9. The Fate of Romanian Jews Living Abroad

Romanian foreign policy reflected the fluctuating policies of the Romanian fascist leaders toward citizens of Jewish ancestry living abroad. In 1938-1939, the Goga-Cuza government and the royal dictatorship responded to international protests against their anti-Semitic policies with a diplomatic offensive, proposing emigration as the only solution to „the Jewish question.” But the Legionnaire regime established on September 6, 1940, intensified anti-Semitic policy, including that toward Romanian Jews abroad. Passport renewals were denied for a wide range of reasons (not having paid military taxes, for instance), and return to Romania became more difficult. Sometimes Jews were flatly told not to come back, even when they had been expelled from other states, which led to protests by several governments. On March 7, 1941, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered Romanian consulates to stamp the word „Jew” on passports held by Romanian Jews. The need to assuage public opinion and „Jewish interests” in Great Britain and the United States made Marshal Antonescu rescind this order but had the word „Jew” replaced with a special notation Romanian officials would recognize.

The Foreign Ministry suffered from the legal chaos emerging from the contradictory instructions of Romania’s fascist governments. According to international convention, Romanian consulates were expected to protect Romanian citizens abroad, regardless of their nationality. In May 1941, this protection was withdrawn from those Jews whose citizenship had been revised, as well as from Jews born in Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina (then held by the USSR); in the summer of 1942, Romania backtracked and once again treated Jews born in Bessarabia and Bukovina as its citizens.

In the course of a discussion held on August 10, 1942, among Mihai Antonescu, Radu Lecca, and Gustav Richter in Bucharest, the SS officer alluded to the approval Ion Antonescu had originally given to von Killinger. Mihai Antonescu’s concluding remark was that we have to realize that Romania has no interest in seeing Romanian Jews who have settled abroad returning. Henceforth, the following instructions should be followed:

1. As regards German Jews living among us, the expired German passports should be canceled and replaced with provisional certificates. It should be made obligatory for real property to be declared and [the documents] kept strictly up to date.

2. With regard to Romanian Jews in Germany, in the Protectorate, and in the general government, as well as those in the occupied territories, word will be sent to the Berlin legation and the concerned consular offices that the measures to be undertaken have been agreed upon with the Romanian government. The issue that interests us is the real estate of Romanian nationals abroad, the administration of this property, and the various means of liquidating it. The Berlin legation and its subordinate consulate is asked to draw up a register.

One week later, on August 17, an internal memorandum from German Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Martin Luther cited both Mihai Antonescu’s agreement to the deportation of Jews from Moldavia and Walachia to concentration camps in Poland and the approval of other Romanian officials for inclusion of Romanian Jews abroad in Germany’s anti-Jewish measures.

The direct impact of the agreement, and of Mihai Antonescu’s exchanges with Richter on August 10, 1941, was the deportation of nearly 1,600 Romanian citizens of Jewish ancestry living in Germany and Austria (the last statistics, for 1939, indicated 1,760, of whom 618 were in the former Austria); of an unknown number from occupied Bohemia and Moravia, Poland, and Holland; and of 3,000 more from France. Most perished in concentration camps. According to the September 1942 estimates of the Romanian chargŽ dOaffaires in Berlin, M. Staunescu, most Romanian-Jewish residents of Germany had already been deported. On October 15, 1942, all Romanian Jews in Prague were arrested. The massive deportation of Romanian Jews from France began in late September 1942. (Deportations of Romanian Jews had taken place before that time as well.)

In late 1942, German-Romanian relations underwent a cooling period. This frost came at a time, however, when Hitler continued to see in Antonescu a privileged interlocutor and ally, for both military and personal reasons. Hitler’s stance, to a certain extent, inhibited the German Foreign Ministry from strongly expressing disagreements with the Romanians.

During a November 11, 1942, discussion with Richter, Mihai Antonescu (while stressing only his economic anti-Semitism) surprised the German official when he objected to the fact that along the Bug River Jews were being subjected to cruelties at the hands of the Germans. The Romanian said that he opposed these „acts of terror against defenseless people.” What worried him most, however, was Romania’s image abroad.

On November 15, 1943, General Vasiliu informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the Council of Order (in charge of repatriation) had decided not to allow Romanian Jews from Germany and France to return to Romania. In a memorandum sent to Mihai Antonescu on November 18, 1943, Karadja (apparently ignoring Ion Antonescu’s decision not to interfere with the Germans’ treatment of Romanian Jews) protested the Council’s interference in the affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Romanian consular initiatives aimed at the release of Romanian Jews already in concentration camps ran up against the unequivocal refusal of German officials. Releases from German concentration camps were extremely rare; in any case, most of the deportees had died a long time ago. The German argument, as the Romanian ambassador in Berlin, General Ion Gheorghe, learned, was that internment of those specific individuals by German officials took place with the consent of the Romanian government; on that basis, the internment of Jews was considered final. Romanian bureaucrats, not all of whom were diplomats, nevertheless continued to seek the release of Romanian Jews interned in Nazi concentration camps. On April 27, 1944, for instance, even Lecca sent a request to the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs asking that Romanian Jews interned at Bleichauer and Auschwitz be repatriated. Needless to say, such attempts were fruitless.

The policy of the Antonescu regime toward the Romanian Jews in occupied Europe was determined by the personal involvement of both Ion and Mihai Antonescu in changing Romanian foreign policy, in particular with regard to the Western powers. Ion and Mihai Antonescu, first and foremost, are directly responsible for the deportation of the Romanian Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe to concentration camps. Mihai Antonescu attempted to use the Romanian Jews as a bargaining chip. Later, especially in 1943 and 1944, this resulted in Romanian consular offices extending protection to surviving Romanian Jews abroad. Reports generated in the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasizing that Hungarian Jews in Central and Western Europe were being treated better than Romanian Jews had an almost strangely powerful impact on the decisions of both Antonescus in this regard. In any case, Romanian interventions in favor of Romanian Jews in the Reich and in Nazi-occupied Europe were not motivated by humanitarian concerns but, rather, by opportunistic reasons or considerations of national pride.