The town of Rybnitsa is located on the left bank of the Dniester river. It is considered the largest industrial center of the unrecognized PMR. The population is about 40 thousand people. The first known settlements appear here in the 14th century. As a result of raids by nomads and Cossacks, they were repeatedly destroyed. In 1628, the city and the fortress were marked on the maps of the Principality of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland. This year is considered the date of foundation of Rybnitsa. In 1793, the territory became part of the Russian Empire. By the end of the 19th century, a railway passed through the town, and navigation was established along the river. During the First World War and the Civil War, Rybnitsa changed hands between the warring parties. In 1924, with the formation of the Moldavian ASSR, it received the status of a regional center, in 1938 – a town. The so-called defensive line of Stalin passes through Rybnitsa. The city is captured by Romanian and German troops on August 5, 1941. In March 1944, it was liberated by the Soviet troops. During the civil war in 1992 between the PMR and the Republic of Moldova, there were no military clashes in Rybnitsa.
Rybnitsa in detail
Jews lived in Rybnitsa already in the 17th century. From the beginning of the 19th century, Rybnitsa is included in the Pale of Settlement as part of the Russian Empire. The first statistical data refer to the 1847 census. There are 163 Jews in the shtetl. The 1897 census notes that about 1,600 Jews already live in Rybnitsa, almost 40% of the population. There are Jewish schools, a Zionist circle, five synagogues. The community owns the only pharmacy in the town, a hotel, a mill, an oil mill, a soap factory, warehouses, a canteen, a tea room, more than 100 shops. In 1916, the Jews of Rybnitsa are accused of spying for Germany. In 1917, Russian soldiers executed a pogrom. By 1926, about 3,400 Jews lived in Rybnitsa. In 1935, all synagogues were closed. As a result of Stalin’s repressions, many Jews are deported and arrested. Data on the number of those shot are unknown, they are still a under secret.
With the occupation by the Wehrmacht troops and the Romanian units, numerous murders of the Jewish population take place. In August 1941, a labor camp for Jews was created, practically this is the Rybnitsa ghetto. There were placed the Jews of Transnistria and Bessarabia. On the way, when crossing the Dniester, many were destroyed. They are drowned in the river, burned alive, shot, hanged. Jews were also kept in a local prison and camp for Soviet prisoners of war. Among the prisoners was Chaim Zanvl Abramovich, world-famous as the Rebbe of Rybnitsa. He had the gift of suggestion, and many Romanian soldiers and officers were afraid of him. In March 1944, Rybnitsa was liberated by the Soviet troops. Before the liberation, the Germans set fire to the prison, which held more than 200 Jews. Only two people are believed to have survived the fire. At least 5,000 ghetto prisoners were exterminated on the territory of Rybnitsa alone. More than 3,000 ghetto prisoners were killed in the suburb – Kolbasna. Modern studies believe that at least 25,000 people passed through the Rybnitsa ghetto.
Immediately after the liberation of Rybnitsa, Soviet investigations began to check the prisoners who were able to survive in the ghetto. Many were sent into exile. In 1948, the Jews of the town, headed by the Rybnitsa Rebbe, applied to open a synagogue and were refused. However, the underground synagogue and library with books in Hebrew continued to operate. They celebrated holidays as well. Even the Ministry of State Security did not dare to interrupt the work of the Rybnitsa Rebbe.
The story of Rybnitsa ghetto deserves an apart attention. In August 1941, the Jews were gathered at Sholom Aleichem Street, where a ghetto was formed, which was called the Labor Camp. It was led by a president appointed by the Romanian administration. On the territory of Transnistria, all ghettos were called camps. If the camp received the status of a labor camp, then a president and his guards were appointed from among the prisoners, and were supposed to maintain contacts with the Romanian administration. The camp in Rybnitsa was of an open type.
There was no solid wall or barriers. Prisoners had the right to go out into the town for one hour, at a strictly defined time, in order to exchange personal belongings for food. Being late or appearing in the town at another time was punished by execution or severe beatings.The ghetto also served as a transit camp. In August 1941, 500 prisoners, including children, were shot at the Jewish cemetery. In November 1942, 50 prisoners were taken outside the ghetto, forced to dig a hole and buried alive. In 1943, a commission of the Red Cross visited the ghetto. In 1943 and 1944, aid from international Jewish organizations was sent here. Most of the aid did not reach the prisoners and was embezzled by the Romanian administration and the camp president and people close to him.
In the camp there were constant murders of prisoners. Most of the Jews who were sent to work elsewhere were exterminated. For example, at least 3,000 people were killed in Kolbasna. The living conditions were terrible. The Romanian authorities did not give people food, water, took away personal belongings and left them practically naked. Although, according to official instructions, outsiders, including soldiers and officers, were forbidden to enter the ghetto, they often broke into the ghetto, robbed, raped and killed. Most of the dead were thrown into pits, cellars, and trenches. They were practically not buried, and in the spring of 1942, the dogs began to drag the corpses and bring them to neighboring villages. Mass actions of murders and executions ceased after November 1942, when, after the defeat of the Nazis at Stalingrad, actions of mass extermination of Jews were stopped in Romania. However, the regime in the ghetto remained brutal. According to the recollections of the survivors, German officers came to the camp several times and conducted a series of medical experiments on the children. Some of the prisoners were able to establish contacts with the Soviet partisans and even establish a corridor and leave the ghetto at night and meet with them. Partisans and prisoners provided mutual assistance and support.
Before the liberation of Rybnitsa, the Germans wanted to destroy the camp, but due to the actions of the Soviet troops and partisans, they only managed to set fire to the prison, in which most of the prisoners were Jews. Many prisoners believe that the prayer of the Rybnitsa Rebbe, who was warned in advance about the action, helped. A Romanian officer, who had a feeling of magical admiration for him tried to help and often warned about the dangers. The Rebbe spent the whole night and morning in intense prayer.