Transnistria is a region in Eastern Europe that declared independence from Moldova in 1990. Geographically it can be found in an area between the Dniester River and the Ukraine. The Government of Russia supports the current regime. During World War II Transnistria was a Romanian administered territory. Many Jews were deported to Transnistria from Bessaria and Bukovina. It was used as a killing field. Mr. Arnold Buxbaum survived the horror of that time and shared a brief history with us at the luncheon:
MEMORIES OF A SURVIVOR
By Arnold Buxbaum
Rabbi Strauchler, Rabbi Diamond, Chazan Sultan, President Lass, Provincial Member of Parliament Michael Colle, Members of the Planning Committee, Fellow Survivors, friends and family.
I would like to thank the co-chairs of the “Heroes amongst us” Committee for organizing this special luncheon in our honour. We, the survivors, thank Hashem for our survival thus enabling us to attend such meetings.
It all started with the occupation of Bukovina by the Soviet Union in 1940. I was living with my father and stepmother in the City of Storozinets. The Soviets nationalized my father’s wood and flour mill businesses and I was forced to look for a job to help my family with extra income. I started working as a senior bookkeeper in the Soviet bank.
The Germans entered Bukovina in 1941 and they began to round up all the Jews. In nearby towns like Chudin, all six hundred and fifty Jews were taken to jail and shot upon arrival. In October, 1941, we were given three days to pack whatever belongings could be carried on our backs to the train station in nearby Storozinets. At the station, we were crowded into cattle cars, ninety to one hundred people in each car with straw on the floor and a barrel of water. This terrible trip with its unknown destination lasted for seven days. When it ended we were ordered to disembark and forced to walk about ten kilometers to a town in Bessarabia.
From here we started our four-week journey by foot toward Transnistria, while the German and Romanian guards rode horses or travelled in carriages. Roads were barely passable and mud reached up to our knees. We had to drink brackish water from the muddy puddles on the road Any person too weak to keep up with the pace of the march was shot on the spot. On the way, I was horrified to witness babies being tossed into the air by the gendarmes and impaled on their bayonets. We passed through many towns where Jews had lived before the war. In front of many of their houses there were small dirt mounds that were graves that the Jews were forced to dig themselves. The march went on relentlessly. Our last stop was in the Cosauts forest where we were robbed of most of our belongings by local peasants. We tried to fight them off but this was impossible given our weakened condition. We were exhausted, frozen and starved. This was our last memory of Bessarabia.
In December, 1941 we crossed the river Dniester into the Transnistria area of the Ukraine and came to the city of Obodovka. We then realized that Obodovka was a distribution centre. Jews arrived from all over and were distributed to various camps in Transnistria. We were ordered to march to the camp in Budi. Of the 940 Jews who arrived there late 1941 only 120 Jews were left by the spring of 1942 including my father and I. Budi was typical of other villages in the Ukraine, it consisted of a few thousand peasant farmers. Our family was part of the 840 Jewish deportees sent there to perish. Upon arrival we were told to organize into groups which would live together in the farmers’ barns. I recall that among the families that joined us were the Hechts, Kliegers, Greenbergs, Tressers, Bierkenfelds and Rabbi Ginsberg, the Chief Rabbi of Storozinets, and his family. There were forty-five of us sleeping in a space of eight by ten feet, on hastily assembled wooden bunks covered with a little straw. We found pieces of tin and built a stove. Animals were kept on one side of the barn, we were on the other.
The first winter was extremely cold and windy, the temperature often dropped to forty degrees below zero. That winter my stepmother died of typhus. Mrs. Clara Tressler’s leg froze and eventually fell from her body. Every morning we wondered who else might have succumbed to the nightly visit of the Angel of Death. The bodies of those who perished were carried out of the barn and were left lying there, because the earth was too frozen to bury them. By the spring of 1942 only thirteen people had survived in our barn. In the whole village only one hundred and twenty remained. Among the seven hundred and twenty who perished were Rabbi Ginsberger and his family.
While my father remained in Budi over the next three years, I saw and lived the misery of eight Transnistria camps, always returning to Budi. There we were finally liberated by the Russian army in April 1944.
How can I not remember the crowded cattle cars of ninety to one hundred people shipped to Bessarabia and Transnistria? How can I not remember the concentrations camps Budi, Obodavka, Nicholiev, Eindentz, Varvaorka, Slivono, Bgdaonvka and Stepanki, where I witnessed the atrocities committed by the Germans and the Romanian army? YEMACH SHEMAM. Thanks to the Almighty, I survived with my father and a few friends.
In Transnistria, four hundred and thirty thousand Jews lost their lives from starvation, typhus, pneumonia and brutal shootings. Transnistria was the largest area of killing in the Holocaust consisting of one hundred and thirty two camps of various sizes. It was not a labour camp as described by some survivors of the Holocaust. It was a brutal extermination camp. Many refer to Transnistria as the Romania n Auschwitz. I lost twenty eight members of my Bukovina family in Transnistria and about one hundred and fifty members of my Galicianer family in various camps in Poland. I will not forgive and not forget. I urge other survivors to tell their detailed stories to their families so that no one will forget.
After suriving the Holocaust, I faced the anti-Semitic Communist libel of being called a “counter revolutionary”, but that is another story ….
In 1962, with the help of the Sukalanna Rebbe (Rabbi Portugal) who assisted many other Jews to leave the country, I was able to leave Romania and come to Canada with my wife, who I met in camp, and my two lovely daughters who are now married and have children of their own – my grandchildren. Thanks to Hashem, I am zoche to have great grandchildren.
In a few days will celebrate Shavouos. I wish you all Chag Semach. One more time, I would like to express my appreciation to Rabbi Strauchler and Shaarei Shomayim for giving us the opportunity to share our history. Last but not least, I am grateful to Hashem for my survival and the welfare of my entire family. We should share more simchas together, experience peace in Israel and complete redemption. Let us be inspired to always ensure, with the help of the Almighty, the survival of the Jewish people. Never again. Am Yisrael Chai!