The Romanians had taken 75 days and lost nearly 100,000 men in taking Odessa in 1941; despite the overwhelming superiority of the Soviet troops who invested the city in 1944, the Romanian garrison was ordered to resist to the last.

The overall commander, though, realized that the situation was hopeless and detached a portion of his troops under Ion Cepurscu for “special purpose work.” No written orders were given, and Cepurscu was left to his own devices as far as implementation, but the overall goal was clear: the “special purpose” was to remove everything of value from the city and cover up any evidence that might reflect poorly on the occupiers once the Soviets returned.

Cepurscu apparently decided that the most expedient way to do this would be to brazenly loot what precious metals and art he could find and load them onto a freighter bound for Constanta. That much at least is clear; the freighter was found in port when the Soviets arrived in late August 1944. But other than that, virtually nothing is known of the “special purpose group” and its actions before Odessa fell on August 19. Cepurscu’s troops were not among the evacuees and are believed to have perished during the battle for the city.

And that would be that if not for the discovery, ten year later, of a mass grave in the Odessa sewers during routine maintenance. Nearly a thousand identifiable sets of remains were recovered, with only one thing in common: skulls pierced by 8×50mmR Mannlicher rounds, the same ammunition used by the aging second-line rifles issued to Cepurscu and his men.