At the end of June 1941 my mother, my sister and I escaped from our native city of Faleshty, Moldova, which was located near the Romanian border. Fearing the approaching German Nazi army, we left our house and all possessions and ran away on foot. We went in the direction of Teleneshty. In Teleneshty we made a stopover for several days. However, the German troops caught up with us soon.
I witnessed a pogrom in Teleneshty with my own eyes. Since then I have known that there was nothing more terrifying than the screams of children and woman being killed. We were able to safely escape from Teleneshty. Very soon we realized that only a quick escape could save our lives from the monstrous aggressors. We ran away empty-handed. This was the end of normal life for me and my family. We became homeless, with no clothes, food, or any hope for future. We fled without knowing where we were going or what was waiting for us ahead. We became vulnerable, desperate shadows, without any hope of survival. We were converted into animals. The German military of the front line commanded us to go to Faleshty. We had learned that a group of Jews were going to Korneshty, and we followed them. In Korneshty we joined hundreds of local Jews. All of us were pushed into a synagogue, where the doors and windows were locked and where we were left without air circulation, food, and water for several days. When they opened the doors, a terrible smell spread all over the place. Then the order came for us to go to our hometown Faleshty, where all Jews from the region were gathered. From this point on Jews were accompanied by the gendarmes.
In Faleshty, the local synagogue was converted into a center of suffering and mockery, full of hungry, filthy believers. My first concentration camp was outside Faleshty - Limbeny, where we were kept during July and August 1941 under inhumane conditions on an open field.
Then we were forced under guard to Marculeshty ghetto, were all Moldavian Jews were rounded up. Every day columns of several thousand Jews were directed to the East, to an unknown destination. All my relatives and intimate friends happened to be in these columns. They were sent to different destinations. Later we found out that many of those Jews in other columns were murdered.
At the beginning of October 1941, which happened to be extremely cold and rainy, bitter winds and dirty, messy Ukrainian roads, our column was directed East, to the other side of the Dniester River. Our column was closely watched by the gendarmes who swore, called us by shameful names and kicked us with their rifles. Whoever was not capable of moving their feet were shot on the spot. Than we knew that crossing the river would bring us horrible suffering and death. Many, many days we walked in columns on Ukrainian soil. On the road we kept seeing corpses - as striking visualizations that other Jewish columns have already passed here before. We were chased from place to place, without access to any primary life necessities, including food and water. The victims simply fell down and remained there. Nobody counted the dead left behind on the path from Faleshty to Limbeny. Then we walked from Limbeny to Markuleshty, from Yampol to Obodovka, and after that to Bershad. Everywhere on the roods we saw corpses, corpses, corpses....
It became harder and harder to walk; exhaustion seized us. If not for the bitter fear of knowing that stopping would mean being shot or finished by rifle butts, I would have stopped moving my heavy legs, lie down and blissfully fell asleep. I don't know where this strength came from. I forced myself to move my legs. We walked shivering from cold and hunger, up to our knees in mud for hundreds of miles.
By the end of October 1941, our column reached the farms of Obodovka (Transnistria).
Obodov farms were just regular cowsheds, with no cattle. Unventilated structures still smelled of cow excrement and urine. It was freezing inside because there were wholes for windows and broken doors. We were ordered to stay in those cowsheds. The filth was unbearable. Lack of sanitation and food, freezing cold caused a typhus epidemic. No hospitals or medicine. Dead and living lay together. This is where my mother died of hunger, cold and disease.
Winter brought even chillier weather and higher likelihood of freezing to death in the cowsheds. In December of 1941 the Nazis commanded us to march in a column to the Bershad ghetto. The part of Bershad behind the fence wire was the ghetto. The walls of these houses were never dry. The air was damp, stuffy and infused with the odors of long time unwashed bodies. There were rats everywhere. There were dead people in every house. Dead corpses were thrown outside on the snow directly in front of the entrance. In order to keep myself alive, not to die from hunger, upon my request I was placed by the Judenrat to do hard labor.
In 1942-1943 I was sent to a German hard labor concentration camp to participate in building a bridge over the Bug River near Varvarovka in the Nikolaev district. My movements were restricted by shackles on my feet; I endured beatings and threads by the German guards. We lived in barracks and slept on plank beds with a thin straw layer. I slept fully dressed in my clothe. Only my boots with wooden soles and material tops were taken off. Every morning at five o'clock, the guards stormed into the barracks and with shouts, which could wake-up even dead. They ordered us to run out to the courtyard. We were requested to form lines and exhaustive count was conducted. Afterwards, by guards’ orders, the column began the foot march of 10-12 miles from the barracks to the working area. On our arrival, another count was carried out, then the distribution of the working places of hard labor. We worked until we dropped. We dragged stones, smashed them into pieces, moved soil, carried logs, metal etc. Therefore we worked 12 hours every day without any breaks. We carried wooden boxes all the time. They were used for the thick soup which was distributed twice a day. At six o'clock in the evening, everyone would form the lines again, the count and our column moved back to the barracks. The builder’s name was Todd. Many times I risked being shot, such as when I stepped out of the line to pick up a piece of stale bread, thrown to us by locals out of pity. Many times I was taken out of formation and, as a warning, the soldiers shot at me, but over my head. Having been emasculated by hunger, unimaginable hard labor and illnesses, I came to a point when I could not move. At the end of 1943 Medical Commission certified me unfit for labor and forwarded back to Bershad ghetto.
From Bershad Red Cross forwarded me to Balta ghetto. I was expected to be sent to Palestine. However a hasty retreat of Germans and advance of the Red Army led to my liberation at the end of March 1944. On the day of retreat SS soldiers went house-to-house and shot every Jew they found. I escaped by hiding in the attic of a house.
In April 1944, having returned to Faleshty, we discovered that our house and all possessions were stolen and destroyed.
Raul Artal-Mittelmark on November 23, 2018:
I was born in Bershad in 1943 and survived, was one year old at camp liberation.
My parents shared similar horror experiences.
It is hard to believe how rarely is the Transnistria-Holocaust / The forgotten Holocaust mentioned.
Thank you for sharing, we shall never forget !
Charlotte Frenkel-Mowerman on July 20, 2017:
Both my parents survived concentration camps at Bershad and Moghilev, now part of the Ukraine, after forced marches across the Dniester. They were left to die from typhus, cold and starvation. The Nazi-Romanian guards were brutal and there was no medicine or food. The dead weren't buried. Read Ruth Gold's book, Ruth's Journey, for another survivor's experiences.