7. The Deportation, Persecution, and Extermination of the Gypsies

The gypsies were another group of Romanian citizens deported to Transnistria during World War II, mostly from Regat, the Old Kingdom. The fate of the Romanian Gypsies was all the more tragic because some of them had been fighting as members of the Romanian army on the eastern front even as the deportations got under way. Gypsy invalids of World War I were deported; indeed, even Romanians mistaken for Gypsies were swept up in the deportations. Some Gypsies still wearing Romanian military uniforms were seized and deported. The “ legal” basis for the deportations was a May 1942 measure, Order No. 70S/1942 of the president of the Council of Ministers. This was supplemented a few days later by another measure, Order No. 33911, attributed to C. Z. Vasiliu of the Ministry of the Interior and distributed to the police prefectures: the police were to conduct a census of both the nomadic and the sedentary Gypsies and then deport the former and certain categories of the latter. The plan was rapidly implemented in actions such as the May 25 sweep of Gypsies in Bacau, an operation in which forty-five policemen blocked the town exits, drew up lists of all Gypsies, and deported them forthwith. Ultimately, approximately 25,000 Gypsies in all were deported.

Looking further into the details of this matter, we find that the General Inspectorate of the Gendarmerie followed up on the order to deport all nomadic Gypsies in Romania plus those nonnomads “ dangerous to public order” (as per Report No. 43249/1942). The deportation of the nomads ended on August 15, 1942; that of the others paused on September 16.

Questioned after the war, Marshal Ion Antonescu confessed that the original decision to deport the Gypsies had been his. He sought to justify himself by citing „popular” demand for protection from armed robbers who entered people’s homes at night: “ After much investigation we concluded that these were armed Gypsies, many with military weapons, organizing these attacks. All the Gypsies were moved out. Since Mr. Alexianu needed manpower in Transnistria, I said, „Let’s move them to Transnistria, that is my decision.”

The deportation of 25,000 Gypsies placed a considerable strain on rail transport, causing, among other things, serious problems for the Romanian military bureaucracy in particular. Most disturbing to the authorities, armed Gypsy soldiers on leave arrived in Transnistria to free their relatives. Some discharged Gypsy soldiers were allowed to go to Transnistria to rejoin their families. Other Gypsy soldiers from nomadic families were actually discharged and deported to Transnistria themselves. Eventually, the Supreme General Staff asked officers to explain to Gypsy soldiers that their families no longer would be deported. A month later (on October 31), the Ministry of the Interior formally ended the deportation of Romanian Gypsies.

Nearly the entire Romanian political class „fascist and nonfascist alike” seems to have remained indifferent to the tragedy of the Gypsies. The only known exception among prominent political figures was Constantin I. C. Bratianu, head of the Liberal party, who in September 16, 1942 begged Marshal Antonescu to show mercy.

The Gypsies were initially sent to the areas of Alexandrovka (Oceakov District), Karanika, Covaleovka (Berezovka District), Mancovca, Voitovka, and Stunovka (Balta District). Some of the Gypsies reached Transnistria with their horses and their carts, according to the statement of the prosecutor at one of the postwar trials, O. A. Bunaciu.

The Gypsies suffered the same fate as the Jews; they died either by execution or because of the cold or hunger. The Romanian gendarmerie confiscated all horses and carts from the nomadic Gypsies, and indeed, we know that on July 29, 1942, Alexianu ordered this.

It is also known that the number of Gypsies in Transnistria diminished rapidly due to executions, starvation, and epidemics. Though the information is incomplete, it is clear that as of March 21, 1943, 3,423 Gypsies remained alive in Covaleovka, spread out among four labor colonies, and that on November 28 of that same year 9,567 Gypsies still survived in the following important areas of resettlement: Golta, Crivoi Ozero, Vradievka, Liubas?evka, and Dumanovka. According to Mihail Hausner, a Jewish survivor of Transnistria, after 11,500 Gypsies had been killed by the SS at Trihati, the survivors were imprisoned in the ghetto of Covaleovka, where their carts and horses were expropriated. Behind the barbed wire, without food, they were forced to sell their clothes to survive. Typhus and hunger destroyed them. The hardiest were transferred from Covaleovka to Suha Balca and Mostovoi, where they were given clothes because they were totally naked.24 Indeed, on September 24, the prefect of Berezovka District, Colonel Leonida Pop, informed the labor administration of Transnistria that the Gypsies of Suha Balca and all the rest in his district were “ without clothes, without shirts, barefoot.” Pop enclosed the request by the head of the Gypsies of Suha Balca, Ion Natale Stan, for clothes for the 499 Gypsies who had been deported from Tandarei (Ialomita District). Stan also asked that the Gypsies ‘ shelter for the winter be improved, stressing that some had sons at the front. On October 2, 1943, two freight cars of lumber were sent to the Gypsies of Suha Balca so that they could build huts for the winter. On October 3, fifty-one suits arrived at a cost of 150 reichsmarks each. On October 4, the labor administration gave its consent for 150 pairs of shoes to be sold to the „good workers.” But on October 29, Pop, who apparently had received fewer pairs than expected, complained that the number of shoes did not suffice since there were 2,620 Gypsies in Berezovka. Pop also reported that many were naked: the winter would mean certain death for them.

As of February 10, 1944, about 3,700 Gypsies survived in the Berezovka region; we have no exact figures for the other places at that time.

The [deportations] were a colossal fiasco, both materially and morally. . . . The material outcome in Romania was immediately noticeable owing to the shortage of labor power. In Oceakov entire villages were destroyed, fruit groves were burned down, and four thousand Gypsies died, along with several hundred local civilians, gendarmes, and soldiers [swept away by typhus], not to mention the difficulties [for] the railroad system and the burden of policing [the deportees].

Information about the numbers and locations of the survivors is sadly fragmentary. At the beginning of October 1942, 24,686 Gypsy deportees were in Transnistria. Of these, 11,441 were nomadic Gypsies, 13,176 nonnomads, and the other 69 former prison inmates. According to the prosecutor’s statement in the Antonescu trial, six to eight thousand Gypsies had been murdered in Golta on orders from the district prefect, Modest Isopescu. A handwritten postwar testimony stated that 11,500 Gypsies had been removed by the SS and executed in the train station of Trihati. Also according to that document, only 1,500 of the Gypsies who had been deported to Transnistria survived. In his testimony the Jewish deportee Mihail Hausner said that these Gypsies were sent to Trihati, where the Germans liquidated them. Hausner stated that initially there had been twenty thousand confined in Kovaleovka but that only a small fraction had survived. It is not really clear how many Gypsies perished in Transnistria. In any case, in May 1944, when the Romanian gendarmerie nominally registered all Gypsies who returned from Transnistria, the lists that were compiled did not contain more than six thousand names.

The deportation of Romanian Gypsies to Transnistria was a much smaller operation than that of the Jews. Not only was the absolute number lower but so was the percentage of the Gypsies actually sent away. There had been no anti-Gypsy legislation (i.e., besides administrative orders), and this made the deportations even more arbitrary than those of the Jews.

Antonescu ordered the deportation of other minority groups too. Ukrainians were initially a target, but there were simply too many of them in Bukovina. However, Romanian officials did want to „solve” „the Ukrainian question” there, based on Antonescu’s advocacy of „forced migration of the entire Ukrainian element.” This intention was opposed by German officials, who wished to utilize Ukrainian nationalists for their own purposes, something that irked Romanian officials. After the Berlin encounter between Hitler and Mihai Antonescu on November 27, 1941, the Romanian dignitary complained: „I asked the Fuhrer to clarify his stance on the Ukrainian question, because in Bukovina elements in the German army favored the Ukrainians, and the Romanian government would soon have to develop a position . . . opposed to the Ukrainian element. . . . The numerous, primitive mass of Slavs is . . . a serious biological problem with regard to European birthrates.” Though Hitler did agree to let the Romanians handle the Ukrainian issue on their own territory, anti-Ukrainian plans never got off the ground.

Religious dissidents, particularly the Innocentists and others who refused to serve in the armed forces, were also targeted. As a result, two thousand Innocentists were imprisoned in camps during the summer of 1942, a measure later applied to Baptists and other sects.