In Transnistria

Transnistria was a Romanian deportation zone for Jews and Gypsies during the war. Thousands died of typhus, inhuman working conditions, of hunger or were shot. My fellow traveler Sylvia was here more than 70 years ago when she was a little girl. Today we explored some places in Transnistria – now part of Podolia in Ukraine.

Our travel route from Vinnytsia took us through Nemiriv this morning, a small place that is known for its vodka distillery. We ask around, finally one shows us the way to the mass grave where the Jews of Nemiriv were shot. The place is idyllically situated at a lake. Everything here looks so peaceful.

Bratslav (Breslov) is the origin of one of the most famous Hasidic dynasties. Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav was a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, and one of the major spiritual Jewish leaders of his time. He died not in Bratslav but in Uman where he was also buried. Nevertheless Bratslav is an important target for Hasidic pilgrims. Thousands visit the town and the Jewish cemetery with its gravestones – dating back to the 18th century – every year, especially those who make a pilgrimage to the grave of rabbi Nathan Sternhartz (Nathan of Breslov), a student of rabbi Nachman. The cemetery is located on the banks of river Bug and offers spectacular views.

We walked along river Bug and visited the synagogue, which has recently been returned to the Jewish community. Over decades it was part of a brewery, soon it will be a synagogue again. At the cemetery we saw a well organised infrastructure for pilgrims. There is a gift shop and we saw Hasidic pilgrims arrive.

Tulchyn was one of the many ghettos in Transnistria set up by the Romanians. In early October 1941, the local Jewish population was concentrated in a poor neighborhood. In 1942 several hundred Jews from Bukovina were sent to the ghetto of Tulchyn, including my friend Sylvia with her mother and her sister.

To Gerhard Schreiber I owe a good description of the central ghetto street of Tulchyn and the adjacent buildings. Many old houses no longer exist, but the two-storey building where the ghetto inmates were forced to work seems still to be there.

After more than 70 years Sylvia was back at the place where she was when she was a little girl. She did not want to stay here over night.

Cariera de Piatra – Romanian for stone quarry – was a Romanian concentration camp near the village of Ladyzhyn, were Jews – mainly from Czernowitz and Dorohoi – were forced to work. Sylvia believes that her mother was a temporarily inmate here. The living conditions in the camp were known as especially brutal and humiliating.

The quarry still exists. We saw a prison, some Soviet tower blocks, and many abandoned buildings. Hard to say what may have been part of the former camp.

Mykhailivka concentration camp is inextricably linked to the fate of the young poetess Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger from Czernowitz. She was 18 years old when she died of typhus in Mykhailivka. Some of her poems have survived and touch people all over the world until today. The painter Arnold Dagani has captured Selma’s death in one of his sketches from the camp.

The camp buildings still exist. They were part of a collective farm before the war and were used by this farm after the war again. Now there are empty and abandoned. The place is creepy. We walked between the ruins and tried to imagine what happened here. We will never know.

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5 thoughts on “In Transnistria

  1. Dear Christian,

    As usual, I read your posts with the uttermost interest, but this time I felt a bit awkward with the usage of the adjective Romanian in several places throughout this article; to my mind it should be the ghettos established by Romanian authorities of the time. Nowadays many ‘Romanians’ are dealing with these issues, at least this is what I like to believe.

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