Rostov-on-Don lies at the mouth of the Don River where it flows into the Sea of Azov, a part of the Black Sea. It was strategically placed and an important target for the Germans as the gateway to the Caucuses and the oil wealth that lay there.
Rostov was a target of Barbarosa (1941). After taking Kiev (July 1941), the Germans drove deep into the Ukraine, approaching Rostov. The Germans reach the city (November 20-22, 1941). The Soviets, however, aunch a counter attack and retake the city (November 27). The massive Soviet Winter offensive before Moscow forces the Wehrmacht to retreat west. The Germans are badly damaged by the Soviet Winter offensive. They are only able to launch their Summer offensive in one sector of the front and Hitler chooses the south. Rostov becomes a target again. The Germans cut the railroad at Voronezh near the Don River (July 6). This cuts off Rostov from the rest of the Soviet Union July 9). After reaching the Don, the German offensive divides. The 6th Army, the most powerful force heads east toward Stalingrad. The smaller force moves toward Rostov and Caucasus oilfields. The Germans seized Boguchar and Millerovo in the Donetz (July 16, 1942). Panzers move to cut off Rostov from the east in a classic Blitzkrieg advance. The Germans take Rostov (July 23).
About 20,000 Jews lived in Rostow. Few fled as the Germans advanced. They were urbanized, unprepared for life hiding in the country. Many did not fear the Germans, having studied in German universities. The Germans rounded up the Jews and marched the men to a ravine just outside the city--Zmiyovskaya Balka, or the ravine of the snakes (August 11, 1942). There the killing squads shot them. The women, children and elderly followed. The Nazi killing squads gassed them in trucks and dumped their bodies in the same ravine. Communists functinaries and Red Army soldiers along with their families were also killed and buried there along with their families. The death toll came to 27,000 people. Most of Rostov's Jews who survived the War were serving with the Red Army.
With defeat looming at Stalingrad, German commanders in Caucasus begin withdrawing northward through Rostov (January 2, 1943). The last elements of the 6th Army surrender at Stalingrad (February 2, 1943). Red Army spearheads drive toward Rostov, Kharkov, and Kursk. The Soviets retake Rostov (February 14).