Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Odessa Catacombs

Sand stone is the main material that makes up the foundation of the older section of Odessa. Sand stone is relatively easy to dig through, and therefore it was used for building within the city. As a result of excavating large amounts of sandstone, large and elaborate tunnels were formed beneath the city that are known as the Odessa Catacombs. Because there are no hills or forests surrounding Odessa, many Ukrainian partisans hid in the catacombs and plotted against the Nazis who occupied the city during World War II.

The stories of these brave fighters are heavily disputed. According to "Official Soviet History", there were many different groups of Ukrainians who used the catacombs as a home base, but they all worked towards the same goal of killing the Nazis. Overall, there were a reported 6,000 Ukrainians and other Soviets operating in the tunnels and they participated in the killing of 6,000 Nazis as well as the derailment of 30 trains carrying Nazi officials and troops. The fighters were so organized and valiant that the Nazis were forced to keep 16,000 troops in Odessa and surrounding villages to keep order. While this story is "generally accepted", recently recovered documents indicate that the many partisan groups within the catacombs did not work together and at times spent just as much time fighting each other as they did fighting Nazis. This has also raised questions about the true effectiveness of this partisan warfare and whether or not they were as successful as Soviet History denotes.

Regardless of these questions, the Odessa Catacombs remain a very interesting feature and tourist attraction. There is now a Catacomb Museum in the nearby village of Nerubaiskoye where there is an entrance to the catacombs and tourists can walk around within a small area. Above the main entrance to the catacombs there is an inscription that reads:

"It was here in the catacombs of the Nerubaiskoye village that the partisans commanded by the Hero of the Soviet Union V.A. Molodtsov-Badayev had its underground base. They successfully operated behind enemy lines."

While these catacombs make for a very nice tourist spot, it is reported that every year at least one person gets lost in the catacombs and many have never been found by rescue parties. Below is rough map of the Odessa Catacombs:

1 comment:

Evan Goldman said...

This is a really interesting post. While I know a bit about WWII and Nazi Germany, this is something I hadn't heard of. I think it was very neat how they used sandstone to carve their city and we're able to contain 6,000 people inside. Now that I have learned about these catacombs, it will definitely be somewhere I visit in the future. Thanks for the post.