In 1940, the Red Army occupied the area and Chernivtsi was allotted to the Ukrainian SSR by the Soviet Union. This prompted Romania to switch from an ally of France and Britain to one of the Nazi Germany; in July 1941, Romanian Army re-took the city as part of the Axis attack on the Soviet Union during World War II.
In August 1941, Romanian military dictator Ion Antonescu ordered the creation of a ghetto in the lowland part of the city, where 50,000 Bukovina Jews were crammed; two thirds of which would be deported to Transnistria (WWII) in October 1941 and partly in early 1942, where the majority perished.
Chernivtsi once had a Jewish community of over 50,000, less than a third of whom survived World War II.
Romanian lawyer and reserve officer Theodor Criveanu, as well as the then city mayor Traian Popovici, supported by General Vasile Ionescu saved 19,689 Jewish people. Initially, Governor of Bukovina Calotescu allowed only 190 Jewish people to stay, but Traian Popovici, after an incredible effort, obtained from the then dictator of Romania Marshall Ion Antonescu an allowance of 20,000.
Traian Popovici and Theodor Criveanu were honored by Israel's Yad Vashem memorial as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, an honour given to non-Jews who behaved with heroism in trying to save Jewish persons from the genocide of the Holocaust.