Transnistria

(Transdniestria)
   During World War II, the German and Romanian armies conquered the Ukraine as far as the River Bug. Romanian troops were responsible for security up to the River Dnieper, and a new name was invented for the territory between the Dniester and Dnieper rivers - Transnistria. Some of this newly occupied area in the east was used by the Romanians as a dumping ground for Gypsies and Jews, as the Germans had used Poland. In 1941-1942 some 25,000 Gypsies were transported across to the other side of the Dniester. The government policy was to expel the Gypsies from the Romanian homeland to stop them mixing with the majority population and intermarrying. For those to whom the policy was applied, it brought disruption of family life, suffering, hardship, hunger, and sometimes death.
   Between June and August 1942, more than 11,000 nomads were evacuated to the east. Although less danger to Romanian blood than the settled Roma-since they lived isolated socially from the towns-folk-their expulsion could be carried out with little effort. They had their own horses and wagons and just needed guards to accompany them on the journey east. In a few towns in Transylvania, the German-speaking villagers resisted attempts to deport the Gypsies. Clinic (Kelling) and Ungurei (Gergeschdorf) were among the villages where the Romanies remained unharmed. Policemen on horseback forced the Gypsy chiefs from Profa, Tirgu Jiu, and elsewhere to set off with their extended families eastward. Mihai Tonu and Stanescu Zdrelea each led 40 families.
   A few leaders set off willingly, not knowing what awaited them. On arrival, they had to build huts for themselves. Some dug holes to sleep in and broke up their wagons to use as a roof and protection against the weather. The rest of the wagon was gradually burned as fuel to keep warm. The horses were eaten. Conditions were hard that first winter. At night, the temperatures dropped, and every morning frozen bodies were to be found. It is said that 1,500 died after one freezing night. The nomads had been able to take their gold with them. At night, they would creep out of the camp at night to exchange gold for food in the neighboring villages. Those who had no gold had to beg. Although some were surrounded with barbed wire, the camps were guarded ghettoes rather than labor camps, and for much of the time, the inmates could leave not only to shop but also to celebrate weddings and baptisms in Russian Orthodox churches nearby.
   The deportation of settled Gypsies followed. In May 1942 the Ministry of Internal Affairs ordered that 12,500 settled Gypsies "dangerous to public order" should be deported across the Dniester, and this measure was carried out in September of that year. Gen. Constantin Vasiliu was in charge of the operation, with nine trains at his disposal. Dispatched from Bucharest in cattle trucks with only the possessions they could hold, the journey took weeks with stops and starts, and because of the cold nights, lack of blankets, and inadequate food supply, many died of hunger and exposure before arriving at the River Bug in the Ukraine. Those who had survived were lodged in huts and later made to work digging trenches. Those found with gold teeth had them pulled out. Anyone caught returning from Trans-dniestria to Romania was sent back and interned at Tiraspol.
   The policy of transporting the Gypsies into the Ukraine aroused opposition among the local German officials. The Nazi governor of the Ukraine wrote on the subject to the minister for occupied Eastern territories in Berlin in August 1942. After this, a letter was sent from the minister to the Foreign Office in Berlin, dated 11 September 1942, pointing out the danger that these Gypsies would try to settle on the east bank of the Bug and would then be a bad influence on the Ukrainian population. The minister said the area set aside for Gypsies was in fact populated by ethnic Germans and asked the Foreign Office to persuade Romania to change its policy. During 1943, the deportations decreased in number. After this, the Gypsies in Romania remained comparatively free. As far as is known, no further large-scale activity against them took place, and many served in the army.
   Toward the end of 1943, after the Germans and their Romanian allies had been driven back over the Bug, the guards fled, and Gypsies took the opportunity to try to return to Romania. Weakened by months of hunger and cold, many children and old people did not survive this return journey. The survivors eventually reached Dabuleni, Profa, Tirgu Jiu, and the other towns from which they had been driven.
   After the war, when the Romanian People's Court appointed an investigation committee to look into war crimes, it took a very unfavorable view of the treatment of the deportees. Ion Antonescu, the fascist dictator, said at his trial that the Gypsies had been deported because they had robbed people during the curfew and because the governor of Transnistria needed workers. The dictator was executed for war crimes.
   It is thought that 19,000 Romanian Gypsies had perished in the east. Luminita Cioaba has recorded the memories of survivors in her film Romane iasfa [Romany Tears].

Historical dictionary of the Gypsies . .

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