It’s quite difficult to gather materials about prisoners of war, especially about captured soldiers and officers of the Soviet army during the World War the Second, even for researchers who have access to the central archives and direct documentary sources. It’s not a secret to anyone that to the soldiers and officers of the Soviet army who were taken as prisoners, as well as the citizens of the USSR from among the civilians, who were taken to “join” the so-called “Great German civilization” and who went through all the horrors of slavery, and then, after exhaustion of physical and moral strength, thrown out to die in concentration camps, the attitude in the homeland was negative. Millions of people, who have already experienced unthinkable torments and survived only by miracle, were considered as traitors. What caused this attitude - it is difficult to answer objectively; we can say this was a vivid manifestation of the state system of that time.

Naturally, all documents on this subject (captivity and post-war repatriation) were classified, and many are still classified now. For Transnistrian prospectors, the task of investigating of this issue is complicated even more, primarily by the fact that all archives from Tiraspol and Bendery either were lost during the war, or were taken out for centralized storage after the year 1953. Some of these documents ended up in Moscow, some are stored in the archives of the Republic of Moldova, and it’s hard to say where it is more difficult to get these documents from.

The main sources for the examination of any subject are, first of all, written and material issuers. First of all, it is of course the archive data. They are the most reliable and objective evidences, on the basis of which one can conduct the full-scale analysis and make conclusions. Unfortunately, as was written above, those sources are virtually closed for us. The second source is the periodical publications of the World War the Second and post-war years. This source is more accessible, but it can’t be considered as an objective, because it was made in accordance with the propaganda of those years, it is quite difficult to determine its accuracy. The third source is remaining – the throwbacks of the eyewitnesses. By and large they are subjective and we should take into consideration the age of the eyewitnesses and the number of years that have passed since that years.   

But if you work with the throwbacks of not five to ten people, but with a much larger number, and strictly eliminate the inconsistencies, emotions, rumors and gossip of those times, keeping only the facts that are confirmed by the testimonies of several witnesses independently of each other, then you can get quiet an objective picture of what happened in Bendery between 1941-1945, including with prisoners of war. We had to go this way - the names and addresses of Bendery residents born in the year 1935 and older were chosen in the social guardianship bodies. There were over four thousand such people. Persons who lived in Bendery for a specified period of time were identified through a preliminary survey. These people were interviewed personally and on record. From their throwbacks, a picture of those distant times was formed, further clarified by available document sources. Talking to these people and recording their memories, you feel as if you are plunging at that time and understand what valuable material you can gather from the words of eyewitnesses of the events of that time. The most vivid and interesting memories are used as illustrative material in this work.

Historical insight: the fate of Bendery of the ХХ century is radically different from the fate of Tiraspol. The present capital of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic became a part of the Soviet Union immediately. The border ran along the river Dniester and Bendery, being a part of the Russian Empire in the 19th century, after the World War the First became a part of the Romanian and capitalist Bessarabia. Even the old Russian military cemetery, where now the Military Historical Memorial Complex “Bendery Necropolis” is installed, at that time was called the Heroes' Cemetery or Dragaina din Tigina.

Here is the first interview of the resident of Bendery Ivashenko N.P.

See reference

“Every year, on July 8, on the Day of Heroes, the Romanian official authorities, citizens, schoolchildren and students, with the flowers in their hands came to the cemetery, where something like mourning rally was held and floral tributes were laid on the graves of Romanian heroes. During all the period of occupation 1918-1944 in the Bendery Fortress the Romanian royal army infantry regiment called “Zeche Vietor” was stationed. The soldiers of the regiment, who died or was killed, were buried in the territory of the Bendery necropolis ... The Bendery necropolis at that time had a much larger area, it was surrounded by a fence, and was well-groomed. Burials on the necropolis were differentiated according to the social status of the buried: most burials were simple graves with crosses, some of them were abandoned. Only rich people could afford to install a monument on the grave, there were not many monuments. I remember only a few graves on which there were large white pieces of marble, it was expensive. But the Romanians laid flowers at these monuments, which means that the monuments were Romanian. Romanians hated Russians and did not look too much after their graves. We didn’t even know that Russian soldiers, and especially generals, were buried in the cemetery” [1].

In addition, the Romanian authorities took care of the military fortification of the city. A chain of five well-fortified bunkers was built in the area of the current Kitskansky lane, in the territory called the suburbs “Plavni”. There were other fortifications, which is not surprising - the border was very close. After the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had been concluded, the Soviet power was established in Bendery. Not for long.

“After Bendery had joined the USSR, the Russian troops blew up these bunkers. When the Romanians had returned here in 1941, they rebuilt these fortifications” [2].

“In the early morning of June 22, 1941, German-Romanian troops rushed to the Soviet bank of the river Prut, trying to capture the strongholds of border outposts, as well as highway and railway bridges. Enemy’s aircraft bombed Chisinau, Balti, Cahul, ferry across the Dniester, including the town Bendery, a number of railway stations” [3]. Bombs fell on the town itself.

“When I was little, my parents and I moved for a long time to the city Galati (Romania), because my father was transferred to a factory for work. Our family was prosperous, we had valuable things. We had returned to Bendery not long before the World War II started, when Soviet power was already in the town. On Sunday, June 22, 1941, my father left for work in the morning. On the same day they started to bomb the town. At that time we lived in our own house on the Maroshesti str.. When father returned from work, he said that the war had begun. He was drafted into the Soviet army and died at the front in 1945. Our family remained in occupation. My mother was pregnant, the brother was born in 1942, died in 1945." [4].

“On Sunday, June 22, I went to my friends to the Balka, through the fields and the railway crossing. As I walked, I suddenly saw planes in the sky flying from the side of Tiraspol. The planes flew very slow and were clearly visible. At the railway crossing there were Soviet soldiers. They had only rifles in their hands. When bombs started to fall from planes, they started shouting at me: “Where are you going, lie down!”. They pushed me to the ground. And they themselves started to shoot from rifles at the planes and apparently shot down some, because several planes fell in the area of the Russian airfield, where the Leninsky microdistrict now stands. The bombing was strong, but I wasn’t very scared. When the bombing ceased, I ran to my friends, and we went to see how the wrecked German planes were burning on the ground.” [5]

The city did its best to resist the takeover. From June 22 to July 23, during continuous bombing, there were battles. But Bendery could not hold out. “On July 21, 1941, under the pressure of superior enemy forces, the last parts of the Red Army left the town, retreating beyond the Dniester. During the departure, their railway bridge and other objects were blown up by our sappers, and on July 23, Bendery was occupied by German-Romanian fascist troops.” [6]

Bendery was captured by the joint German-Romanian troops, but the Germans did not stay here – they gave the town almost immediately to the Romanians and moved on. The Romanian authorities quickly regained their positions they had lost in 1940. And the attitude to the population in Bendery was somewhat different from the attitude, for example, to the population of Tiraspol - the city was “their”, familiar. “Urban economy under Romanian authority quickly rebuilt on the previous capitalist relations tracks. People worked in their workshops or for the owners, or served in public institutions. The Romanian authorities did not oppress the indigenous inhabitants of the city, more precisely, they treated them no worse than before in 1940. Romanian military units were located in the city.” [7]

"Romania patrolled the city from 9 pm until 6 am, and if there was light in this house, the patrol came in and could beat the owners for violating the requirements of blackout." [8] “The criminal situation in the city was prosperous, they did not rape anyone, they did not rob. The property was not expropriated. There was the private initiative, there were no state shops at all, there were only private shops. Romanians also tried not to touch the local people, they punished (sometimes very cruelly) only the guilty residents. But Russians in general, and prisoners in particular, they hated.” [9]

“In summer, 1941, Soviet prisoners of war appeared in Bendery, who, as far as I know, were held in the Bendery Fortress at night, and in the daytime they were used for various jobs in different parts of the city.” [10]

In the period of 1941-1944 there were several camps in Bendery in which prisoners of war of the Soviet army were kept. The very first camp was, apparently, a funded transit camp. It was located in the area of the present shipyard, where was a clean field at that time. The biggest part of the field was surrounded with barbed wire, behind which the camp was located. In the same territory there were buildings of repair shops in which it was possible to take shelter in case of bad weather. There were no other buildings, including kitchens. Prisoners of war who were held in this camp spent almost all their time in the open air. They were dressed in Soviet military uniforms, some were injured and they wore bandages that nobody changed.

The exact number of prisoners of war held in this camp is difficult to establish, but, according to eyewitnesses, there were about five hundred of them. Talking to these prisoners of war was strictly prohibited. The camp was guarded by the Romanian military. Guard dogs were also used in guard. Citizens who knew about this camp visited it on Sundays - on weekdays, visiting the camp was prohibited. “It was capitalism. And there was no time to walk and roam on weekdays - everybody worked. They went out somewhere only on Sundays. I went there with my parents and some familiar women. There were a lot of us.” [11] There were two purpose the townspeople visited the prisoner of war camp with - to feed the prisoners and find out something about their loved ones who fought in the Soviet army. Maybe someone saw or heard something? But it was not always possible to talk to the prisoners - it depended on the duty shift of the guards. Sometimes it was allowed to talk, and sometimes for conversations with prisoners they could even fire. They didn’t shoot directly at people, but over their heads, but this type of intimidation was quite effective. Sometimes it was forbidden even to approach the camp and pass food, but the reason was unknown.

“When we came, more often the Romanian sentries only watched us, but did not say anything. So, we could come up the fence and give food. And sometimes they began to shout at us and did not allow us to come up to the camp. We obeyed. Those who lived under the Romanians knew very well what discipline and punishment were. Why sometimes they didn’t allow me to approach the camp, I don’t know, maybe their superiors checked, or maybe some of the prisoners of war escaped.” [12]

Residents of nearby houses prepared hot food for prisoners - cereals, borscht, soups. Those who lived far away carried pies, boiled potatoes, bread, and lard. Food was passed through a barbed wire fence. This temporary camp existed until November 1941. When the weather became cold, the camp was liquidated. It was not possible to establish where the prisoners of war were transferred from the camp. None of the eyewitnesses of those events confirms the facts of the execution of prisoners of war. Most often, prisoners of war died of wounds, lack of medical care, overwork, hunger and cold. But there were shootings in the city itself. Although the Romanians considered Bendery “their” city, and the attitude to the population was much milder than in the rest of the settlements of the Transnistria and the Bessarabian governorate, all the prohibitions and restrictions applied to Bendery citizens too (for example, gathering in groups, discussing political events and news from the front, speak Russian, etc.). Nobody was going to spare the Bendery citizens of Jewish nationality. All Jews who did not evacuate from the city were subjected to registration and eviction; some were shot on the spot - in 1944, after the liberation of the city, in the moat of the Bendery Fortress (opposite the monument of the 55th Podolsky Infantry Regiment), dozens of burial places of executed Jews, including children and adolescents, were discovered. Now a memorial sign is installed on the place of this execution. The remaining Jews were taken to the Dubossary ghetto, where about 20,000 people died. Today it is already known that 58 Jewish people, including women and children, were shot in the moat immediately after the occupation of the city in August 1941.

In 1941-1942, several permanent camps for prisoners of war were established in Bendery. It was possible to precisely establish the location, the approximate number of prisoners, mores and customs of three camps. The first permanent prisoner of war camp was located on the present street of Cavriago, opposite the building of the Bendery private security service. This camp was small, with a capacity of up to one hundred people. The territory was not fenced, there were few guards. The prisoners of war held there lived in barracks on the territory, moved freely, they went out in groups of five to ten people into the city, accompanied by one or two convoys from among the Romanian military personnel. Citizens brought prisoners their clothes, soap, and hygiene products. In those days when such "humanitarian" assistance arrived in the camp, the Romanians took prisoners to the river Dniester in groups of 10 people. There, the prisoners washed themselves, washed their clothes. Some of the prisoners still wore the military uniform of the Soviet army, but the majority had already changed into civilian clothes from the clothes the townspeople brought.

The prisoners in this camp were fed very poorly, some eyewitnesses say that they practically were not fed, about two times a week, prisoners in a group of five people took large pots and pans in the camp and went around the city to ask for food. They came into the houses of citizens and people gave them what they could. Romanians accompanying a group of prisoners did not go into yards and houses, but hid behind bushes so that they were not visible.

Prisoners were taken to work every day. In particular, prisoners of war from this camp built a road from the city cemetery (now Suvorov St. 120) to the place where the city meat processing plant is now located (Industrialnaya St.).

“The stone for the construction was mined in the old Jewish cemetery. In the place of this cemetery is now located AGSK-2 on the street Sadovaya and Motorcade-2836. Groups of prisoners under escort came to the cemetery, smashed tombstones and other stones on rubble. This rubble then was used for the construction of the road. "[13]

The second camp was located in the area of the current industrial zone, approximately on the area that is now used by the Oil Extraction Plant (Kommunisticheskaya St. - Echina St.). Then this large urban area was simply called Camp Field. [14] The prisoner of war camp had no permanent buildings, only some temporary tents. The prisoners actually lived in the open air, regardless of weather conditions. The camp area was not fenced, only a trench was dug from the river Dniester. The prisoners were guarded by the Romanian military, as well as by the Russians, who came over to their side and became police officers. There were few guards. The prisoners were used in a variety of urban and agricultural work. The number of prisoners of war exceeded three hundred. They were fed very poorly.

“We owned gardens and farm animals in the village Farladany (actually a suburb of Bendery). I remember that once we returned from there and brought fruits and vegetables, grapes to Bendery. Mom told us to turn closer to the prisoner of war camp to give them some food. We wanted to give the prisoners grapes, but the prisoners refused the berries and asked for bread.” [15] The prisoners also had no enough tobacco. They asked for it even more than bread. Children of the townspeople took tobacco from their parents and carried it to the prisoner camp. The territory of this camp was guarded, but the prisoners tried to help the citizens a little, in particular, to harvest firewood.

“Romanians patrolled the territory of the camp and the work, but prisoners of war allowed us to pick up and take with us the brushwood that remained from the tree felling. After logging trunks of trees were cleaned of branches and taken somewhere to the city. When the Romanian patrol passed by and turned its back on a group of prisoners of war, they told us: "Take faster brushwood and run." If Romanians saw that we took brushwood, then they kicked us out, but did not shoot.” [16]

The third permanent camp was located on the territory of the Bendery fortress. It was not possible to establish exactly where and in which buildings of the fortress the prisoners of war were kept. Most likely, in the territory of the former pontoon battalion in the buildings with earthen roofs). But eyewitnesses say that they heard about the location of the camp in the fortress directly from prisoners of war themselves. Moreover, there is a reason to believe that camp no. 2, located on Camp Field, was, so to say, the summer branch of the Bendery Fortress. Prisoners of war in a camp in the Bendery fortress were deprived of medical care, and they were constantly taken to work. The hardest work was the handling of goods at the railway station. The prisoners involved in this work were strictly guarded; there were towers with Romanian armed forces at the railway facilities. The trains with different loads constantly arrived to the station. Unauthorized persons were not allowed to enter this territory, and they shot immediately and without warning. So, Viktor Pavlovich Zubchenko, who at that time was 11 years old, once tried to get closer to the working prisoners of war and toss them a few beets from the parent garden, located next to the railway tracks. The sentry that noticed his “maneuvers” immediately and without warning started to shoot at the teenager. Fortunately, the bullets did not hurt him and, after experiencing fear, he no longer risked to approach prisoners of war.

Lack of proper nutrition and medical care, heavy work led to high mortality among prisoners of war. Dead prisoners were buried in the old Borisovskoye cemetery, where the military historical memorial complex “Bendery Necropolis” is now located. The dead prisoners of war were buried almost in the same place as the Romanian military, but the funeral procedure, of course, was radically different. The Romanian military were buried in coffins, with musical accompaniment and giving proper military honors, as well as with the priest's funeral service, the prisoners were buried two or three bodies in one grave. At first, the bodies were wrapped in old blankets, and only one year later they began to bury them in wooden coffins. Above these mass graves were placed the same reinforced concrete crosses as for Romanian military personnel, but the inscriptions on the cross were: “PRIZIONER RUS” (RUSSIAN PRISONER) - without names or any other identifying information. Some crosses with such half-erased inscriptions were found during the clearing of the cemetery in 2007. It is unknown how many Soviet prisoners of war were buried in the Borisovskoye cemetery. From the recollections of eyewitnesses, it was possible to establish a more or less accurate figure, 150 cases of burial, but, of course, this is not all. That is why at the military historical complex for Soviet prisoners of war was installed one common monument without surnames. [17].

As it was possible to establish using the lists of deceased servicemen of the Romanian army, which is currently being systematized, mainly infantry regiments were deployed in Bendery in the period of 1941-1944; in the Bendery Fortress were located parts of artillery regiments, the third aviation flotilla, border units, etc.

In August 1944, after a long and stubborn resistance, the troops of the Soviet army approached Bendery. A general escape began in the city. Mostly fled the Romanian troops. At the same time, they managed to rob city apartments and houses, taking with them everything that was valuable. Trucks and cars, carts and foot columns left for the West. The city’s defense was already taken over by German units from the army units of the “Southern Ukraine”. German troops resisted to the last. The last days before the liberation of the city, everything around turned into hell. The city was continuously bombed by Soviet and American bombers. There were almost no surviving houses and buildings in the city. On the streets lay corpses, which, during the bombings “flew above the wires.” [18] Before leaving the city, the Germans and Romanians dispersed the typhus patients from typhoid barracks and an epidemic of typhus came to the city: typhus, abdominal, and relapsing, killed the few surviving townspeople. The city was almost dead. The restoration of the city after the war is a separate and glorious page of heroism, well reflected in the materials of the city museum of local history. And prisoners of war were removed from the city in advance. It was not possible to establish where they were evacuated, what happened to them after. After the front left Bendery further to the West, a camp had been set up for foreign prisoners of war from the Nazi army in the city.

According to the NKVD archive in the Republic of Moldova, in which some information was found, a large number of prisoners of war were Magyars (Hungarians), whose country fought on the side of Nazi Germany. The camp had the serial number "NKVD-No. 104." From a survey of residents of the Bendery, no one could name its exact location. Presumably, it was in the Bendery Fortress, on the place of a former Soviet prisoner of war camp or at the entrance to the village Protyagailovka, Bendery. One of the residents remembers that in 1944, German prisoners were brought into the city "... German prisoners, after the liberation of Bendery, were brought to the city. They were led in a huge column from the side of village Farladany, five people in a row. The first hundred meters of the column were senior officers who walked in uniform with numerous awards on it. There were so many officers and so many awards on their uniforms, that the ringing of their awards was heard very far. There were so many prisoners that they were led from 8 am to 4 pm, all in the same order. The prisoners were escorted by soldiers on horses. These prisoners were taken to the territory of the Bendery Fortress.” [19]

As mentioned above, it is reliably known that Hungarian prisoners of war were also kept in the camp. During the work on this material, the Hungarian authorities who we managed to contact, suggested that the camp did not contain prisoners of war and officers, but the male population sent from liberated towns of Hungary from fascist to restore the cities of the Soviet Union. But this assumption cannot be considered as well-argued, because of the 318 Hungarian prisoners of war who died in Bender in 1945 in camp No. 104, all of them, according to the available list, had military ranks from common soldier to chief officer. [20] Moreover, many eyewitnesses say that almost all prisoners, including the Hungarians, were dressed in military uniforms. It is necessary to make a small digression here. Many respondents, giving interviews, by and large did not classify prisoners of war by ethnicity, they usually call everyone Germans. It is reliably known that in the city in the camps of the NKVD of Bendery, besides the Hungarians and Germans, Romanians were also kept, and in Tiraspol were kept also Japanese, who are exotic for our places. That’s why, further in the interview, the term “Germans” was replaced by the term “prisoners”.

As eyewitnesses say in their interviews, the conditions in the Bendery camps for prisoners of war were pretty tolerable, if not good. This is confirmed by many documents.

“The prisoners (1944-1945) were not offended, not beaten, fed very well at the expense of the Red Cross. It is noteworthy that during the distribution of food to the prisoners, no one thought to give the food to their escorts. In addition to prisoners of war, convicted were also held in these NKVD camps. I remember the former city judge and the prosecutor who also worked on construction sites with the prisoners. One day, escorting prisoners to work, I wanted to pick up some grapes in a mined vineyard (I knew where the mines were installed). The prisoners asked to pick up grapes for them. I packed a whole bag of grapes, for which the prisoners gave me chocolate, the first chocolate in my life.” [21]

From the NKVD Order No. 00683 of April 9, 1945, it became clear that, in addition to products and things from the Red Cross, quite acceptable food standards were established for foreign prisoners of war. And this is in a country destroyed by war. So, for non-working prisoners the daily ration of bread was 600 grams. Cereals were also provided (70 gr.), meat and fish (50 and 3 gr.), lard and vegetable oil (3 and 10 gr.), tomato puree (10 gr.), potatoes, cabbage, carrots (300, 100 and 30 gr.), greens, cucumbers, tea, pepper, bay leaf, tobacco and laundry soap, etc. And how many inhabitants of the Bendery in 1945 had 600 grams of bread per day and 300 potatoes?

They prisoners were used to restore and build the destroyed objects of the city. “The prisoners built mainly five objects in the city. As far as I remember, they built the Gorky Cinema, restored the park in front of the cinema; the third object was a store No. 27 near the Bendery-1 railway station; the building of the railway station and the old railway bridge. At that time, on the order of the military commissariat, I was acting as an escort for prisoners and accompanied them to work every day.” [22]

Studying the documents after 1946, there was found no information about prisoners of war in Bendery. A lot of sources on this subject are available in the archive of the NKVD, which is currently stored in the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Moldova, but access for researchers is still closed. As sources that expand the field of knowledge in this matter are identified, it will be possible to prepare new publications on the issue of prisoners of war in the Bendery, an issue that has never been carefully studied before.

It is not known what secrets Bendery keeps, but thanks to researchers, local historians, just curious and talented people, these secrets are gradually being revealed to us.

“Now death and time have made up everyone,” such a wise statement comes to mind when you are on the territory of the Military Historical Memorial Complex. Besides the graves of Russian soldiers and officers, there are memorial plates to the French, Swedes, Romanians, Ukrainian Cossacks of Pilip Orlik and Ivan Mazepa, as well as those who died in the 1992 war. Truly a crossroads of history and fate.

[1] Interview of Getman (Novack) Z.M. 2009 year. Bendery. The materials are stored in the Archive and Historical Department of the Internal Affairs Directorate of Bendery.

[2] Interview Ishchenko N.P. 2009 year. Bendery. Materials are also stored there.

[3] Perstnev V.I. / Bendery. Fireheads of war / Bendery, Polygraphist 2004.p. 5.

[4] Interview with Bachil (Baldescu) M.G. 2009, the same.

[5] Interview Bradu NI, the same.

[6] Perstnev V.I. / Bendery. Fireheads of war / Bendery, Polygraphist 2004. p. 34-37.

[7] Interview of Getmanskaya (Novatskoy) Z.M. , also.

[8] Interview with Vasilieva V.K., same.

[9] Interview with Bachil (Baldescu) MG, the same.

[10] Interview Zubchenko VP, the same.

[11] Getmanskaya (Novatskaya) Interview Z.M. , also.

[12] Also her interview.

[13] Interview with Bradu NI

[14] The name of the time of the XIX century. Units of the Russian Imperial Army conducted summer exercises in this place, hence the name.

[15] Interview with Bachil (Baldescu) M.G.

[16] Interview Ischenko N.P.

[17] Pages of the military necropolis of old Bendery. Issue No. 1

[18] Interview with Getmanskaya (Novatskaya) Z.M.

[19] Interview with Vasilieva V.K.

[20] List of prisoners of war died in the NKVD camp No. 104 in Bendery in 1945. TsGAO MSSR. Archive of the NKVD in the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Moldova.

[21] Interview with Vasilieva V.K.

[22] Also his interview.

Irina Vilkova (1972-2020)

Head of the Archive and Historical Department of the Internal Affairs Directorate of Bendery, 2011





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