Home His/herstories “It was dark outside, day and night. This was Transnistria, the place where we went through living hell.“ The Deportation of Roma to Transnistria

“It was dark outside, day and night. This was Transnistria, the place where we went through living hell.“ The Deportation of Roma to Transnistria

by Gazeta de Artă Politică

By: Isabel Panek, Jelena Steigerwald

 

In the last years, the Romanian authorities have officially recognise Roma as victims of the Holocaust. But still their suffering and loss is not firmly fixed in the memory culture. Different projects and initiatives exist to support Roma survivors to receive compensation and to give their story a voice, such as the film “Valley of Sighs” or the project “Helping Roma Survivors of Deportations to Transnistria”.

 

On the 22nd of June 1941 Nazi-Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the war of destruction started. During the operation, which was called operation Barbarossa, more than four million soldiers of the Axis powers participated. Romanian and German troops conquered Transnistria, a territory between Dniester and Bug rivers, which was part of the Soviet Union with a population predominantly Ukrainian. From 1941 till 1944 the region between the rivers Dniester and Bug was under Romanian administration. The attack on the Soviet Union was followed by massacres against the Jewish population in Bessarabia, North Bukovina and in Odessa, which were occupied by German and Romanian troops. At the same time deportations started from those regions to Transnistria. In more than 170 places, work camps and Ghettos were established for Jews and Roma.

After the first deportations of Jews, in 1942 Romanian authorities started with the deportation of Roma, under the personal order of Marshall Ion Antonescu.[1]

 

„Pe noi ne-a urmărit înainte cu un an de zile, în ’41, să ne ducă în Rusia.” (Mihai Istrate, deported as nomad Roma, deceased)

“Aşa a dat ordin Antonescu să strângă toată naţia ţigănească. Şi ne-a strâns pe toţi. N-a rămas niciunul niciunul. Dar ei ne-au păcălit pe noi când ne-au dus: că ne dă, că ne face case, că ne instalează ca lumea…dar de unde! Ne-au băgat în pământ!” (Mihai Bimbai, nomad Roma)

„A venit poliţia şi ne-a luat, să ne ducă pe jos. Ne-am luat catrafusele în umeri. Care a putut. Care nu, le-a lăsat acolo. Au lăsat şi copilaşi mici acolo, plângeau… [mai târziu unele transporturi au primit căruţe de la jandarmi]” (Margareta Adam, nomad Roma)

„La fiecare vagon era miliţianul. Nu da voie să ieşim, nici lumină n-aveam. Până când am trecut în Tiraspol. Când am trecut hotarul din România, în Tiraspol ne-au dat lumină. Până acolo am mers în negură. Şi miliţia era la uşă [uşa vagonului].” (Marcel Dumitru, sedentary Roma, deceased)

 

In 2 years over 25.000 nomadic and sedentary Roma were deported, on foot or wagons; 12,923 were children. The houses and all other goods belonging to the deportees were confiscated by the “National Centre for Romanianisation”.

Most of the deported Roma were settled in eastern Transnistria on the bank of the Bug River in the counties of Balta, Berezovka, Golta and Otchakov. The situation in these regions was very harsh. The first Roma had to set up their huts by themselves.

 

„Acolo când am oprit la Moldovka, pe o vale mare aşa, vara a fost, n-a fost iarnă. Şi când am ajuns acolo, am făcut corturile, am aşezat, am stat ca o lună jumate. Şi au venit şi ne-au luat caii, ne-au luat căruţele şi ne-au lăsat pe câmpuri. […] La Moldovka acolo, pe valea aia, au murit acolo…ca şoarecii. […] Acolo am stat la bordeie, fără coş, fără lumină, fără apă. Mi-a murit o soră mai mare ca mine, a avut o fetiţă de vreo 12-13 ani şi s-au luat în braţe…îmi vine să plâng…s-a luat aşa în braţe cu ea şi a murit pe câmp acolo.” (Margareta Adam)

„Am stat acolo [satul Moldovka în Transnistria] vreo lună de zile. Ei ne făceau bordeie în timpul ăsta, cât am stat noi acolo, mai departe, la o sută şi ceva de kilometri de la Valea Plângerii. Ne-au băgat acolo în bordeie. Ăia care au rămas afară…s-a terminat, au murit. Morţi! De viscol, de frig, de foame.” (Mihai Istrate)

 

During the deportation, the Roma were not allowed to carry personal belongings and the concentration camps at the end of the journey were set up in the plain fields, lacking firewood, beds, food and water.

“Primăvara au rămas morţii…cei care au murit…aruncaţi pe câmp, ca dovlecii. Aşa erau capete lor, oasele lor. Şi se mâncau. Erau ţigani de-ai noştri care luau carne de acolo şi mâncau. Carne din morţi.” (Mihai Istrate)

„Am fost daţi la moarte. Dacă eram câte o mie – două într-un loc…nu mâncare, nu foc, nu…nimic…cum era să mai trăim? A murit frate-miu şi l-am mâncat. De foame. Eram unul pe altul, dezbrăcaţi, flămânzi şi plângeam unul pe altul. Care murea…pe frati-miu l-am mâncat…de foame mâncam, nu se mai ştia.” (Maria Achim)

„Eram mititică, eram cu mama, 10 ani am avut. Şi a luat cămaşa de pe mine, m-a lăsat în pielea goală, într-o fustiţă ruptă. Şi mi-a luat-o şi s-au îmbrăcat pe ele în ea. Aşa făceau rusoaicele. Dar erau miloase unele, ne dădeau mâncare, lapte mai mult.” (Ileana Ardelean)

Ileana Ardelean. Credit foto: Triba Film

Ileana Ardelean. Credit foto: Triba Film

Between the 12th and the 20th of September 1942, 13176 sedentary Roma were deported with 9 freight trains. The final destinations in Transnistria were reached in December: often (partially) evacuated villages, where 25-40 people were crammed in one house, with no beds, doors or windows. Imprisoned in the houses, without food or heating, most people died of hunger, typhos or shot while trying to escape.

 

„Nu făceam nimic, că nu aveam ce să facem. Stam băgaţi în casă, că dacă ieşeam afară ne omorau ruşii, ne împuşcau.” (Marcel Dumitru)

„Eram mititică, eram cu mama, 10 ani am avut. Şi a luat cămaşa de pe mine, m-a lăsat în pielea goală, într-o fustiţă ruptă. Şi mi-a luat-o şi s-au îmbrăcat pe ele în ea. Aşa făceau rusoaicele. Dar erau miloase unele, ne dădeau mâncare, lapte mai mult.” (Ileana Ardelean)

„Şi mama când a murit, a murit uite aşa [cu spatele sprijinit de perete]. Şi eu eram aici şi sugeam ţâţă de la ea şi nu ştiam că mama e moartă. Şi au luat-o, au băgat furca în ea şi s-au dus cu ea la groapă. Şi bunicul, şi mama, şi unchiul, şi sora…trei fraţi am avut şi toţi au murit acolo.” (Maria Manole)

 

Many deportees died because of starvation, typhus or acts of violence from 1942 till 1944; their exact number is not known. From the 25.000 deported Roma around 14.000 survived and 11.000 died.[2] In addition to facilitating their starvation and freezing to death, acts of direct cruelty and violence towards the Roma were common among the military and the police (jandarmi):

 

„Trei ani de zile nu puteam să ieşim din lagăr. Eram închişi. N-aveam cum să ieşim. Dacă noi plecam, ieşeam din lagăr, ne băteau, ne omorau ăştia, jandarmii ăştia.” (Mihai Bimbai)

„Acolo mai cunoşteai că e neamţ, că e român? Care venea, dădea în noi, ne bătea, ne strica cu bătaia şi gata. Aia era omenia. […] Au fost mulţi pe care jandarmii îi puneau să „iubească” pe maică-sa. […] n-a mai ţinut lege, n-a mai ţinut cinste, n-a mai ţinut putinţă omenească în capul lor. Ăştia [jandarmii] aşa făceau de rău cu noi.” (Mihai Istrate)

 

Moreover, the traces of Roman existence and deportation were being covered in mass graves and by burning the corpses, the concentration camps huts and houses:

„Îi strângeau ţiganii şi poliţia de dimineaţă…morţi…de pe lângă bordeie, de pe lângă drumuri. Şi le făcea o groapă mare, mare, adâncă ca fântâna. Şi îi arunca acolo ca pe câini, unul peste altul.” (Margareta Adam)

„arunca motorină, gaz, peste ei şi da cu focul. Ardea. Ardea, făcea cenuşă. Cenuşă le făcea.” (Marcel Dumitru)

 

In the last years the Romanian authorities have officially recognised Roma as victims of the Holocaust, especially after the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania published a Final Report in 2004 and substantiated the Romanian responsibility on the crimes against Jews and Roma. But despite this fact, a lot of Roma survivors did not received compensation for their suffering and loss until know. The project “Helping Roma Survivors of Deportations to Transnistria” from the Community Resource Centre Association and its partners tries to identify Roma survivors to inform and support them to get compensation and to establish a database of Roma survivor interviews for scientific and educational work. Petre Matei, project manager, mentioned in his talk at the workshop “Nationalism, fascism and the Holocaust in Romanian History – a critical approach” the work of the project is also a “way to understand more about the Holocaust in a scientific way (…); to give some information to what happened then not using only the dry language provided by the authorities of the perpetrators but also to give the voice of the victims.”

Based on the law 189/2000, “victims of the oppressive regimes in Romania from 6 September 1940  to 6 March 1945, victims on ethnic grounds” are able to apply for reparation such as monthly alimony of 150-250 lei for each year of detention/ deportation, medical assistance, free transportation, tax exemption for radio, TV and telephone, free resting place etc. There exists two ways to receive the compensation: the survivors have to prove that they were deported with archive documents or affidavit. The affidavit must come from other survivors in front of a notary.

For a lot of Roma survivors it is not easy to prove their status as deportees. Some of them do not know about this law, some are old and sick, and some illiterate, others live far away from the cities and archives. The project informs the survivors and offers assistance to get in contact with the archives. But the archive work and the discovery of the documents are facing a lot of problems. In his archive work, Petre Matei found that in 1942 the police didn’t registered all the deportees but rather just the father’s name and than only the number of family members; at the same time only the mother’s name was mentioned in birth certificates of a lot of Roma survivors. Moreover, some archives lack organized inventories of significant documents such as those produced by the authorities when deporting the Roma; a reason for this could be the lack of interest of the authorities to make such sources accessible. In those cases, the project team tries to help the archives deal with the problems, in order to identify the needed documents. But as nowadays anti-Roma attitudes are anchored deep in the society, and thus among lawyers and civil servants, the work becomes even more difficult.

In the last months Petre Matei and his team interviewed more than 100 survivors, collected pictures and archive documents and worked on the creation of a database; the team hopes that the database will be used for research as well as educational projects to contribute to a better understanding of Roma and their history, and also to decrease intolerance towards Roma. The historian Petre Matei was the scientific advisor of the film “Valley of Sighs” produced by Mihai Andrei Leaha, who also volunteers in the project “Helping Roma Survivors of Deportations to Transnistria”.

The directors Mihai Andrei Leaha, Andrei Crisan and Iulia Elena Hossu went to Transnistria and Ukraine for their documentary. In their multilayered film, they show interviews with survivors who were children at the time and also interviews with eye-witnesses from surrounding villages.

In the frame of the workshop “Nationalism, fascism and the Holocaust in Romanian History – a critical approach” the movie was screened and the following interview with Mihai Andrei Leaha was taken.

Mihai, what was your motivation of doing this film?

Before speaking about my motivation, which came honestly on the way, I first have to say that I did not know about this subject. My generation was not taught about the Holocaust in school. Antonescu was like a national hero – who struggled for the national unity ideal. We had no clue about that ugly part of history. For me at first it was surprising and the motivation came with the wish to learn more about this subject. So, basically when the Institute for Studying the Problems of National Minorities (ISPMN)“ launched the program I was very happy that my colleague Iulia said, we should do a film about it. So we went to do fieldwork in the southern part of Romania in Dolj County and started to do interviews. And then we got really hooked into the issue. We wanted to explore more and to make a film that everybody in Romania should watch.

How did you get to the interview partners? Where did you find the survivors?

In some cases we just went to the city hall and the mayors got us the Roma representatives and then they took us to the persons who were old enough to have had that experience. So, not even themselves knew exactly who had been in Transnistria and who had not. In some cases we just stopped in the village, get off the car and asked where the Roma community is settled and then randomly asked people on the streets. They took us to the survivors and we went straight to their homes and introduced ourselves. There was one example, where we just went to a house of an old woman together with a Roma representative or a social worker and when we started putting the cameras and explained who we are the poor woman, who was alone and scared, said: “I am not saying anything, because you might take me back to Transnistria.” So in that moment we decided to leave and had to let it go. But in other cases people were really keen to tell their story.

Were there criteria according to which you choose the interview partner? What did you ask them?

The only criterion was to get people of the two different specific communities – the nomads and the sedentary people. The order of Antonescu was that all nomads had to be deported and from the sedentary only those who had a criminal record. But there were exceptions from that rule. Many were taken, also if they had a home and no criminal record, because the local authorities reinforced the order in order to take their Gold, for instance. The film is divided in these two groups, because the stories were quite similar in that context

In your documentary you work with three narrative layers: Interviews of survivors and eye-witnesses from surrounding villages; perpetrator sources such as reports and letters; the landscape – the places of the former camps which are shaped by nature. How did you develop this narrative?  

The idea of using plain landscapes in the film came while we were filming in the South. Because we knew that is really difficult to get archive material and we thought about what should we add to these wonderful interviews? First of all we wanted to give the voice to the survivors – a voice that was not very much shared in films. Our main concept was just to keep the voice, to make an interview film.

But then that leaves out the context, so how do you focus on the context? Then we said, we do not have to focus on that so much because this is not what it is the film about. The film is about personal narratives. So we decided to just briefly tackle on the context in the first written introduction in the beginning of the film. We said the historical context has been discussed in other films about the Holocaust which deal with the same issue. And we do not want to do that again, although it is necessary to know, but let’s leave this part a bit ambiguous and let’s just use the specific military orders. And that is how the second layer came up: we emphasised the historical context via this cold military voices and tried to interconnect them with the very humane interviews discourse.

The 3rd layer was the empty landscapes. First it was just that we wanted to have a break in all this interviews. The viewer will have the time to think about what he just heard and then your imagination can built up upon the memories of the people you heard – I think it was a good counterpoint in the whole discourse. Some of the people find these images beautiful. Some are – some are not that beautiful, you have like this broken and burned houses. But still it makes a nice image. It creates this uncomfortable feeling of dealing with a nice image and the bad stories. But there is another thing to it. For me it was very important when we decided to do this. We kind of wanted to go explicitly to those places where these people were killed and buried back then and in our days you just find nothing. It’s like history has left no traces at all. And this is the problem in Romania these days; it is an un-assumed chapter of history. It is like history can go away and we do not learn anything from it and now everything is beautiful again. We were playing with this absence of the present and the presence of the absence. The image refers back to a moment of time, when you had the present person standing but that was back then, so this is why I think this poetics of the image of the present and the absence going both ways is really relevant.

In the film you cannot actually see the evil, you cannot see somebody who is guilty and it is kind of uncomfortable in the end to have nobody to blame. Did you intend this impression?

Yes we intended it to be like that. You know the voices of the guilty ones you cannot hear, but you see the orders, that specific part of these military reports that coordinated the whole tragedy. You can see the military thinking behind it. So we are not trying to say that Antonescu [alone] was guilty – we were trying to say that everybody was guilty and everybody knew about it. No one did anything to prevent these actions.

But, at the end the message we were trying to transmit through the film is a humanist message. We were not trying to stress about who is the guilty one and who is the victim. But how these people had solidarity with each other during WW II and then afterwards.

At the end of the film we showed a commemoration at a monument made by the local community in Krasnenkoe, Ukraine. And one main reason why we choose to end the film like this is that it becomes an example for the Romanians. We were in the position of doing all this crimes but we do not have any monuments about the Roma Holocaust– only one together with the Jewish Holocaust memorial [in Bucharest]. We need more memorials, let’s put monuments in some villages for instances, let’s put places of memory in many more parts just to remember this and let’s then reconcile. Reconcile with everybody because that’s the whole message of the film. It is not just pointing the finger to the guilty ones – let’s do something for those who had to suffer this.

You are doing a new film at the moment. What is this film about?

The new project is called ,”85 grams” it is a film directed by Ion Gnatiuc and produced by me and Triba Film. It is a continuation of Valley of Sighs but this time a film about what happens today with the survivors of the Roma Holocaust.

It will be a film about the whole process of compensations. Petre Matei, our historical scientific advisor for the Valley of Sighs is working on a project made by the Center for Community Resources (CRC) in which he tries to help the victims of the Holocaust to get their monthly allowance. At a certain point in the project he called us and said you must be here with me, because it’s terrible. He went with some survivors to a notary to legalize his statements, because there were no papers in the archive to proof that they were in Transnistria. And the notary was yelling: “You came with all these gypsies into my office, now everything will stink here” and “Why should we help these bastards?” and so on. And then we decided that we have to do a film about it, because this is not possible. So the film is about the very big gap – the official big discourse about the Holocaust on the one hand and what is really happening.

Is it a big discourse in Romania?

It is not. I was just referring to the big event in 2007, when president Basescu actually honoured all the victims of the Holocaust and admitted the Romanian Holocaust in the Romanian Parliament, so this is the highest part of this discourse you can get. But the fact is that the gap between official statements and the reality started at that point. Basically we will be exploring at one point the gap between this specific event and how all of this works – with the pensions and the institutional state that are kind of again not working very well. You have this racist notary and the society still is very racist in many ways. There are still many more stories to say about this project.

The film is free for screening in no commercial use. If you are interested to see or screen the film please contact: http://www.ispmn.gov.ro/contact or contact@triba.ro

 


[1] „Marshall Antonescu gave the order himself for the deportation of all nomadic Gypsies camps from all over the country“ (International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania: Final Report, 2004, p. 228).

[2] International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania: Final Report, 2004, p. 236.

1 comment

Flori Mihai Saturday March 21st, 2015 - 02:14 PM

E dureros si trist cand afli,cum au murit ai tai.Zic murit,pentru ca in familia mea,a fost unchiul meu,fratele bunicii mele din partea tatalui,numele lui era Savu Constantin.Era tanar,necastorit si a luptat in razboi.Nu s-a mai intors.Un roman dintr-un sat vecin,care s-a intors acasa din razboi,i-a zis bunicii mele ca el,fratele ei,tigan fiind l-au luat in lagar si amurit din cauza tifosului.
In comuna noastra,are o cruce ridicata ca erou de razboi si doar atat.Pentru viata lui bunica mea nu a primit absolut nimic.Nici pamant.nici altceva.Am intrebat la primarie cum au stat lucrurile si un fost primar mi-a zis ca daca familia nu a solicitat asa ceva nici nu au primit.Cand citesc marturiile acestor oameni despre iadul in care au fost aruncati,lucrul asta ma sperie,ma doare si nici nu stiu cum si cine ar putea sa ia in calcul si viata acestui om,familiei mele.Daca credeti ca am sanse sa gasesc mai multe dovezi,care sa ii recunoasca acest statut de victima a holocaustului va rog sa imi raspundeti.Daca nu,o sa inteleg ca viata acestuia nu poate suporta reparatii,de orice fel,aici ,pe pamant.
Succes in ceea ce intreprindeti.

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