Transnistria Governorate

This article is about Transnistria during World War II. For other uses, see Transnistria (disambiguation).
Transnistria Governorate
Guvernământul Transnistriei
Governorate of Romania



Capital Odessa
Government Militarycivilian administration
GovernorGheorghe Alexianu
Historical era World War II
  Established 19 August 1941
  Disestablished 29 January 1944
  1941 42,000 km2 (16,216 sq mi)
  1941 2,326,224 
Density 55.4 /km2  (143.4 /sq mi)
Today part of  Moldova (Transnistria)

The Transnistria Governorate (Romanian: Guvernământul Transnistriei) was a Romanian-administered territory, conquered by the Axis Powers from the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa and occupied from 19 August 1941 to 29 January 1944. Limited in the west by the Dniester river (separating it from Bessarabia Governorate) in the east by the Southern Bug river (separating it from the German Reichskommissariat Ukraine), and in the south by the Black Sea, it comprised the present-day region of Transnistria (which compared to the World War II whole is only a small strip along the bank of the Dniester) and territories further east (modern Odessa Oblast eastward of the Dniester and southern Vinnytsia Oblast), including the Black Sea port of Odessa, which became the administrative capital of Transnistria during World War II.

In World War II, Romania, persuaded and aided by Nazi Germany, took control of Transnistria for the first time in history. In August 1941, Adolf Hitler persuaded Ion Antonescu to take control of the territory as a substitute for Northern Transylvania, occupied by Miklós Horthy's Hungary following the Second Vienna Award. Despite the Romanian administration, the Romanian state did not formally incorporate Transnistria into its administrative framework; the Nazi-friendly Antonescu government hoped to annex the territory eventually, but developments on the Eastern Front precluded it.[1]

Romanian conquest of Transnistria

1941 Romanian stamp commemorating the Fall of Odessa and the "Crusade against Bolshevism".

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.

During the first week of the advance, in mid-August 1941, Romanian forces 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 34,000 defenders. However, the organization was so poor, and the command was so superficial, that the attack resulted in a military blunder. Exploiting this success, the Soviets stopped the evacuation of the city by sea and instead sent reinforcements, bolstering the strength of the Soviet forces up to 100,000. The 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 two months of siege, the Romanian army took control of the city at the price of 92,545 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, they were able to block a larger enemy force with a smaller one, and inflict significant casualties on the attackers. 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.

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.

Status with respect to Romania proper

Romanian stamps from late 1941 issued for Transnistria

Albeit not annexing the region outright, the Romanian Antonescu government organized the territory in the Guvernământul Transnistriei under Romanian governor, Gheorghe Alexianu.[1]

The Nazi-allied Antonescu government hoped to annex the territory eventually, but developments on the Eastern Front precluded it.[1]

Romanian opposition parties were against Romanian operations beyond Bessarabia and Bukovina.[1] 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."[2]

Administrative divisions

Administrative map of Romanian controlled Transnistria.
The counties and lower level administrative divisions of Romania, Transnistria included.

The territory was divided into 13 counties (sing. Judeţ). Below these were subdivisions named Municipiu, Oraş and Raion.


Raions and towns


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

Population structure in Romania (Transnistria included) according to the 1941 census.
Ethnicity Number % Rural Urban
Ukrainians/Ruthenians 1,775,273 76.3 79.9 57.4
Romanians(mostly Moldovians) 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


Romanian soldier reading an opera house advert in Odessa, 1942.

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 academic 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.[3]

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 19411944, 200,000 Romani people and Jews became victims[4] of the Romanian occupation of Transnistria.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7] Transnistria was the site of two concentration camps and several de facto ghettos (which the Romanian wartime government referred to as "colonies").[8] 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.[9] 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.[8] 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.[6]

Even for the general population, food in Transnistria was very scarce, through lack of Romanian planning.[6] 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.[6] Among the survivors were Liviu Librescu[10] and Norman Manea.

Position of Antonescu government

Tyraspol in 1941

Antonescu, in a government meeting showed intentions to deport all Jews behind the Ural Mountains if it would be possible: "I have about 10,000 Jews left in Bessarabia, who in a few days will be taken across the Dniester, and if circumstances will allow, they will be taken beyond the Urals".[11]

End of Transnistria Governorate

By early 1944, the Romanian economy was in tatters because of the expenses of the war, and destructive Allied air bombing throughout Romania, including the capital, Bucharest. In addition, most of the products sent to Germany were provided without monetary compensation. As a result of these "uncompensated exports", inflation in Romania skyrocketed, causing widespread discontent among the Romanian population, even among groups and individuals who had once enthusiastically supported the Germans and the war.

Transnistria was relatively spared by these air bombings, but soon the Red Army destroyed all the Romanian presence in the region. During the Uman–Botoşani Offensive the Soviet troops crossed the higher Bug river on March 11 and in twenty days more the Transnistria Governorate "disappeared". By the end of March 1944 there were no more Axis troops east of the Dniester river, save for the encircled capital Odessa. Meanwhile, the replacement of Governor Alexianu has happened on February 1, 1944, by the military governor, Lt General Potopeanu (formerly Romanian Economy Minister). The name Transnistria dropped out of use, and the authorities were increasingly referred to as Military Government between Dniester and Bug.

On March 28, the Red Army took Nikolaev and the next day crossed the lower Bug river in force. On April 5, Razdelnaia fell, and therewith the Odessa-Tiraspol highway was cut. On the 19th, after a brief but bitter fight, the Red Army re-entered Odessa. On the April 12, Tiraspol was occupied, and four days later all Transnistria was again in Soviet hands. During the final days, the Germans concentrated on destruction in Odessa, since evacuation was impossible. Port installations, some industrial facilities, and transportation junctions were blown up (even the electric power plant, various mills, stores of bread, sugar, and other foods were destroyed). Of Odessa’s population, scarcely 200,000 remained; many had hidden in the vicinity while some had sought safety in the countryside. And some had left westward with the Romanians and Germans: only those most compromised had left; the bulk of the residents had stayed in the region. People feared Soviet repressions, but "there was no other way out", according to German sources.[12]

Reduction of the Transnistria neo-Latin population

Today east of the Dniester there are only 237,785 romance-speaking residents left, a small percentage of the overall population of the region. Most of them in the actual Transnistria break-away republic. But historically they were the majority: according to the results of the Russian census (quoted in Romanian sources) of 1793, 49 villages out of 67 between the Dniester and the Bug were Romanian.[13]

And further east of the Transnistria Governorate there were many neo-Latin communities: indeed the Romanians/Moldavians in Ukraine - east of the Bug river - were calculated by a German census to be nearly 780.000 (probably an excessive number), and were made plans to move them to Transnistria in 1942/43. But nothing was done.

A far more likely figure was that given by Romanian daily in March 1943. It reported that, as of the summer of 1942, 23,000 Moldavian families had been located in Soviet territory east of the Bug (under German occupation). A group of these had been made to make records of their folk music "in order to preserve proof of the permanence of the Romanian element in the distant East" (Universul, March 15, 1943).[14]

Indeed, when the Soviet Union regained the area in spring 1944, and the Soviet Army advanced into the territory driving out the Axis forces, many thousands of Romanians/Vlachs of Transnistria were killed in those months and deported to gulags in the following years.[15] So, a political campaign was directed towards the rich Moldavian peasant families, which were deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia as well. For instance, in just two days, July 6 and July 7, 1949, over 11,342 Moldavian families (more than 40,000 inhabitants of Ukraine Oblasts) were deported by the order of the Minister of State Security, I. L. Mordovets, under a plan named "Operation South".[16]

The Census statistics for romance speaking population in territories east of the Dniester river are the following:

See also

Notes and references

  1. 1 2 3 4 (Romanian) Ottmar Traşcă, Ocuparea orașului Odessa..., "George Bariţiu" Institute of History's Annual, Series HISTORICA, 2008.
  2. Charles King, The Moldovans: Romania, Russia, and the Politics of Culture, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford, CA, 2000. ISBN 0-8179-9792-X
  3. (Romanian) Anatol Petrenci, "Basarabia în timpul celui de-al doilea război mondial (1939-1945)", Ed. Prut Internaţional, 2006
  4. Roma Holocaust victims speak out, BBC News, January 23, 2009
  5. (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.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Kathryn Nelson, "The miracle of survival", Minnesota Daily, December 7, 2006.
  7. - Odessa: 1941 - 1944 timeline
  8. 1 2 USHMM
  9. 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.
  10. Matti Friedman, Holocaust survivor killed in Va shooting, AP, April 17, 2007
  11. (Romanian)
  12. OKH/GenStdH/FHO (IIIa), “Kgf.-Vernehmung,” CRS, H3/690,pp.245-246.
  13. E. Lozovan, Romanii orientali…(Eastern Romanians…), ,,Neamul Romanesc”, 1/1991, p.32. Vlachs/Romanians east of the Dniester river and up to the Bug river area]
  14. Dallin, Alexander. Odessa, 1941-1944: A Case Study of Soviet Territory Under Foreign Rule.Chapter 2. Note # 113
  15. Nationalities policy in Soviet Moldavia 1944-1989, by Igor Casu (in Romanian)
  16. Stalinist terror in Soviet Moldavia, by Igor Casu. p.49
  17. All-Union 1939: Ethnic composition by republic
  18. All-Union census 1930: Ethnic composition of raions, cities and large villages; Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic
  19. /ssp/ussr_nac_39_ra.php?reg=335 All-Union census 1930: Ethnic composition of raions, cities and large villages; Odessa Oblast

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