Confiscated family album Bessarabia and Odessa



Confiscated family album Bessarabia and Odessa
Fotografii de familie confiscate, Basarabia și Odesa
Конфискованный семейный фотоальбом, Бессарабия и Одесса


These photographs are part of a family album found on a woman who tried to cross the border between USSR and Romania that was confiscated by the Soviet secret police in 1940. They depict different moments from the life of the family, such as a wedding and a day spent at the seaside in Odessa. The album contains images of members of the family at different ages and of some of the family’s friends.
For over a hundred years both banks of Dniester river were part of the Russian Empire until 1918 when Bessarabia united with Romania and the river became frontier between Romania and the Soviet Union. The new border and the hostilities between the Soviet Union and Romania brought numerous changes to the region but did not put an end to the personal ties between the people on the two banks of the river. In the winter of 1940, a woman of Bessarabian origin living in Odessa tried to join her family that lived on the Romanian side of the frontier by crossing the frozen river Dniester. The border was frequently transgressed from both sides by people seeking a better life or escaping repression. The number of illegal crossings from the Soviet side in Romania increased during the famines and during the collectivisation of agriculture. Some of the inhabitants of the villages located close to the river also crossed to visit their relatives across the border or were practiced smuggling. Those wanting to flee from the country were helped by the people living in the border area who knew the best places to cross Dniester. Many were arrested or even killed when trying to cross. The women whose family album was confiscated by the Soviet secret police tried to illegally cross the border with the help of a guide from Nezavertailovca, a village near Tiraspol. They were both arrested and sentenced to five and three years imprisonment respectively.
Family albums were of interest to secret police as the the Communist Party’s project of social engineering required extraordinary powers of the state over the citizen, including in his/her family life. The Soviet state was therefore very attentive to kinship relations, which from the regime’s perspective could in certain conditions undermine ones devotion to the state and the party. From the secret police perspective, the arrest of a citizen could lead to the development of anti-soviet sentiments amongst the members of his family or friends, who could then also become involved in different kinds of conspiracies. Collecting family pictures, as well as registering data regarding family networks of those who had been convicted was part of the secret police’s attempt to identify those parts of the society from where anti-Soviet elements were more likely to come.
The album shown here was found on a person who had relatives abroad as some of the persons depicted in the photographs lived in Romania. The album therefore could be used to prove the existence of cross-border networks that were perceived as dangerous and from the perspective of the secret police and may also have been used to identify other would be transgressors.
Likewise, the family photographs could provide secret police with data regarding the past of the arrested persons. For example, the economic state of the family is reflected in the material items displayed on the photographs, (clothing, housing, the quality of the photographs and the workshops were they were produced). The photography revealed the social status of those depicted on it. Likewise, the photographs allowed the officers to identify places visited by the convicted persons, and to read on their reverse notes about personal impressions, fillings, and attitudes.

The abovementioned photographs are part of the file number 595, found R-3401, inventory 1, preserved at the National Archive of the Republic of Moldova. The file contains approximately 20 family photographs belonging to the woman who tried to cross the frontier, her birth certificate and an autorisation to travel to Romania issued in 1937 by Romanian Royal Diplomatic Legation in Odessa.

For related entries see:


Soviet Union
Evidence, criminal
Secret police (secret service)
Evidence photographs
Communism--Soviet Union--History--Sources
Identification photographs
Photographs albums
Border transgression
Human smuggling
Dniester River (Ukraine and Moldova)


Dumitru Lisnic


Arhiva Națională a Republicii Moldova, Fond R-3401, Inventar 1, Dosar 595


This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme No . 677355




Copyright for these images belongs to Arhiva Națională a Republicii Moldova


Image/ jpg






Arhiva Națională a Republicii Moldova, Fond R-3401, Inventar 1, Dosar 595


20th Century, USSR

Bibliographic Citation

Dumitru Lisnic, " Confiscated family album Bessarabia and Odessa"

Date Created