Odessa Massacre - 25,000 to 34,000 Jews Murdered, 1941
On This Day in Jewish History: October 22-October 24 1941
In Southwestern Ukraine, Odessa had a Jewish population of about 180,000 or 30% of the total population in 1939. In two years, that population changed very quickly. On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany and other Axis parties invaded the Soviet Union. One month later, Romanian troops sieged Odessa and the city officially surrendered to the Axis parties on October 16, 1941. Although at least half of the Jewish population fled Odessa prior to the occupation, 80-90,000 Jews remained.
On October 22, 1941, shortly after Odessa became occupied, a bomb exploded in the Romanian military headquarters. 67 people were killed including 4 German naval officers. The blast was used as an excuse for the Romanian army units to murder Jews en masse. 19,000 Jews were assembled in a public square near the harbour and many were shot, while others were doused with gasoline and burned alive. In addition to this, 20,000 other Jews were sent to the local jail and were then taken to the Dalnik village. Once in Dalnik, the Jews were shot or locked in warehouses that were set on fire.
In November 1941, the remaining 35,000 Odessa Jews were placed into two ghettos, Dalnik or Slobodka, where many of them perished due to the conditions. At the beginning of 1942, 19,295 Jews from the ghettos were rounded up by Romanian personnel and sent to Romanian-administered camps and ghettos in the Berezovka region in Transnistria. Odessa was liberated by the Red Army in April 1944.
The lack of information regarding Odessa is astonishing. It is likely that the Romanians and Nazis destroyed information on the massacre not only because this tactic allowed them to cover their tracks, but because in the case of Odessa, there was only one known survivor.
Mikhail Zaslavsky, one of Odessa’s only known survivors, was 16 years old when he was brought to an artillery warehouse. His mother and four younger siblings ended up in a different barrack and the buildings were soon doused in gasoline and set on fire. Mikhail was one of the few people who managed to escape without being shot. Though he ended up in the Slobodka ghetto, he was able to escape shortly thereafter due to help from a Ukrainian woman, who risked their lives by hiding Mikhail in her home. After liberation, Mikhail joined the army and helped liberate 6 countries from Nazi Germany. Mikhail returned home and raised a family, choosing to stay in Odessa to protect his family’s memory because he “chooses to believe in the good people.”