayed. At the beginning of January 1943, the first mission of the aid committee arrived in Transnistria, headed by Fred Shraga. The mission put together a report on the severe conditions of the Jews in Transnistria, and sent it to Jewish institutions in the US to recruit help.

In Dubina, the Jews were put into a large barn with broken doors and windows. They pushed 400 people into this room meant for animals. By the end, only 40 people remained alive. Every day they died like flies, from disease, hunger and cold. Romanian soldiers prevented them from going out to look for food.

Chana Luketsher Wroshavskia, Sefer Bălţi, p. 607

Towards the end of 1943, help began to arrive from the JDC, the Rescue Committee of the Jewish Agency in Turkey, the World Jewish Congress and "OSE." In April 1943, Antonescu agreed to return 5,000 orphans and other Jews that had been deported "by accident" to Romania, but the action was never carried out. In March 1944 the Red Army began to liberate Transnistria, and some 2,500 Jews were allowed to return to Romania.

In 1945-1946 most of the survivors were allowed to return to Romania.