Odesa Oblast Archives
The State Archives of Odesa Oblast are located at Zhukovs’koho str. 18, Odessa, Odessa Oblast, Ukraine. In 1920, the archives were founded as the Odesa Historical Archives. The earliest documents are dated as early as 1572.
A collection specifically covering the period of Romanian/German occupation of Odesa and Odesa Oblast between 1941-44, includes archives of government organs formed in the Governorship of Transnistria (the territory between the Dniester and the Bug River that was the main recipient of Jews deported from the Bukowina region (which includes Czernowitz). Romanian wartime leader Antonescu’s government had been officially entrusted with governing and exploiting the region, which was established as a series of penal colonies – 13 districts.
According to JewishGen, “A prefect ruled over each district and enforced the Ordinance. A pretor administered each sub-district. Balta was one of the thirteen, with the capital city of Balta. Each district was governed by a prefect, who in the case of Balta was Vasile Nica. Local gendarmerie and police were subordinate to the prefects. Balta police and gendarmerie were from Fifth Balta Battalion.”
The Transnistria authorities ordered men and women between the ages of 18 and 60 to work.
The Ghetto Economy
The deportees’ belongings were bartered for food, fuel, living quarters. According to JewishGen, they were promised a daily wage in the form of food and money, but it’s unclear whether they received pay at all until late of 1943. There are multiple lists in the Archives concerning Jews in Transnistria. Lists of inmates sent to various forced labors, inmates receiving postal packages, Jews transferred to forced labor in various factories. Jews helped construct an airfield in Balta.
According to Yad Vashem Studies on the European Jewish Catastrophe and Resistance, Jews were expected to perform “exterior slave labor, local factory labor, both local and exterior agricultural labor, the cutting and clearing of trees, and the removal of large, heavy stones. Women worked mostly in the ghettos.” Factories known to “employ” Jews included a cloth factory in Balta where women labored, and a factory where slippers were made.
As a resident in the Bershad Ghetto herself, Etel Blei Schmatnik also reported for labor, and I was able to locate a receipt of monies to be remitted to her in the Balta Ghetto to compensate her for her work, the source labeled, Monetary amounts that were to be remitted to the Jews in Balta Ghetto, from the Odessa Oblast Archives.
Other family members deported to Transnistria included
- Samuel Schmatnik (my grandfather)
- Sigmund Schmatnik (Etel’s brother-in-law), deported to Transnistria in 1942 (and his wife, Regina)
- Rose Stanger Blei (Chaim’s wife, Etel’s grandmother)
- Regina Blei (Etel’s sister) and her husband Fillip, and children Henya, Carl and Fritzi
- Chaja Schmatnik
After WW2, though many left, some Jews remained in the area known as Transnistria. About 1,795 Jews (including 175 from Bukovina) remained after the liberation on March 29, 1944.