Introduction

I do not hesitate to say it: Radu Ioanid merits the recognition of all those who are interested in that history which has so lamely become known as the Holocaust. His work treats an unfortunately little-known subject: the tragic fate of the Jewish communities in Romania . Only a few historians, such as the great Raul Hilberg or Dora Litani, among others, have addressed it in their works. In fact, Radu Ioanid often leans upon them, but his work explores more fully the Evil which reigned in Transnistria. His work, based as it is on material from unpublished archives, thus constitutes a new contribution to this field.

It takes tremendous force to read this book from cover to cover. But the author had still more to write it. Yes, indeed, Radu Ioanid merits our gratitude.

Elie Wiesel

 

The Holocaust in Romania is the first book based on new archival resources that treats the entirety of Romania ‘s role in the Holocaust. Dr. Ioanid extracts from this mass of new documentation a well-­defined picture of the workings of the system of victimization and destruction, clarity about who was responsible for the fate of Jews and Gypsies on Romanian-controlled territory, and a measured but still overwhelming analysis of the cost in human lives and human dignity. All flowed from a clear policy, implemented step by step and on a priority basis, directed and monitored carefully by wartime dictator Ion Antonescu, and aimed at the elimination of Jews and Gypsies from the Romanian lands.

The system is revealed, the responsibility of the Antonescu regime and of Ion Antonescu personally is clear, and the victims are counted. Yet The Holocaust in Romania invites future scholars to plumb the archives still further to build on the foundation Dr. Ioanid has provided.

Paul A. Shapiro

 

 

 ROMANIAN NATIONALISM in the nineteenth century evolved in tandem with the increasing economic role of Jews in the country. In May 1866 Carol de Hohenzollern-Siegmaringen (later King Carol I, 1866–1914) assumed the throne. Two months later a new national constitution was adopted; Article 7 of this document denied Romanian Jews their political emancipation—a situation that would prevail until after World War I. Romanian Jews thus became stateless, heightening their vulnerability to economic and political discrimination.

Although Article 44 of the 1878 Congress of Berlin had linked international recognition of Romanian independence to the granting of equal political and civil rights to the Jews, the government soon abandoned this aim, substituting for full emancipation a procedure to grant “naturalization” only on an individual basis.

After World War I, three regions were returned to Romania as agreed upon in the Treaty of Versailles: Bessarabia, Bukovina and Transylvania . Political leaders were enthralled with the reunification of historically Romanian provinces under the national flag. Simultaneously, however, that same leadership demonstrated a growing reluctance to grant civil rights to minority groups. Despite strong pressure from Western powers, not until 1923 did Jews in Romania win legal equality.

After 1929, “the Jewish question” acquired an increasingly mass character, with recurrent economic crises serving as background. Anti-­Semitic activities were not solely the work of radical organizations. From a desire to restrict “Jewish capital”, both the National Liberal party and the National Peasant party adopted anti-Semitic slogans. Mainstream and fascist parties alike exploited anti-Semitic agitation aimed at the lower-middle class, among whom they nurtured the idea of climbing the social ladder and who blamed “Jewish competition” for thwarting their efforts to do so. King Carol II’s royal dictatorship (1930–1940) substantially intensified anti-Semitism and economic polarization, all the more reason for the masses to adopt anti-Semitic rhetoric and to make anti-Semitic gestures.

In brief, economic problems underscored the rise of Romanian anti-Semitism after 1929, amplifying the political and cultural manifestations of nineteenth-century attitudes toward Jews. External factors also contributed: the influence of theoreticians of anti-Semitism such as Edouard Drumont, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Charles Maurras, and Alfred Rosenberg, as well as the tolerance of Western governments toward the openly anti-Semitic joint regime of Octavian Goga and Alexandru C. Cuza (head of the National Christian party).

Before World War II, the Jews of Romania were organized into local communities that oversaw religious life, education, and philanthropy; Romanian law countenanced the existence of Jewish federations. Regat contained both Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities, most of the Sephardim being concentrated in Bucharest . The Ashkenazim were divided between traditional and liberal blocs. There also were ultra-­Orthodox communities in the city of Sighetul Marmatiei and in Sadagura. Jewish holidays such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach (Passover), and Succoth generally were strictly observed in the smaller Jewish communities, but in the larger cities Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were increasingly the only holidays observed by most Jews.

Virtually every sizable Jewish community had a synagogue, some sort of cultural and administrative center, a communal school, and a home for the elderly. There were several Jewish hospitals: in Bucharest , Iasi , and Cernauti. Two major organizations expressed the interests of this population: the Union of Romanian Jews and the Jewish party. Wilhelm Filderman, who headed the former, fought for the civil rights of Romanian Jews; the Jewish party was a Zionist organization. Numerous B’nai B’rith lodges and other Zionist organizations were to be found throughout the country.

Although the standard of living among Romanian Jews in the 1920s was higher than that of Polish Jews, many were virtual paupers. In Bessarabia and Regat cultural assimilation was quite pronounced. For the most part the Jews read Romanian newspapers, although in Bessarabia the older generation spoke Yiddish. It was also spoken in Moldavia but not in Walachia . Most Jews in Transylvania shared affinities with Hungarian culture.

In 1930, of 756,930 Jews in Romania , 318,000 derived their income from commercial enterprise, including 157,000 from trade and credit, 106,000 from manufacture or the crafts (twice the rate of the Romanian population), and 13,000 from agriculture. Nine thousand were self-­employed, and eight thousand worked in communications or transportation. Romania could claim some very wealthy Jewish families, such as the Auschnitts, who owned steel factories and iron mines. Jewish banks, such as Marmorosh Blanc & Company, Lobl Bercowitz & Son, Banca Moldovei, and Banca de Credit Român, played an imposing role in the economy. Except for the last of these, however, all went bankrupt during the depression of the 1930s.

Civil liberties that Jews had worked for generations to acquire were seriously undermined by the Goga-Cuza government’s anti-Semitic laws of 1938, which, inspired by Germany ‘s Nuremberg Laws, deprived at least 200,000 Jews of their civil rights. Ion Antonescu’s governments of 1940 and 1941 abolished the rights of the remaining Jews. The war and the pattern of Nazi anti-Semitic policy gave the Romanian “Conducator” (or ruler) the opportunity for a radical “resolution” of the Jewish question in Romania .

Raul Hilberg has concluded that 270,000 Jews died in Romania, a figure that seems to be a reasonable approximation. 6 This figure does not, however, include 135,000 Transylvanian Jews killed after deportation by the Hungarian administration of northern Transylvania to Nazi concentration camps or the sizable indigenous population living in Transnistria, which fell to Romania during the war.

What indeed was the fate of the Jews who lived under Romanian administration during World War II? How many Jewish victims lived, and in many cases died, under the Romanian administration during those years? To what extent did the German and Romanian administrations cooperate in the destruction of Romanian Jews? And finally, how can one explain the survival of half the Romanian Jewish population at the end of that war?