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Romanian-administrated territories during World War II

Transnistria, during World War II, was a region of the USSR, occupied by Romania, during the maximum eastward expansion of the Axis Powers, from August 19, 1941 to January 29, 1944. Limited in the west by the Dniester river, in the east by the Southern Bug river, and in the south by the Black Sea, it comprised present-day Transnistria (which compared to the whole was only a small portion along the bank of the Dniester) and territories further east, including the Black Sea port of Odessa, which became the capital of Transnistria during WWII.

In World War II, Romania, persuaded and aided by Nazi Germany, took control of Transnistria for the first time in history. There was never any attempt to formally annex the occupied territory beyond the Dniester (Romanian: Nistru) River: it was generally considered merely a temporary buffer zone between Greater Romania and the Soviet front line. Transnistria had never been considered part of Bessarabia. In August 1941, Adolf Hitler persuaded Ion Antonescu to take control of Transnistria as a substitute for Northern Transylvania, occupied by Horthy's Hungary. Romania did not annex Transnistria; the Nazi-friendly Antonescu government hoped to annex the territory eventually, but developments on the Eastern Front precluded it [1].

Romania controlled (August 19, 1941 – January 29, 1944) the whole "Transnistrian" region between the Dniester and Bug rivers and the Black Sea coast. The region was divided into 13 judeţe (counties).

Romanian opposition parties were against Romanian operations beyond Bessarabia and Bukovina. ([2]) Two preeminent political figures of the day, Iuliu Maniu and Constantin Brătianu declared that "the Romanian people will never consent to the continuation of the struggle beyond our national borders."[1]


Romanian occupation of Transnistria, 1941-1944


Until 26 July 1941, Romanian army had pushed the Soviet Army out of Bessarabia, the territory of Romania occupied by the Soviet Union in June 1940. Nazi Germany wanted Romania as an ally in the war against the Soviet Union. However, Romania was complacent with recovering its own territory. To facilitate the persuasion of the then-dictator of Romania Ion Antonescu, Hitler ordered the German Army to advance into Ukraine from north to south, following a route east of the Southern Bug river, in order to trap Soviet troops between Dniester and the Southern Bug. Antonescu was thus put in the face of a simple task for his army: conquer from the encircled and retreating Red Army troops a precisely delimited area. Antonescu ordered the Romanian Fourth Army to undertake this task.

Romanian stamps from late 1941 dedicated to Transnistria

During the first week of the advance, in mid-August 1941, Romanians took over all of the region, except for a small area around Odessa without a fight. At the time, Romanians had 60,000 soldiers to conquer the city from its 30,000 defenders. However, the organization was so poor, and the command was so superficial, that the attack resulted in a military blunder. Understanding their luck, Soviets stopped evacuating the city by sea and instead sent reinforcements, bolstering the strength of the Soviet forces up to 100,000. Romanians were forced to more-than-double their own numbers as well. Although occasionally on some small portions of front line, low and medium rank Romanian officers showed clear successes, the general organization of the siege was disastrous for the Romanians, and several generals were dismissed afterwards. Eventually, after 2 months of siege, the Romanian army took control of the city at the price of 92,000 casualties. Only in the Battle of Stalingrad were Romanian casualty figures higher, but then Romanians would face a numerically and technically superior enemy. Although the Soviets eventually left the city, the whole operation was a success for the Soviets, as they were able with a smaller force to block a larger force of the enemy and to inflict a great number of casualties. This result was especially important, because the Soviet High Command initially ordered the city abandoned. At the end of the war, Odessa received the title of Hero-city.

Once Romanian troops entered Odessa, they established headquarters of two of their divisions in the local NKVD building. However, the building was mined by the Soviets, who blew it up, killing over 100 members of Romanian divisional headquarters, including almost 50 officers, paralyzing the activity of the two divisions for two weeks. In reprisal, Ion Antonescu ordered the arrest and massacre of civilians suspected of aiding the Red Army. When it became clear that identifying individuals directly responsible for the incident would be almost impossible, Antonescu ordered shooting of Jews. The massacre that followed resulted in 19,000 civilians killed, the majority of whom had nothing to do with the military action. A further number of Odessa Jews were deported to ghettos and concentration camps in the northern half of the region.

Albeit not annexing the region outright, the Romanian Antonescu government organized the territory in the Transnistrian Government (Guvernământul Transnistriei) under Romanian governor, Gheorghe Alexianu [3].

A partisan movement, with a strength of 300, was active in the Odessa catacombs all throughout the occupation. It managed to organize an excellent communication with the partisan headquarters in Moscow. Antonescu was advised to use poisonous gas to clear the catacombs, but afraid of the public implications of such an act decided to abstain from it. Eventually, Romanians were able to inflict a high number of casualties on the partisans with the help of some partisans who switched sides and revealed the movement through the catacombs. Yet, the catacombs were never completely cleared, and the partisans maintained a continuous resistance movement until the return of the Red Army.


In December 1941 Romanian authorities conducted a census in Transnistria, and ethnic structure was following:

Etnicity Number  % Rural Urban
Ukrainians 1.775.273 76,3 79,9 57,4
Romanians 197.685 8,4 9,3 4,4
Russians 150.842 6,5 2,4 27,9
Germans 126.464 5,4 5,9 2,7
Bulgarians 27.638 1,2 1,1 1,4
Jews 21.852 0.9 0.7 2.0
Poles 13.969 0,6 0,3 2,3
Lipovens 968 - - 0,1
Tatars 900 - - 0,1
Others 10.628 0,5 10,2 1,7
Total 2.326.224* 100 1.956.557 369.669

Official languages of administration were Russian and Romanian.


The Romanians divided Transnistria into 13 judeţe (counties) for administrative purposes. These were:

The Romanian administration of Transnistria attempted to stabilise the situation in the region during the occupation. To this end, it opened all churches, previously closed down by the Soviets. In 1942-1943, 2,200 primary schools were organized in the region, including 1,677 Ukrainian, 311 Romanian, 150 Russian, 70 German and 6 Bulgarian. 117 middle and high schools were opened, including 65 middle schools, 29 technical high schools, and 23 theoretical high schools. Theaters were opened in Odessa and Tiraspol, as well as several museums, libraries, and cinemas throughout the region. On 7 December 1941, the University of Odessa was reopened with 6 faculties - medicine, polytechnical, law, sciences, languages and agricultural engineering.[2]

The Holocaust in Transnistria under Romanian occupation

Map of the Holocaust in Ukraine and Romania. Massacres marked with red skulls.

Many Jews were deported to Transnistria from Bessarabia and Bukovina. During the period 1941–1944, 200,000 Roma people and Jews became victims[3] of the Romanian occupation of Transnistria.[4] Not being Romanian territory, Transnistria was used as a killing field for the extermination of Jews. Survivors say that in comparison with the Holocaust of Nazi Germany, where deportations were carefully planned, the Romanian government did not prepare to house thousands of people in Transnistria, where the deportees stayed. The people were instead placed in crude barracks without running water, electricity or latrines. Those who could not walk were simply left to die.[5]

In Odessa, between 80,000 and 90,000 of the city's roughly 180,000 Jews remained at the time the Germans and Romanians captured the city on October 16, 1941. Six days later, a bomb exploded in the Romanian military headquarters in Odessa, prompting a massacre of Jews; many were burned alive. In October and November 1941 alone, Romanian troops in Odessa killed about 30,000 Jews.[6] Transnistria was the site of two concentration camps and several de facto ghettos (which the Romanian wartime government referred to as "colonies"[7]). In addition, most of the remaining Jews in Bessarabia (84,000 of 105,000) and northern Bukovina (36,000 of 60,000) were herded into these as well.[8] The Holocaust Encyclopedia (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) writes that "Among the most notorious of these ghettos… was Bogdanovka, on the west bank of the Bug River… In December 1941, Romanian troops, together with Ukrainian auxiliaries, massacred almost all the Jews in Bogdanovka; shootings continued for more than a week." Similar events occurred at the Domanevka and Akhmetchetkha camps, and (quoting the same source) "typhus-devastated Jews were crowded into the 'colony' in Mohyliv-Podilskyi." Other camps, also with very high death rates, were at Pechora and Vapniarka, the latter reserved for Jewish political prisoners deported from Romania proper.[7] Many Jews died of exposure, starvation, or disease during the deportations to Transnistria or after arrival. Others were murdered by Romanian or German units, either in Transnistria or after being driven across the Bug River into the German-occupied Ukraine. Most of the Jews who were sent to the camps in Transnistria never returned. Those who survived, around 70,000, returned to Romania in 1945 to find that they had lost their houses.[5]

Even for the general population, food in Transnistria was very scarce, through lack of Romanian planning.[5] According to one survivor's account, people would gather outside a slaughterhouse and wait for scraps of meat, skin and bones to be thrown out of the slaughterhouse after the cleaning each morning. He remembers that they were fighting for the bones "just like dogs would" and that people were starving to death.[5] Among the survivors were Liviu Librescu[9] and Norman Manea.

Notes and references

  1. ^ Charles King, The Moldovans: Romania, Russia, and the Politics of Culture, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford, CA, 2000. ISBN 081799792X
  2. ^ (Romanian) Anatol Petrenci, "Basarabia în timpul celui de-al doilea război mondial (1939-1945)", Ed. Prut Internaţional, 2006
  3. ^ Roma Holocaust victims speak out, BBC News, January 23, 2009
  4. ^ (Russian) Юлиус Фишер (Julius Fischer), Транснистрия. Забытое кладбище (Transnistria. Forgotten graveyard), Шоа. Информационно-аналитический портал (Shoa. Information-analysis portal),, 20 November 2005. The Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM, estimates that 150,000 and 250,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews were killed in Transnistria.
  5. ^ a b c d Kathryn Nelson, "The miracle of survival", Minnesota Daily, December 7, 2006.
  6. ^ - Odessa: 1941 - 1944 timeline
  7. ^ a b USHMM
  8. ^ A further 150,000 Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jews retreated (in terrible conditions) from Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina in June-July 1941, before the departure of the Soviet troops. They survived the war, but did so in miserable conditions. 12,000 Jews were also killed in Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina during the military action in June-July 1941, mostly, but not solely, by German Einsatzkommando D units attached to the 11th German Army.
  9. ^ Matti Friedman, Holocaust survivor killed in Va shooting, AP, April 17, 2007

External links

  • Rumania in World War II, 1939-1945, World History at KMLA. Accessed 11 Nov 2007.
  • (Russian) I. Altman Глава 3 Гетто и Лагеря на Территории СССР ("Chapter 3: Ghettoes and Camps on the territory of the USSR") in "Холокост и Еврейское Сопротивление на Оккупированной Территории СССР" ("Holocaust and Jewish Resistance in the Occupied Territory of the USSR"). TOC. Originally on; archived on the Internet Archive 21 October 2004; page is encoded in Win-1251.
  • Romania, Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed online 19 December 2006
  • Alexander Dallin - Odessa, 1941-1944: A Case Study of Soviet Territory Under Foreign Rule
  • Map
  • Igor Niculcea, Rumynskii okkupatsionnyi rezhim v Transnistrii [Romanian occupation of Transnistria], in Записки Iсторичного Факультету, Odessa, Ukraine, 1997, p. 182-187.
  • Igor Casu, Istoriografia şi chestiunea Holocaustului: cazul Republicii Moldova [Historiography and the question of Holocaust: The case of Republic of Moldova] (in Romanian) in Contrafort, Chisinau, 11-12, 2006 and 1, 2007 (
  • Diana Dumitru, The Use and Abuse of the Holocaust: Historiography and Politics in Moldova, Holocaust and Genocide Studies 2008 22(1):49-73.
  • Vladimir Solonari, "Patterns of Violence: Local Population and the Mass Murder of Jews in Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, July-August 1941," in Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 8 (4: 2007), 749-787.
  • Vladimir Solonari,"'Model Province': Explaining the Holocaust of Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jewry," Nationalities Papers, Vol. 34, No. 4, September 2006, pp. 471-500.

See also

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