A Black Sea port in the southwestern Ukraine, Odessa had a population of nearly 600,000 in 1939. Roughly 180,000 were Jews, about 30 percent of the total. On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany and its Axis allies, including Romania, invaded the Soviet Union. In August 1941, Romanian troops set siege to Odessa. The city surrendered on October 16, 1941. At least half of the city's Jewish population had fled Odessa before Axis troops surrounded the city. Between 80,000 and 90,000 Jews remained in Odessa after the Romanian occupation.
Odessa became the administrative seat of Transnistria (the area of the Ukraine between the Bug and Dniester Rivers which was under Romanian control between 1941 and 1944). On October 22, 1941, a bomb exploded in Romanian military headquarters in Odessa. The blast killed 67 people, including the Romanian military commandant, 16 other Romanian officers, and four German naval officers.
Using the incident as an excuse, Romanian army units assembled 19,000 Jews in a public square in the harbor area and shot many of them. They doused others with gasoline and burned them alive. At least 20,000 other Jews were assembled at the local jail and then taken to the village of Dalnik. There, the Romanians shot some of the Jews and locked others into warehouses that they then set ablaze. Romanian troops shot and killed any Jews trying to escape the fire.
In November 1941, the Romanian authorities ordered the remaining 35,000 Jews in Odessa into two ghettos, Dalnik and Slobodka, established on the edge of the city. Many died of exposure, disease, and starvation over the next three months. In January and February 1942, Romanian police and military personnel deported the surviving 19,295 Jews from the Odessa ghettos to Romanian-administered camps and ghettos in the Berezovka region in Transnistria, including Bogdanovka, Domanevka, and Akhmetchetka. During 1943, SS detachments made up of local ethnic Germans murdered the remaining Odessa Jews, along with other Jews deported to the camps in Berezovka from elsewhere in Transnistria.
The Soviet army liberated Odessa in April 1944.