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One Person Can Make a Difference

Transnistria was a geographic freak but a historic reality. The name was coined by the fascists to designate a territory of about 16,000 square miles for the annihilation of Jews deported from Romania. It was an area situated in southwestern Ukraine, between the River Dniester to the west and the River Bug to the east, the Black Sea to the south, and a line beyond the city of Moghilev-Podolsky to the north.

Trans-Nistra meant "beyond the River Dniester." In Romanian the river is called Nistru. The name Transnistria was decreed into existence by the Romanian dictator, Marshal Ion Antonescu in the summer of 1941. Territorially, Transnistria was the largest killing field in the Holocaust. Many authors refer to it as, "The Romanian Auschwitz."

Romanian Holocaust survivor Felicia Carmelly remembers watching a young mother prick her breast with a pin and feed blood to her starving child. Dr. Carmelly, a psychologist was interned at Transnistria in October 1941 at the age of ten. She and her parents were among hundreds herded from their homes in northeastern Romanian by rifle-bearing Nazis. Not a word was uttered in resistance. She watched as they passed over a river on a bridge, a young mother silently dropped her baby into the river. "We were like stones," Carmelly said. "All of our emotions were killed."

The territory consisted of about 132 Ukrainian towns and villages, the names of which appear on maps of hundreds of hamlets and settlements often too small to be noted. At one point in time these communities could be designated as labour or death camps or at other times transit or concentration camp.

May of those who reached the crossing points alive were simply driven into the river and machine-gunned. However, the majority were transported across the Dniester on bridges, over-crowded barges and rafts. Romanian gendarmes supervised the crossing, while German officers stood by taking photographs.

Until 1994, Carmelly did not talk about her experiences other than to family until a book purchased by her husband fell off the bookcase while cleaning. It was Holocaust related about Romania. For three days she read its contents, recognizing many of the town referred, the names of people from her hometown and the different concentration camps.

The directives concerning the conduct of the deportation operation were drawn up by General Topor in accordance with secret verbal instructions from Antonescu that were transmitted also orally to commanders - usually officers of the Gendarmerie in charge of Jewish convoys. The deportation commenced on September 16, 1941, followed by looting and rape, of which Antonescu disapproved because the peasants were stealing what he now claimed as state property. In Bessarabia, peasants purchased live Jews from the gendarmes for 2,000 lei in order to get their clothes, after which the soldiers shot the Jew.

In 1994, Carmelly began writing an award-winning book: Shattered! 50 Years of Silence, History and voice of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria. It was there she survived on scraps of bread in a dirt-floor hut with no running water or bathroom facilities. Her mother and grandmother knitted coarse wool with bleeding infected fingers in exchange for bread. Her grandmother's fingers fell off from gangrene before they were rescued. For three years she forced herself to research, document, accumulate, interview and write, first with a typewriter and later with a computer all she could find on the camps that destroyed the lives of so many. It was not an easy task because little was known about the place where she became an adult, even though still a child in age.

Once on the east side of the river, in Transnistria, soldiers herded the victims - men, women, children, the elderly, sick, crippled and mentally handicapped along muddy dirt roads. They were aimlessly driven from village to village, often back to the previous village and then to the next. One by one, those who could not keep up were shot or beaten to death; their bodies left on the roads or thrown into ditches or mass graves.

"It was like there was this power behind my computer chair, Carmelly said, who quit her practice for the three years it took to assemble her manuscript. "I slept little. I was obsessed. I have a strong feeling that maybe I survived to bear witness to this forgotten chapter of the Holocaust."

Many died of exhaustion, cold hunger and illnesses before they reached the camps. Rampant dysentery killed thousands. People moved about covered in rags and newspapers. Others, having exchanged their clothes for food were naked and barefooted in frosts of 40 degrees below zero. Thousands were taken into fields and forests, ordered to dig enormous mass graves and then shot. Those who dumped the bodies into the graves were also shot when their job was done. Many wounded were buried alive.

Dornanovka - 18,000. 
Bogdanovka - 48,000.
Acmechetka - 5,000.
Odessa - 25,000.

Thousands more were shot along the Bug River.

The publication of Shattered! 50 Years of silence elicited an overwhelming heart warming response. Numerous book reviews appeared in the media in Canada, U.S.A., Israel, Venezuela, Australia and more too numerous to mention.

"This publication is an invaluable contribution to the struggle against the obscurity of the Holocaust in Romania. Anyone interested in Jewish life, history and personal testimonies must read this long-overdue, heartfelt book." Dr. Shmuel Ben-Zion, The Open University of Tel Aviv and The Institute of Holocaust Studies, University of Haifa.


New Generation: 2001