Short background history
* Bessarabia – name given by Russia to the eastern part of historic region of Moldavia. It is separated from western Moldavia by the Prut river. Today, Bessarabia is the neighboring country of Moldova.
In 1939, Hitler and Stalin signed a secret pact, through which USSR was free to occupy regions of Romania (Bessarabia and northern Bucovina), Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia. The secret pact only became public after the USSR dissolution in 1989. After signing the pact, Hitler ordered the evacuation of German minorities from Bucovina.
On June 26 1940, the Red Army occupies Bessarabia and Northern Bucovina in Romania.
After the 1940 invasion of the 2 Romanian regions, systematic deportation of ethnic Romanians from Bessarabia and northern Bucovina began, which lasted until 1953. The populations in occupied territories numbered over 3 million people. Those who publicly opposed the occupation were executed with the purpose of intimidation (see the Vasile Lupu high school episode).
The USSR actions in Bassarabia/ Bucovina are summed up in the following numbers: (source)
– 550.00 deportations (also includes people deported for forced labor to Siberia and Central Asia – most of whom never returned);
– 48.000 arrests;
– 30.000 executions;
– over 200.000 soldiers deported/ executed.
The other occupied countries suffered a similar fate. Most notorious was the Katyn Massacre after the invasion of Poland. Romania went to war against USSR and liberated Bassarabia in 1941 which was re-occupied in 1944.
In 1945 after the Yalta agreement was signed, the faith of eastern Europe was sealed and Romania was forcefully incorporated into the so-called Eastern Block. Bassarabia and northern Bucovina became Soviet territory.
Video compilation of the occupied territories prior to the Soviet invasion
Transnistria (the eastern part of Bessarabia/Moldova) became a breakaway region in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Moldova became independent and Russian troops invaded and occupied the eastern territory. Transnistria, today a Russian defacto state, is not recognized by the international community.
In late 2013, Moldova received a warning from Russia for seeking closer ties with Europe and Romania. Russia Putting a Strong Arm on Neighbors (New York Times)
Starting with 1939, USSR carried out massive deportations of Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Finns, Romanians, Ukrainians, Poles, Germans, Crimean Tatars and entire populations of North Caucasus – totaling 7-8 million people. Many died due to disease, cold and malnutrition because of the inhumane transportation conditions and also the conditions encountered in Siberia.
The following story goes back to the 1941 deportations of ethnic Romanians from Bessarabia.
Story from the Gulag, as seen by a 6 year old child
A few days ago we received a visit from Antonina Grecu. She arrived with a bag full of documents and a soul full of memories to tell us her own story of the Gulag. She was only six years old when she was deported with her sister Mila and her parents Anthon and Teodosia Galeţchi from Donduseni village.
Her father was taken from the train that took them to Siberia and they never saw him again. One year later in Siberia, she buried her mother who could not endure the cold, the hunger and the injustice of the exile. 70 years have passed since the deportations of 1941, but the horrors experienced by the child cannot ever be forgotten.
Teodosia with daughters Mila and Antonina in 1940, a year before the deportations.
The Act of Union (with Romania) made victims among the Galeţchi brothers
Antonina Grecu, born Galeţchi, believes all the misfortunes have marked their family in 1940, long before the first wave of deportations. Her father’s younger brother, Nicholas Galeţchi, was the first victim of the Soviet invasion – they took him from the family house at night, straight into a black car – and took him to Russia where he was shot like a criminal.
Another brother of his father, Simon Galeţchi MP who had voted for the country’s union – it’s him that the soviets were looking for. But because he was in Romania at that time, it was his family – made up of wife and five little children – who payed the ultimate price, along with Antonina’s father, Anton Galeţchi, who was also shot by the Soviets. Later, when the deputy returned home, he was also shot by the soviets.
June 1941, Donduseni village…
“For some reason, I was going through these bad moods in the spring of 1941. I’d start to cry out of the blue and no one could stop me. Maybe my child intuition was whispering to me that something bad was going to happen to us soon, that I’ll never walk these paths again after June 12…”
Eversince the russians had occupied our village, our lives had changed. In front of the family house, we had this big knotweed blanket…the summer had started with neverending rains. And a few soldiers were asked to guard our houses every night. No one knew why… The knotweed was ruined by the people walking straight on it. My mother was using is every summer to put her cotton canvas made during winter to dry. She had a fight with dad once about why is he allowing them walk all over it. After listening to her with patience, he answered calmly “We wont use it any more this summer, let them walk over it…”
June 12 1941 – Around 2 o’clock at night, two soldiers came knocking on the door. After reading the deportation order, they told everyone to get dressed and come out. “My mother and sister started to cry, we didnt know what to do. They allowed us to take food and clothes but not more than 60 kg. I dont think we took much because we didn’t eat for days in the train. We left behind carpets, pillows, horses, cows, chickens, everything…”
When they were taken out of the house, lead from behind at gunpoint, they were terrified. The whole village was rumbling with noise: screams from people, from animals, it was like the end of the world. “Even now when I hear dogs barking, I feel like the two soldiers will show up again and the whole tragedy will repeat itself”
They took them to Tarnova train station. They couldve taken them to Donduseni train station but they were afraid of being attacked, of someone helping out the deportees. Simion Galeţchi’s family – father’s brother and former deputy, was also taken away that night. Simion had remained in Romania after Basarabia was occupied by the Soviet Union and the borders were closed in 1940. His wife and five children were still in the village – 15 year old Veronica and two boys of only 2-3 years old. “They were taken away in the middle of the night – what fault did those children have? No one ever proceeded like this, not even the turks or tatars!”
“How I lost my father”
They were taken to Tarnova train station together with their cousins. They were put in merchandise wagons. Every wagon was well guarded by russian soldiers. […] One day, at a train station, two soldiers entered the wagons and ordered all the men to take a few clothes and to follow them. They said they were going to transport the men with a different train so they can reach teh destination faster and build homes for the families before they all arrive in Siberia…That was the last time we ever saw dad. We never heard from him again”.
In the 90’s, she wrote to the Russian Security service to ask about him. They answered saying he was shot on april 18 1942, in Ivdel village, Kursk region – for being a member of an opposition party. He had been “cuzist”, member of a legitimate party in Romania. His only fault was that the party was not a communist one.
“The final plan was our death”
Many days have passed until we reached the destination – Jirnova in Novosibirsk region – an area surrounded by swamps adn forests, where people would come only during winter when then swamp was frozen. It was a deportees village – used for this purpose for centuries. “When we got there, the war had already begun, because we only found women, children and elder in the village. They put us into locals homes where we stayed until the summer of 1942. The living conditions were unbearable – during summer we were bitten by mosquitoes and all kinds of flies, and snakes were everywhere. You’d hear every day how someone got bitten by viper snakes. During winter, the cold was below 40 degrees. We didnt have proper clothing, and we werent used to winters like that either. Whatever clothes we had taken from home – mum had exchanged them for food.
The women were taken to work at “sohvoz”. I remember how once they were taken to pick up sunflower seeds. At the end, they would always check on them to see if they stole seeds. They found a few sunflower seeds in a woman’s shoes once, and she was taken to trial for it and given a few years in jail. That was her luck, because she was the only one who survived out of all the women. They all died either from cold, or hunger. Our death was their final plan, because all the men were taken away in 1941 and were never heard from again, and almost all the women and children died because of the harsh conditions.”
“I learned not to cry from hunger”
I cant forget a moment from the winter of 1942. We were living with a woman with two children, whose husband was fighting on the war front. The lady with the two children were sleeping on the oven, and me and my mother on the ground. One night me and my sister we started to cry from hunger, because mum didnt have what to exchange for food anymore. Poor mum, she hadnt eaten anything either. Around midnight, when she couldnt bare to hear our cries anymore, she got out of the house with almost no clothes on during a fiery cold – called “purga” in Russia. She was at the end of her strength- she was just running on the fields through snow, and me and my sister were running after her crying and begging her to come back. We promised to never cry from hunger again. After many cries, she decided to come back. That was very hard because the constant snowing had covered our tracks and it took us long time wandering through the night cold, until we found our way back to the house. After that night, probably from the cold, or from hunger, mum got very sick. When the weather started to warm up, she couldnt get out of bed anymore, her body was swollen, she had wounds everywhere.
In september 1942, she died. She was buried by her children in Siberia.
During summer we lived in an ironing shed, with our aunt Catinca and her children. But in july our aunt died too, and then her two youngest children. My sister and my older cousin were taken to cut wood in the forest – at 15 they’d take you to work. How we escaped and didnt die from starvation? Through a miracle. When snow melted, we found frozen potatoes in locals gardens, we’d cook them and eat. Then we’d eat any kind of leaves we’d find. Boil them and eat – we were swollen from eating so many. We also found a few other vegetables that grow through Siberia, thats how we escaped death.”
Antonina, who was seven years old, and her two cousins were left alone in the world. They were wandering the streets begging, sometimes families would let them stay with their young kids and give them food. “We were starved, dirty, full of diseases, naked and barefoot. This is how we became street children in the winter of 1942. How did we survive? We used to look for houses where we’d see smoke coming out of bathroom, use it to warm ourselves up, and at evening we’d sleep there because all locals had bathrooms that were left open at night”. In 1943, all street kids were taken to an orphanage from Pihtovka. The conditions were bad here too, but at least they had a roof over their head.
Getting back to Moldova
“Although many of us were moldovan kids, we had forgotten the romanian language. When a moldovan would work in the kitchen, they used to call us to dinner in Romanian. Those were the only few words that we still knew. In 1947, my maternal grandmother learnt about our whereabouts. A russian neighbour helped her write a letter to some russian ministry and we were found at the Pihtovka orphanage. […] I was back in Tarnova in june 1947, during the hunger. My two cousins were taken to Donduseni”
Poor cousin Gabriel! After losing both his parents in the first deportation, he was taken back home to my father’s brother – our uncle. But in 1949, during the second wave of deportations he was taken again, this time with my uncle’s family. He went through the same torment all over again in Siberia. He eventually returned home – because of Hrusciov’s new law – but this time he was already very sick and weakened by the ordeal, and he died a young man, alone…”
“In my parents memory, I still keep the knotweed in front of the house. I don’t wish to my worst enemy to go through what I went through at only six years of age. Maybe some of today’s children still have big difficulties in their lives, but at least they’re not ripped away from their homes, in the middle of the night, for an unknown destination…”
See the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism for the public recognition of Communist crimes