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Stalinist terror in Soviet Moldavia, 1940-1953

Stalinist terror in Eastern Europe: Elite purges and mass repression. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2010. PP. 39-56.

The scale of Stalinist terror in Soviet Moldavia remains virtually unknown in the west. This chapter seeks to redress the balance by focusing on these key issues: first, the aim and timing of three mass deportations, the first organised in mid-June 1941 just ten days before the German invasion, the second in July 1949 and the third in May 1951; second, the causes and consequences of the mass famine of 1946–47; and third, other individual or small-scale arrests, deportations and executions. In addition, I will try to make estimates about the overall number of political victims of the Stalinist regime in Soviet Moldavia, including their ethnic and social background. Other facets, such as anti-Soviet resistance and the rehabilitation of victims, are covered only in passing, if at all.

Soviet Moldavia did not exist as a separate political entity prior to 1940. With a Romanian speaking majority, it comprised the great bulk of historical Bessarabia, plus a tiny territory on the left bank of the Dniester River. Before 1812, Bessarabia was part of the Moldavian Principality, created in 1359, a state stretching from the Carpathian Mountains in the west to the Dniester in the east. In the early sixteenth century it fell under Ottoman suzerainty and following the Russo-Turkish war of 1806–12, the eastern part of the Principality was occupied by the Tsarist Empire and named Bessarabia. In March 1918, after more than a century of Russian rule, the local Bessarabian parliament voted for union with Romania, an act backed not only by Germany, but also by France and Great Britain.1 In the inter-war period, the Soviet Union did not recognise Romanian authority in Bessarabia and tried to destabilise it. This included organising several uprisings, such as the one in Tatarbunar in September 1924. Failing to reach a diplomatic solution to the ‘Bessarabian question’ during the Vienna conference the same year, Moscow set up a Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (MASSR) on the left bank of the Dniester on 12 October 1924. Its permanent capital was envisaged to be Chișinău (Kishinev in Russian) and its western frontier the Prut river. Initially, the provisional capital was established at Balta and after 1929 at Tiraspol. The MASSR was comprised of only 30 per cent Moldavians/Romanians and was intended to serve long-term Soviet interests, based on the so-called Piedmont principle.2 During the


collectivisation campaign of 1932-33, there were about 3,600 families deported from the MASSR to the regions of Archangelsk, Tomsk and the Solovki islands, around 15,000 persons in total. A further 18,000 persons died during the famine in the early 1930s. During the Great Terror of 1937-38, another 4,913 individuals, mainly from the state and party nomenklatura, were executed. Hence, out of a population of 600,000 in 1939, approximately 38,000 fell victim to the regime in the 1930s.3

In June 1940, Moscow sent an ultimatum to Bucharest demanding that it give up Bessarabia peacefully, threatening to employ military force if it refused. Romania, isolated after the fall of France and wishing to avoid the fate of Poland, finally surrendered to Soviet claims. As in the case of the Baltic states, Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia, the occupation of Bessarabia was a consequence of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 23 August 1939. Another territory annexed by the USSR from Romania - Northern Bukovina, a former Habsburg province before 1918 - was claimed as compensation for the twenty-two years ‘exploitation’ of Bessarabia. In 1940, more than 60 per cent of the local population of these territories was Romanian. Northern Bukovina, as well as the territories of Southern Bessarabia on the Black Sea coast, was ceded to Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union). In the summer of 1940, there were a mere 285 communists of Bessarabian background, of whom 186 were Jews, twenty-eight were Ukrainians, twenty-one were Russians and twenty-one were Romanians and others.4 Even though minorities, especially Jews, dominated the Bessarabian communist organisation, this number is not representative if one compares it to the total share of minorities in Bessarabian society. In others words, it was not only the majority of Romanians, but also the minorities who did not view the Soviet model as a better alternative to the Romanian pre-war regime.5 At the same time, one should add that the local Bessarabian members of the inter-war Communist Party of Romania were not trusted by the regime, and thus they were marginalised (but not persecuted) in favour of the Transnistrians, that is, communists from the former MASSR.6

Repressive policy in Soviet Moldavia, 1940-41

After the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia in 1940, a rapid process of Sovietisation was launched, the main aim of which was to marginalise or eliminate those social strata capable of organising resistance against the new authorities. The first group perceived as potentially inimical or hostile to the Soviet regime comprised former administrators, gendarmes or other persons suspected of working as agents of the Romanian government. Between 28 June and 4 July 1940, 1,122 persons were arrested from this category.7 The second category included seventeen former members of the Bessarabian parliament (Sfatul Țării), who voted for union with Romania in March 1918 as well as


ex-members of Tsarist State Dumas.8 In the next few months the NKVD arrested around 2,000 other people, the majority being railway workers.9 Another category perceived as anti-Soviet was the priesthood. On 28 June 1940 about half of all Bessarabian priests succeeded in fleeing to Romania (487 out of 1,013). Of those who remained, 48 were killed or deported.10

Mass repressions of potentially dangerous anti-Soviet elements were organised on the eve of the Nazi invasion. On 31 May, Moscow’s special envoy, S. A. Goglidze, sent a report directly to Stalin saying that among the most dangerous elements to be annihilated were the former Iron Guardists, the inter-war Romanian fascist body, characterised as ‘the most clandestine organisation, having years of experience in illegal activities’ and ‘terrorist cadres organised in special paramilitary groups.’ Other persons susceptible to deportation were ex-members of the National Christian Party, National Peasant Party and National Liberal Party (the former two being the main democratic parties in inter-war Romania), who were accused of preparing illegal activities. The list also included other social categories such as landowners, tradesmen, dealers, former members of the Romanian gendarmerie and ex-Tsarist White Guard officers.11 The operation itself was planned for the night of 12–13 June 1941, and it was envisaged that a total of 32,423 persons from Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and Hertza county would be involved. Of this number, 26,173 persons were to be deported and the remaining – 6,250 persons – were to be arrested. As for inhabitants of the Bessarabian territories incorporated into the new Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (MSSR), 5,033 were to be arrested and 14,542 were to be deported, a total of 19,575 people.12

However, according to a report sent to Stalin, Beria and Molotov by the deputy commissar for state security of the USSR, Bogdan Kobulov, the number of those deported or arrested from all occupied Romanian territories was actually 31,419 individuals, not 32,423. How can this difference be explained and what is the meaning of this reduction? There are data only for Bessarabian territory. Here 516 individuals were excluded from the initial list of those to be arrested for various reasons such as: three escaped, thirty were exempted because of illness, 220 changed their place of residence, and 263 did not have sufficient compromising documents. At the same time, a further 667 individuals were not deported, as 103 were ill, 98 changed their residence and 466 persons (children and wives) were excluded as the decision to deport the head of their families had been meanwhile annulled. Geographically, the operation covered the entire territory of the MSSR, except the districts situated on the left bank of the Dniester, the former MASSR where terror had been organised prior to 1940. From this total, 13,682 persons were deported and 4,342 arrested according to the directives of the People’s Commissariat of State Security (NKGB) (political police) and only 165 persons were arrested and 203 deported as a result of decisions made by the NKVD (internal affairs).13


While the documents make clear that those included in the lists of deportees were resettled mainly in Siberia and Kazakhstan, there are no data relating to those arrested; that is, one quarter of the total touched by the operation of 12–13 June. A letter sent by Sazykin, commissar of state security of MSSR, to Merkulov, commissar of USSR state security, on 19 June 1941, reveals that 113 individuals were deported as their head of families were condemned to the ‘highest measure of punishment’, meaning immediate execution.14 What happened to the other persons arrested is not clear: they were either executed or sent to concentration camps. Nicolas Werth has maintained that the heads of the families arrested in the Baltic states during the night of 13–14 May 1941 in all probability were executed, and that could well be the case in the MSSR.15

As a rule, the deportations during the night of 12–13 June 1941 took place as follows. The exact lists of victims were drawn up in advance, and hence the local authorities helped the secret police and military identify precisely where the households were located. The families were awakened in the deep of night, around 2.30 am, and the documents of those in the house were verified to match those from the list. Any luggage had to be ready in forty minutes, the limit being forty kilograms for each family.16 Then, the victims were transported by trucks to nearby railway stations and despatched to their place of destination. A total of 1,315 wagons, distributed all over the territory of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, were allocated for the deportations. Official documents disclose that each wagon transported twenty individuals and each person was entitled to 600 grams of bread daily.17 In contrast, the memoirs of survivors give an altogether grimmer picture: up to 70–100 persons shared a wagon for two to three weeks before arriving at the final destination and the daily norm of water was 200 millilitres, while some deportees received salted fish as their only food.18 Others received boiled water and 300 grams of bread in the morning and nothing else for lunch or dinner.19 According to other testimonies, many deportees were old and sick. Among them was a pregnant woman, deported together with her twelve children only because her husband had fled to Romania in the summer of 1940. She gave birth to her thirteenth child in the train on the way to Siberia.20

The heads of families were separated from their loved ones and sent to concentration camps – 5,000 to the Kozel’shchansk camp and another 3,000 to Putivl’sk – and the members of their families were despatched to special settlements for exiles (ssylnoposelentsy) in the regions of Karaganda, Aktiubinsk, Kustanai, Kzyl-Orda (Kazakhstan), and Omsk and Novosibirsk (Central Siberia).21 According to a document signed by M. V. Konradov, the chief of special settlements of the Gulag, dated 15 September 1941, the number of special settlers from the Moldavian SSR was 22,648 persons, distributed geographically in Kazakhstan, Komi Autonomous SSR, and the Krasnoiarsk, Omsk and Novosibirsk regions.22 Thus, in the autumn of 1941 there were almost twice as many individuals in special settlements compared with the total of deportees of


12–13 June 1941. This means that before the mass deportation operations and thereafter, a series of other arrests and deportations were carried out. A possible explanation is that those deported previously in the 1930s from the MASSR were sent to other regions than the ones listed above.

Besides the number of arrested, deported or executed during the first year of Soviet occupation of Bessarabia, there were another 53,356 persons mobilised for forced labour in different parts of the USSR.23 Given the conditions in which they were mobilised and lived, these people could also be added to the victims of Stalinist repression.24 In sum, there were about 86,000 persons who suffered on account of the Soviet regime between June 1940 and June 1941 in all the Romanian territories annexed by the USSR – Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and Hertza county.25

The reoccupation of Bessarabia and the mass famine of 1946–47

Stalinist terror against the local Moldavian population recommenced immediately after the Red Army reached the River Dniester in March 1944. One of the main tasks of the Soviet security forces was to identify ‘collaborators’ with the Romanian administration during the period 1941–44. The local population feared that repressions would recommence on a mass scale and these attitudes were expressed by peasants to communist agitators and propagandists sent by Moscow into Bessarabian territory on the back of the advancing Red Army.26

In the next few years, Soviet repressive organs in Moldavia focused on identifying, arresting and deporting ‘collaborators’ with the enemy. In the first instance, these measures were aimed at communists who, for various reasons, had remained on Moldavian territory during the war. In 1944 and 1945, hundreds of individuals from this category were identified. The majority were rank-and-file communists expelled from the party on the grounds that they displayed passivity towards the Romanian and German authorities or were not willing to help the partisans or Soviet agents sent in during the war. Only those who had actively collaborated with the ‘enemy’, meaning those who helped disclose party activists or used violence against Soviet citizens, were condemned to imprisonment for up to fifteen years.27 That said, no purges were organised against the Moldavian party nomenklatura under Stalin, in contrast with Estonia in 1949–52.28 The other category of ‘hunted’ was the non-communist collabo­rators, basically former members of Romanian political parties and various cultural associations. Among them were ‘Moldavian-Romanian nationalists’, described as the ‘most dangerous enemies of the Moldavian people.’29

The little-known famine of 1946 and 1947 struck various regions of the Soviet Union, and its consequences in Moldavia were catastrophic. In less than a year, the human costs were comparable to the total losses during the three years of war from 1941 to 1944. The overall number of victims is estimated at


approximately two million dead, including half a million in Russia.30 In Moldavia, the death-toll was around 150,000–200,000.31 What were the peculiarities of the famine in Moldavia compared with other regions of the USSR and what were its main causes? In Soviet historiography, the dominant interpretation of the cause of the famine was the hardships brought by the war, exacerbated by the drought of 1946. The archival documents on the famine in Moldavia published in 1993 give another picture: the mass death could have been avoided if the regime had acted in due time. Initially, the grain procurement plan for Moldavia in 1946 was set at 265,000 tonnes. It is true that because of the drought, on 26 June 1946 the council of ministers and the party Central Committee (CC) adopted a resolution stipulating a reduction in the amount of grain to 161,000 tonnes. Later, even this plan was considered unrealistic. Thus, on 19 August 1946 it was further dropped to 72,000 tonnes.32 But in light of the harsh conditions of 1946 even this figure was beyond the possibilities of peasant homesteads. The Moldavian historian, Mihai Gribincea, has calculated that with a population of 2,183,000 inhabitants and for a minimum of 300 grams of bread per diem per person, Moldavia needed for its own internal consumption about 240,000 tonnes of cereals. Besides, the peasantry needed tens of thousands of tonnes for feeding cattle and poultry,33 as well as further tens of thousands for sowing the land the following year. As the harvest in 1946 was about 365,000 tonnes of cereals, for the people to survive it was imperative that the Soviet authorities completely abolish the collection of bread. By way of comparison, in 1945, when bread was already in short supply in Moldavia, about 710,000 tonnes of cereals remained after fulfilling the plan.34

In August–September 1946 the famine had spread to become a mass phenomenon and in November the number of ‘dystrophic’ (a euphemism for those affected by famine) exceeded 30,000. At this stage, the majority of those touched by the famine were poor and middle peasants. In spite of the officially expressed willingness of the Soviet government to help Moldavia, the distri -bution of grain in August 1946 mainly to these two categories of peasants was far from sufficient to eradicate the hunger. Furthermore, fearing repressive measures from the centre, the local authorities wanted to meet the grain procurement plan by 1 November 1946. The plan was not fulfilled by this date and subsequently it was decided that the deficit had to be extracted from rich peasants, who were being persecuted for hiding bread in their struggle for survival. In the district of Cahul, for instance, of the 250 kulak homesteads made responsible for ‘sabotage’, fifty-three heads of families were condemned on the basis of the civil code, with another thirteen on the basis of the criminal code. By 1 January 1947 the amount of grain collected was slightly over the necessary quota, reaching 101 per cent. However, these results were catastrophic for the so-called kulaks, who thereafter joined the army of ‘dystrophic’ and thus could


not be of any help to their poorer neighbours. For the first time in the history of the province numerous cases of cannibalism were registered.35 In the meantime, the Soviet government allocated a loan of 24,000 tonnes of grain and in January 1947 the first canteens were established all over the republic. By March their number had increased to 1,023, but they were not very effective in combating the famine because of a combination of bad management and theft.

Despite the mass hunger, the Central Committee of the Moldavian party did not ask the centre for assistance, probably fearing that Stalin would order the repression of the local party elite on the grounds that they were ‘saboteurs’. According to some testimonies, when Nikita Khrushchev dared to inform Stalin personally about the famine in Ukraine, he immediately lost his post as first secretary of the Ukrainian SSR, but the republic received help.36 If this was the case, then it seems that the leaders of Soviet Moldavia did not have the right to address themselves directly to Stalin or if so, they could not hope for the same mild reaction Stalin had towards Khrushchev, one of his most loyal lieutenants at the time. In late February 1947, Molotov and Stalin were eventually informed about the situation in Moldavia. However, this was done not by the local party, as one would expect, but by the procuratorial organs and via citizens’ private letters. As a result, Alexei Kosygin, vice president of the council of ministers, was sent to check the situation on the ground. Meeting with the local Central Committee on 24–27 February 1947, Kosygin criticised party officials for failing both to report the scale of the famine and to organise rescue operations for the population.37 Nevertheless, the outcome of Moscow’s direct intervention was meagre. Indeed, ‘mass dystrophy’ peaked in the period February to March 1947: of the 389,000 cases of dystrophy in 1946–47, 240,000 were registered in these two months alone. In addition, the death rate continued to grow in the subsequent months, reaching its height in March and June-July 1947. Only in the autumn of 1947 with the new harvest did it decrease to levels characteristic of the period before the mass famine.

These facts strongly support the opinion of the editors of the documentary volume Golod v Moldove (The Famine in Moldova), who, while admitting that the visit of Kosygin was highly important, maintain that it was not crucial for putting a stop to the famine, as Soviet era historians had argued. In other words, the mass famine was ended not because the Soviet government demonstrated its ability to handle a catastrophe, but rather because the harvest – that is, natural causes – contributed to overcoming the tragedy.38 Thus, the Stalinist regime is responsible for the death of a huge number of people and it is no exaggeration to include these in the list of political victims of the regime. At the same time, one cannot simply assume that the local authorities were less responsible for the death toll than Moscow. More exactly, before February 1947, when Stalin and Molotov were informed of the scale of the famine in Moldavia, the local party apparatus should be considered more responsible


than the centre; after that date, however, the latter should be blamed as the famine continued until August 1947.

There are numerous memoirs related to the mass famine of 1946–47, many of which indicate that although conditions were hard because of the drought, the regime’s inhuman requisitioning policy was largely responsible for the horrendous death toll. For instance, Alexei Guzun from the village of Chițcani, remembers:

For the peasants, the land is sacred; the peasant fought and will fight for the land as long as he lives . . . In 1946 I was 14 years old. Then the greatest tragedy of the Moldavian people and, of course, our family started. There were five children in our family, but two of them were serving in the army. So, at that moment there were just five of us – mother, father, my sister and two brothers, Pavel and me. The reason so many people died was that they cleaned out all our reserves . . . The soldiers swept the last barley we had in the garret. In our house, twelve soldiers were lodged in one room and twelve in the other. And these soldiers, as well as others who were in our houses, fed the horses with barley, but did not care about the people of the village. Probably, if they had left us a few pounds of barley in the garret, we would have had a chance to survive, but without it and when the drought came, the people remained with nothing.39

Another survivor, Victor Volcinschi, recalls even more vividly the tragedy of those years:

We had . . . very serious cases . . . in Bădrăganii-Vechi . . . There were brothers eating each other, and after a few years, those remaining alive lost their minds . . . It was about March–April [1946] when the crisis started. My father tried to hide in the stable and elsewhere, but the authorities were searching everywhere, they pierced every outhouse with forks and iron sticks . . . What is most regrettable is that we had been ‘sold’ by the people from the village . . . those you had grown up with . . . As for those from the district . . . they were at least ‘foreigners’ . . . In 1946 they climbed without any remorse in the garret and swept the small savings we had – yes, it’s true there was a poor harvest in the summer and autumn, but nevertheless we could have survived with what we had . . . But in this way they amassed everything, and not the foreigners, but our lot, from the village, just to meet the expectations of those from the district!40

Collectivisation of agriculture and the mass deportations of 1949

The total collectivisation of agriculture, based on the Stalinist model of the early 1930s, was a permanent aim of the Soviet regime in the newly occupied western territories, including Moldavia. Initially, however, the government postponed the comprehensive ‘socialist transformation of agriculture’ for a variety of reasons: the consequences of the war, scarce state resources, especially machinery, the lack of specialised personnel, as well as peasant resistance.41


From another point of view, individual non-collectivised homesteads were tolerated for a while as they were more heavily taxed than the collectives (kolkhozy). Hence, there was a certain economic rationality in this policy. The most difficult issue related to those rich or middle peasants, who did not want to renounce their properties and become entirely dependent on the discretion of the state. Until 1948, the official policy of the Stalinist regime tried to limit and then marginalise the influence of these ‘inimical elements’. At first, all peasants were susceptible to inclusion in the list of kulaks, but later this category was separated according to more or less precise criteria. The amount of land was not decisive for inclusion in the category kulak, although it was certainly most important for the calculation of taxes (the more land one had, the more taxes one had to pay). Already in September 1940, the limit of land plots was established at no more than ten hectares in the central and northern districts and twenty hectares in the south, where the quality of land was inferior and precipitation lower.42 In the years 1944–46, a significant amount of land under pasture, as well as vineyards and orchards owned by the kulaks, was nationalised.43 In this way, by January 1946 land distribution among individual farmers in Soviet Moldavia did not reveal great social discrepancies, as shown in the following table:44

Table 1: Land distribution among farmers in Soviet Moldavia

Hectares in propertyTotal of homesteads (%)
More than 300 (1)
From 20 to 300 (2)
From 15 to 200 (6)
From 10 to 152 (7)
From 5 to 1023 (3)
From 1 to 565 (3)
Less than one or nothing7 (9)

Of the total of 463,274 homesteads, only 4,144 (8.8 per cent) had two cows and only sixty-one peasants owned more than three; a mere 3.4 per cent of homesteads possessed more than two horses, while only 263 farmers owned more than three.45 In the context of the famine, on the eve of the new harvest in the summer of 1947 it was decided that only poor homesteads would be absolved of paying back their taxes or loans for the previous years. Instead, the ‘kulak and rich’ (kulatsko-zazhitochnye) were instructed to liquidate all their debts to the state without delay. On 30 August 1947, the CC of the Moldavian party adopted a decision ‘on the identification of kulak homesteads’, according to which kulaks were those who had hired seasonal workers during or after the war, bought products from other peasants in order to sell them for a profit on


the market, and hired their machinery to other peasants in exchange for products or money, or had revenues from rented land and mills.46 In other words, all those peasants who adopted some rudimentary elements of a capitalist market economy and thus were independent of the state were perceived as potential enemies of the Soviet regime. A list was drawn up in ten days and included 10,154 homesteads, or 2.1 per cent of peasant farms. After the list was checked by a special commission, only 7,338 were confirmed as kulaks.47 The identification of kulaks and their separation into a special taxation category anticipated the next stage of the collectivisation of Moldavian agriculture. From 1947, the Soviet regime tried to use its fiscal policy in a more discriminatory and discretionary manner in order to encourage rich or middle peasants to enter the kolkhoz. At the same time, in 1948 it was decided that, as in the early 1930s, this social category was the main obstacle to the final and complete ‘socialist transformation of agriculture’ and should thus be eliminated.

Several decisions anticipating the mass deportations of the summer of 1949 were adopted in the second half of 1948. The period of voluntary collectivisation and marginalisation of kulaks was over; it was time, according to Stalinist logic, to deport them from Moldavia. From the autumn of 1948, and especially from the spring of 1949, rumours, partly inspired by foreign radio stations like the ‘Voice of America’, began to spread about a future mass deportation.48 Local kulaks, as in the Baltic states, tried to escape being categorised as such by the regime. One of the main strategies was to split the land formally among relatives and thus enter the category of poor or middle peasant. Others joined the kolkhoz as it was perceived as a shelter against repressive measures. This phenomenon took on an alarming scale for the authorities as a few months before the mass deportation of July 1949, one of the main tasks of the local party and state organisations was to identify and expel in due time the ‘real’ kulaks from the kolkhoz. Ad hoc meetings on the collectives were held for this purpose just days before the deportations took place.49 If a kulak successfully remained in the kolkhoz, his personal security as well as that of his family was assured.

On 12 October 1948, after the lists of kulaks had been verified, the Soviet minister of internal affairs, N. S. Kruglov, sent a secret letter to his Moldavian counterpart, announcing that:

collectivisation of agriculture in the Moldavian SSR is taking place in an atmosphere of intensifying class struggle . . . In order to fulfil the state economic plan for the . . . collectivisation of agriculture in the Moldavian SSR, as well as for restraining the anti-Soviet activities of kulaks, I beg you to ask the Soviet government for permission to deport the kulaks from the MSSR to remote regions of the Soviet Union. In total, there are about 15,000 kulaks in Moldavia. In any case, it is necessary to deport at least the most inimical and most economically powerful, about 5,000 individuals.50


According to numerous local reports, there was a definite intensification of anti-Soviet activities. Peasants entering the kolkhoz were threatened with reprisals by kulaks should the Soviet Union lose a future war with the United States and Great Britain. Thus, one can see that the context of the first years of the Cold War and the emergence of east-west confrontation nurtured illusions about the provisional character of the Soviet regime in the newly occupied territories and inspired certain social categories to resist the authorities. At the same time, there can be no doubt that the deportations played an instrumental role in the establishment of the Soviet regime in Moldavia.

On 28 June 1949, the Moldavian government adopted the decision ‘On the deportation of kulak families, landowners and big merchants from the MSSR’. This decree, based, as in the case of the Baltic states, on a previous decision taken by the USSR council of ministers, identified 11,342 families to be deported, but the final lists had once again to be thoroughly verified. In this sense, local soviets and district and city executive authorities were obliged urgently to present the lists to the Moldavian ministry of state security. The tragic event, dubbed Operation ‘South’, started as scheduled at 2.00 am on 6 July and ended at 8.00 pm on 7 July 1949.51 It ended in the forced displacement to Siberia and Kazakhstan of 11,239 families, or 35,050 individuals. Of these families, 7,628 were regarded as kulaks, landowners and tradesmen (23,056 persons), and the remainder were labelled as collaborators with the ‘German-fascist occupiers’. One must point out that, just as during the mass deportations of 12–13 June 1941, not all those included in the basic lists were deported. In July 1949, of the total of 12,860 families originally listed, 1,567 were not deported for various reasons: 274 families had entered collective farms; 240 produced evidence attesting that certain members of the family were serving in the Red Army; 35 families were exempted on the grounds that their members had received Soviet decorations or medals;52 508 changed residence; and 105 families, informed about the operation, were able to hide at the homes of relatives or in the surrounding forests.53 Some 1,000 escapees were caught by state security officers in the following days.54 It should be mentioned that 305 families, or approximately 1,000 people, deported during Operation ‘South’ were from the former MASSR, the majority of them peasants who had settled beyond the Dniester under Romanian administration during the Second World War.55 Another difference with the deportation of mid-June 1941 is that in July 1949 all the repressed were deported to special settlements and the heads of families were not sent to Gulag labour camps.

What happened to those individuals who in one way or another escaped? The Chișinău authorities took several initiatives, one by Leonid Brezhnev, who served as first secretary of the Communist Party of Moldavia from July 1950 to October 1952. On 16 March 1951, he asked the Central Committee in Moscow for permission to deport escapees from Operation ‘South’, but the central


authorities did not sanction the request. Later, on 28 May 1952, the USSR ministry of interior re-examined the idea of deporting those 3,120 individuals who had escaped. On 10 June 1952, this recommendation reappeared once again in a report of a deputy chief in the ninth directorate of the ministry of interior, but it too never materialised.56 As a compromise between those insisting on another deportation and those rejecting this solution, it was decided that escapee families were to be doubly taxed.57 Others had problems entering the kolkhoz, this being the only way of social integration in the rural areas under the Soviet regime. As they were notable to join the kolkhoz, they could not receive salaries and pensions and their children were susceptible to stigmatisation by the community as ‘enemies of the people’.

What were the shorter and longer term consequences of the displacement of tens of thousands of Moldavians to Siberia? The immediate impact was on the pace of collectivisation, as expected by the Soviet authorities. In the five months following the operation, from July to November 1949, the proportion of collectivised homesteads rose from 32 per cent to 80 per cent. By January 1951, 97 per cent of individual farmers had entered the kolkhoz.58 In other words, the peasantry had dramatically altered their attitude toward the Soviet regime in a matter of a few months. Fearing similar operations, they reluctantly accepted the rules of the potentates of the day and renounced their properties in favour of collective farms. This fear was deeply ingrained as the deportees of 1949 had been displaced ‘in perpetuity’, in line with a decision taken by the Moscow authorities.59 This time, some categories of deportees fell under the decree of 8 March 1941 ‘On obtaining Soviet citizenship by the inhabitants of Bukovina and the re-acquisition of Soviet citizenship by the inhabitants of Bessarabia’. Thus, the logic of the Soviet authorities was that on receiving Soviet citizenship -actually against their will - Bessarabians were susceptible to accusations of treason against the Soviet state by ‘collaborating’ with the Romanian government during the war.60 The above-mentioned law had been used before the deportations of 1949 in order to prosecute all those ‘guilty’ of remaining under ‘enemy territory’, acting as a juridical basis for the forced repatriation of Bessarabians fleeing to Romania after 1944. In 1946, local authorities had registered 40,000 ‘repatriated’, many of them hunted by the Romanian police and sent to the USSR. All of them were treated with great suspicion and some were sent to Siberia as ‘dangerous social elements’.61

The tragic fate of the deportees was vividly described by Nicolae Negru, nowadays a journalist at one of the best Romanian-language weeklies in the Republic of Moldova, Jurnal de Chișinău:

We were educated, all of us, as janissaries . . . I myself, being in the eighth grade, reproached my father for the bad things he used to say about the Soviet regime and socialism. It was not, however, a reproach made in public; I was not yet a fully-fledged Pavlik Morozov, but the case demonstrates that the children of the


deportees were intoxicated to such a degree that they started to accept that they deserved to be deported in perpetuity . . . I have suffered a lot because my father was unlike others and I have lived many shocking moments. One of them I will never forget. I was in the first grade and I was returning home in a very good mood as I had received my first book from the school library . . . It was a book with the image of Volodea Ulianov [Lenin] on the cover. ‘I don’t want to see the image of that bandit in my house!’, yelled my father and threw the book out. I know of other cases, when the offspring of deportees renounced their parents . . . I had to re-learn a lot of things before agreeing with my father, but it was not as easy as one would think.62

The final mass deportation of the Moldavian population took place on 1 April 1951 and was aimed at religious elements, who were seen as a potential danger to the regime. The majority of those resettled during this phase were members of religious sects, in particular ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’, who were accused of anti-Soviet activities.63 As a result of this operation, which started at 4.00 am and ended at 8.00 pm on 1 April, 723 families, or 2,617 individuals, were deported. Over 2,000 ministry of interior officers and soldiers were involved in the organisation of the deportation, as well as 750 members of the party and state nomenklatura. Some 415 trucks were allocated to transport the deportees to nearby railway stations, and from there 135 wagons carried them to their final destinations.64 Members of religious sects were deported simultaneously from the other newly occupied territories – the Baltic states, Western Ukraine and Belorussia.65

The ethnic and social composition of victims

What was the ethnic and social composition of the political victims of the Stalinist regime in Moldavia? The most complete list of victims is provided by the Book of Memory, published in four volumes between 1999 and 2005, but this does not include ethnic identities. According to official Soviet statistics, in January 1953 there were approximately 40,000–45,000 ethnic Moldavians/ Romanians in the deportee settlements (spetsposeleniia).66 Another report from 1950 claims that there were 94,792 deportees from Soviet Moldavia.67 Thus, one can conclude that the share of Moldavians/Romanians in the total of displaced persons was about 50 per cent. Others, as one can deduce from their names in the Book of Memory, were Jews, Russians, Ukrainians, Gagauzes, Bulgarians and Gypsies.68 Hence, Stalinist terror should be categorised as genocide or crimes against humanity, rather than ethnocide as it was not directed exclusively or even mainly against one ethnic or national group.

That said, it is possible to estimate the social composition of the victims of the deportations of mid-June 1941 and early July 1949. During the mass deportations organised in 1941, there were five main categories: ‘anti-Soviet


elements’; former gendarmes, police and prison personnel; ex-landowners, traders and state clerks; former officers in the Romanian, Polish and Tsarist armies; and refugees from the USSR arriving before 1940. One can see that kulaks were not yet in a special category and that rich peasants constituted a minority among the deportees.69 In the second mass deportation of July 1949, however, the kulaks were the majority, representing 70 per cent of the total.70 The goal of the first deportation was clearly to cleanse the western borderlands of ‘hostile elements’ in the wake of a Soviet–German confrontation; the latter was launched in order to fulfil an internal agenda. In this, the Moldavian deportations of June 1941 are similar to those organised almost simultaneously in the Baltic states, Western Ukraine and Belorussia.71 However, there are differences. In the Baltic states and Western Ukraine, for instance, the deportees included family members of the armed resistance movement, such as Latvia’s ‘forest bandits’.72 While there was sporadic violent resistance in Soviet Moldavia up to 1952, no such mass armed movement existed. This may reflect a weaker national consciousness, in part because many Bessarabian intellectuals and representatives of the liberal professions – the main carriers of modern national identity – emigrated to Romania.73 Another factor accounting for more active peasant resistance in Western Ukraine and the Baltic states could be the predominance of the khutor sector in those societies.74 In other words, the Moldavian deportations of July 1949 were more of a prophylactic strike than those in the other territories, where they were aimed at both ending an insurgency and speeding up collectivisation.


This chapter has attempted to calculate the number of victims resulting from Stalinist rule in Soviet Moldavia, and has relied primarily on archival research, secondary sources and memoirs. While it is always difficult to arrive at precise figures due to the deliberate fusing of the ‘political’ and ‘criminal’ under a totalitarian regime, I have nonetheless been able to establish fairly accurate figures for victims of the three major deportations, the post-war famine and a variety of additional persecutions.75 First, Soviet repression in the immediate aftermath of Bessarabia’s annexation in 1940 until June 1941 claimed approximately 86,000 political victims. In an attempt to liquidate elements of society deemed ‘anti-Soviet’, a total of 26,173 people were deported, primarily to Siberia and Kazakhstan, and 6,250 were arrested in June 1941; this figure includes Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and Hertza county, all Romanian territories occupied by Moscow in June 1940. Additionally, 53,356 people were subjected to forced labour in different regions of the USSR and, given their status and work conditions, these should also be included as political victims of Stalinist terror.


The second era of mass suffering occurred during the famine of 1946–47. While hundreds of accused ‘collaborators’ were arrested and deported in the immediate aftermath of Second World War, these numbers are dwarfed by the 150,000–200,000 residents of Soviet Moldavia who died as a result of the famine. Although the drought was not caused by Stalin, there is sufficient evidence to conclude that Soviet agricultural and fiscal policies caused the deaths in Moldavia. It is quite probable that, with different policies, deaths would have been nominal, if not avoided altogether.

The third period of mass victimisation occurred during collectivisation and culminated with mass deportations in 1949. Adopting policies used in Soviet territories during the 1930s, central administrators prepared lists of kulak ‘class enemies’ as early as 1948 and began deportations in early July 1949. A total of 35,050 people were deported to Kazakhstan: 23,000 were supposed kulaks, and the remainder were accused of collaborating with the Romanian and German authorities. I also discussed some of the long-term consequences of this mass displacement, both for the deportees and for the peasants who remained behind in Soviet Moldavia.

All in all, if we include the repressions in the inter-war Moldavian Auton -omous Republic, the total number of direct victims of the Stalinist period in the territories of the present day Republic of Moldova amounts to approximately 300,000–350,000 individuals. The number of those who suffered indirectly from the terror of this regime is incalculable. Finally, a brief analysis of the social and ethnic composition of the victims suggests that Stalinist terror in Soviet Moldavia should not be categorised as ethnocide, but rather as genocide or a crime against humanity. I concluded with some comparisons of victimisation in the Baltic states from the same period, but this comparison is under-explored and remains a promising avenue for future research.


  1. For details, see G. Torrey, Romania and World War I (IaȘi-Oxford-Portland, 1999), p. 326.
  2. According to Terry Martin, the ‘Piedmont principle’ was the ‘belief that cross-border ethnic ties could be exploited to project Soviet influence into neighbouring states’. See T. Martin, The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923–1939 (Ithaca, 2001), pp. 274–5. Also M. L. Schrad, ‘Rag Doll nations and the Politics of Differentiation on Arbitrary Borders: Karelia and Moldova’, Nationalities Papers, vol. 32, no. 2 (2004), pp. 457–96.
  3. E. Negru, ‘Republica Autonomă Sovietică Socialistă, 1924–1940’, in D. Dragnev (ed.), O istorie a regiunii transnistrene din cele mai vechi timpuri până în zilele noastre (Chișinău , 2007), pp. 268–72.
  4. V. Stăvilă, De la Basarabia românească la Basarabia sovietică, 1939–1945 (Chișinău, 2000), p. 14.
  5. 5 Arhiva Organizațiilor Social Politice a Republicii Moldova [Archives of Social and Political Organisations of the Republic of Moldova, archives of the former Central Committee of the Communist Party of Moldavia – hereafter AOSPRM], f. 51, inv. 15, d. 99, fas. 3–8.
  6. AOSPRM, f. 51, inv. 15, d. 99, fas. 3–8.
  7. I. Scurtu (ed.), Istoria Basarabiei, de la începuturi până la 1998 (Bucharest, 1998), p. 224.
  8. E. Postică, Deputații Sfatului Țării represaț i în anul 1940, in Cugetul, no. 1 (1998), pp. 92–8.
  9. A. Moraru, Istoria românilor. Basarabia ș i Transnistria (Chișinău, 1995), p. 337.
  10. M. Gribincea, Basarabia în primii ani de ocupație sovietică , 1944–1950 (Cluj, 1995), p. 35.
  11. V. Pasat, Trudnye stranitsy istorii Moldavii, 1940–1950 (Moscow, 1994), p. 147.
  12. Pasat, Trudnye stranitsy, p. 164.
  13. Pasat, Trudnye stranitsy, pp. 166–7.
  14. V. Pasat, Surovaia pravda istorii. Deportatsii s territorii Moldavskoi SSR, 40–50 gody (Chișinău, 1998), pp. 98–100.
  15. N. Werth, ‘A State Against Its People: Violence, Repression, and Terror in the Soviet Union’, in S. Courtois, et al. (eds), The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Cambridge: MA, 1999), pp. 212–13.
  16. Memoirs of Vadim Pirogan, in S. Saka, (ed.), Basarabia în GULAG (Chișinău, 1995), p. 84.
  17. Pasat, Trudnye stranitsy, p. 153.
  18. V. Olaru-Cemârtan, ‘Deportarea masivă de populație din RSSM din 12–13 iunie 1941’, Destin românesc, no. 3 (2006), p. 65.
  19. Memoirs of Vadim Pirogan, in Saka (ed.), Basarabia în GULAG, p. 99.
  20. E. Kersnovskaia, Skol’ko stoit chelovek, edited by V. Pasat (Moscow, 2006), pp. 132–3.
  21. Pasat, Trudnye stranitsy, pp. 159–60.
  22. S. V. Mironenko et al. (eds), Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga. vol. 1: Massovye represii v SSSR (Moscow, 2004), p. 407.
  23. Moraru, Istoria românilor, p. 337.
  24. Pasat, Surovaia pravda istorii, pp. 107–23.
  25. I. Cașu, ‘Politica națională ’ în Moldova Sovietică , 1944–1989 (Chișinău, 2000), pp. 32–3. See also M. I. Semiriaga, Tainy stalinskoi diplomatii (Moscow, 1992), p. 270.
  26. AOSPRM, f. 51, inv. 2, d. 127, fas. 34.
  27. AOSPRM, f. 51, inv. 2, d. 16, fas. 267–77; inv. 3, d. 14, fas. 351–72; inv. 3, d. 21, fas. 99, 107, 115.
  28. E. Zubkova, ‘Fenomen “mestnogo natsionalizma”: “Estonskoe delo” 1949–1952 gg. v kontekste sovetizatsii Baltii’, Otechestvennaia istoriia, no. 3 (2001), pp. 89–102.
  29. AOSPRM, f. 51, inv. 3, d. 7, fas. 1–10, 17–19.
  30. E. Zubkova, Russia after the War: Hopes, Illusions and Disappointments, 1945–1957 (New York, 1998), p. 47.
  31. A. Țăranu et al. (eds), Golod v Moldove (1946–1947). Sbornik dokumentov (Chișinău, 1993), p. 10.
  32. Țăranu et al. (eds), Golod v Moldove, pp. 7, 205–7.
  33. Gribincea, Basarabia în primii, p. 75.
  34. Țăranu et al. (eds), Golod v Moldove, p. 7.
  35. Țăranu et al. (eds), Golod v Moldove, pp. 321, 387, 408, 465, 480, 487, 546, 604, 606–8, 612, 636, 669, 687.
  36. Țăranu et al. (eds), Golod v Moldove, p. 10.
  37. Țăranu et al. (eds), Golod v Moldove, pp. 498–512.
  38. Țăranu et al. (eds), Golod v Moldove, pp. 12–13. See also Gribincea, Basarabia în primii, pp. 99–100.
  39. L. Turea and V. Turea, Cartea foametei (Chișinău, 1991), p. 32.
  40. Turea and Turea, Cartea foametei, p. 38.
  41. E. Postică, RezistenȚa antisovietică în Basarabia, 1944–1950 (Chișinău, 1997), pp. 96–107.
  42. V. Țaranov et al. (eds), Kolektivizatsiia krest’ianskikh khoziaistv v pravoberezhnykh raionnakh Moldavskoi SSR. Dokumenty i materialy (Chișinău, 1969), pp. 27–8.
  43. Pasat, Surovaia pravda istorii, p. 200.
  44. Țăranu et al. (eds), Golod v Moldove, p. 198.
  45. Țăranu et al. (eds), Golod v Moldove, p. 198.
  46. Țaranov et al. (eds), Kolektivizatsiia krest’ianskikh, pp. 173–4.
  47. Pasat, Surovaia pravda istorii, pp. 201–2.
  48. R. Șevcenco, ViaȚa politică în RSS Moldovenească, 1944–1961 (Chișinău, 2007), p. 99.
  49. Pasat, Trudnye stranitsy, pp. 348–9, 421–2.
  50. Pasat, Surovaia pravda istorii, pp. 220–1.
  51. Gribincea, Basarabia în primii, pp. 129–30.
  52. This probably concerned not only medals received during the war, but also special merits in the reconstruction of roads and railways, for which many peasants were mobilised. AOSPRM, f. 51, inv. 2, d. 5, ff. 345–59.
  53. Pasat, Trudnye stranitsy, p. 485.
  54. Pasat, Trudnye stranitsy, pp. 43, 491.
  55. S. Digol, ‘Operatsiia “Iug” v levoberezhnoi Moldavii: zabytyi fragment “reabilitirovannoi pamiati”’, AB IMPERIO, no. 2 (2004), pp. 269–96.
  56. T. V. Tsarevskaia-Diakina (ed.), Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga. vol. 5: Spetspereselentsy v SSSR (Moscow, 2004), pp. 677–8, 686.
  57. V. Țaranov, ‘O likvidatsii kulachestva v Moldavii letom 1949 goda’, Otechestvennaia istoriia, no. 2 (1996), p. 78.
  58. Pasat, Trudnye stranitsy, pp. 46–7.
  59. Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga, vol. 1, p. 530.
  60. E. Șișcanu, Basarabia sub regimul bolșevic, 1940–1952 (Bucharest, 1998), p. 107.
  61. Pasat, Trudnye stranitsy, p. 31.
  62. Contrafort, no. 9 (September, 2003), p. 6.
  63. Pasat, Trudnye stranitsy, p. 635.
  64. Pasat, Trudnye stranitsy, pp. 632–5.
  65. Istoriia Stalinskogo Gulaga, vol. 5, p. 665.
  66. N. F. Bugai, ‘40–50-e gody: posledstviia deportatsii narodov’, Otechestvennaia istoriia, no. 2 (1992), p. 142; Pasat, Surovaia pravda istorii, p. 370. See also Argumenty i fakty, no. 39 (1989), p. 8.
  67. Werth, ‘A State against Its People’, in Courtois et al. (eds), The Black Book, p. 237.
  68. E. Postică (ed.), Cartea Memoriei, vols 1–4 (Chișinău, 1999–2005).
  69. Pasat, Trudnye stranitsy, p. 167.
  70. Pasat, Trudnye stranitsy, p. 392.
  71. See A. Statiev, ‘Motivations and Goals of Soviet Deportations in the Western Borderlands’, in Journal of Strategic Studies, vol. 28, no. 6 (2005), pp. 977–1003; and G. Swain, ‘Deciding to Collectivise Latvian Agriculture’, Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 55, no. 1 (2003), pp. 38, 48–9.
  72. A. Anušauskas (ed.), Anti-Soviet Resistance in the Baltic States (Vilnius, 2006), pp. 63–70.
  73. Șevcenco, ViaȚa politica, p. 77–8.
  74. The khutor system refers to the existence of large individual households, isolated from each other, unlike the traditional village communities, characteristic of Bessarabia and most of Russia.
  75. The official Soviet statistical division between ‘politicals’ and ‘criminals’ was highly arbitrary. See M. Ellman, ‘Soviet Repression Statistics: Some Comments’, Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 54, no. 7 (2002), p. 1156. For example, there is broad unanimity among prominent Russian historians that those condemned according to the law of 2 August 1932 (re-established on 25 October 1946), on the theft of public property, should be counted as political victims of the regime. See O. V. Khlevniuk, The History of the Gulag. From Collectivization to the Great Terror (New Haven and London, 2004), p. 306; and N. Werth, ‘“Déplacés spéciaux” et “colons de travail” dans la société stalinienne’, Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire, vol. 1 no. 54 (1997), pp. 34–50.