In 1930, Romania had been home to 756,000 Jews. At the end of World War II about 375,000 of them had survived. As a consequence of the wartime changes in borders, 150,000 of the original population ended up under Hungarian sovereignty in northern Transylvania, deported in 1944 to concentration camps and extermination centers in the Greater Reich; nearly all of these 130,000 perished before the war ‘ s end.
We may never have a full statistical picture of the human carnage caused by the Holocaust in Romania. More than 45,000 Jews probably closer to 60,000 were killed in Bessarabia and Bukovina by Romanian and German troops in 1941. At least 75,000 of the deported Romanian Jews died as a result of the expulsions to Transnistria. During the postwar trial of Romanian war criminals, Wilhelm Filderman declared that at least 150,000 Bessarabian and Bukovinan Jews, both those deported and those who remained, died under the Antonescu regime; Misu Benvenisti estimated 270,000, a number also reached by Raul Hilberg. In Transnistria at least 130,000 indigenous Jews were liquidated (especially in Odessa and in the districts of Golta and Berezovka). In all, at least 250,000 Jews under Romanian jurisdiction died, either on the explicit orders of Romanian officials or as a result of their criminal barbarity. As shown throughout, sometimes Romanian officials worked with German help, but more often they required no outside guidance. Those Gypsies who were deported seem to have suffered a higher proportion of deaths than did the deported Jews: of 25,000 sent to Transnistria, only 6,000 ever returned; but these 25,000 were indeed a tiny portion of the original population of 1,000,000 Gypsies living in Romania.
The story of Romanian Jewry ‘s near destruction during World War II is filled with paradoxes. The victims of the Legionnaire pogroms of January 1941 amounted to a numerically small portion of those against whom crimes were committed by the Romanian army and gendarmerie later. But mass murder represented an ideological victory for the Legionnaires and resulted in considerable part from long years of Legionnaire propaganda, the realization of Iron Guard dreams. The irony was that the Guard had been banned by the time most of the killing took place. It would nonetheless have rejoiced to learn that a nonpareil historian like Hilberg would one day write that â€œ no country, besides Germany, was involved in massacres of Jews on such a scale.â€
Three factors, then, weighed heaviest in the death and the survival of Romanian Jews: malice, greed, and opportunism. Raul Hilberg captured the essence perhaps better than anyone when he wrote:
Opportunism was practiced in Romania not only on a national basis but also in personal relations. Romania was a corrupt country. It was the only Axis state in which officials as high as minister and mayor of the capital city had to be dismissed for â€ždarkâ€ transactions with expropriated Jewish property.
The search for personal gain in Romania was so intensive that it must have enabled many Jews to buy relief from persecution. . . .
In examining the Romanian bureaucratic apparatus, one is therefore left with the impression of an unreliable machine that did not properly respond to command and that acted in unpredictable ways, sometimes balking, sometimes running away with itself. That spurting action, unplanned and uneven, sporadic and erratic, was the outcome of an opportunism that was mixed with destructiveness, a lethargy periodically interrupted by outbursts of violence. The product of this mixture was a record of anti-Jewish actions that is decidedly unique.