coordonator: Manuela Dobre

Despre autor



Lucian Boia

Facts and figures

In the nineteenth century, and indeed during the inter-war period, the Jewish presence in Romania was one of the most substantial in Europe. In 1930, the number of Jews in Romania was calculated as 728,115 according to nationality, and 756,930 according to religion, signifying 4% or 4.2 % respectively of the total population. Romania came in third place in Europe in terms of the size of its Jewish population, both as an absolute figure (after the Soviet Union and Poland), and as a proportion of the total population of the country (after Poland and Hungary ). The Jews were concentrated particularly in the towns, representing 14.3% of the urban population of Romania (but only 1.6% of the rural population). They were more numerous in the northern and north-eastern provinces of the country: in Moldavia and likewise in Bessarabia (the eastern part of Moldavia, annexed by Russia in 1812, restored to Romania in 1918, annexed again by the Soviet Union in 1940 and today largely making up the Republic of Moldova), in Bukovina (annexed by the Habsburg Empire from Moldavia in 1775, and restored to Romania in 1918; its northern half was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and now belongs to Ukraine), and in the northern parts of Transylvania (the territory joined to Romania in 1918 following the break-up of Austria-Hungary), especially Maramureş. More than two thirds of the Jews lived in these four regions – Bessarabia, Moldavia, Bukovina and Maramureş –, which together accounted for slightly more than a third of the total area and population of Romania.1

The Jews were a very dynamic element in Romania. They occupied important positions in the economic sector, especially in commerce (though the image of the ‘capitalist Jew’ is a myth, as there were also many very poor Jews), and in various liberal professions (medicine, law, journalism), and played an important part in the intellectual life of the country. Numerous Romanian writers and artists – especially in the inter-war period – were Jews (some of whom enjoyed a European reputation); so were some of the leading figures in Romanian scholarship, especially in philology and linguistics. Thus the Jews played a significant role in the construction of modern Romania, and brought their specific contribution to Romanian culture.

Although the Congress of Berlin in 1878 made the recognition of Romanian independence conditional on the granting of full rights of citizenship for Jews, only a small number of individual Jews actually gained citizenship. It was only after the First World War that all the Jews became Romanian citizens. This reluctance to recognise them as truly Romanian, along with all sorts of discriminatory attitudes, has led some writers, especially Jews, to consider Romania a fundamentally anti-Semitic society, from the Middle Ages to the present day.2 The majority of Romanians do not accept such a label. The conviction that the Romanians are by nature full of goodwill towards the ‘others’, including Jews, has deep roots in Romanian opinion.

It is clear that there has been an anti-Semitic inclination among the Romanians. Indeed it is part and parcel of a more general attitude of European-Christian civilisation, which for centuries has imprinted in the collective imaginary a view of the Jew as foreign, as a very marked figure of alterity. It cannot be said that, structurally speaking, the Romanians are any more anti-Semitic than others: anti-Semitism has been a European malady, not a specifically Romanian one. However in the Romanian case it is possible to identify some particular features which may have been aggravating factors. In the nineteenth century, the number of Jews increased very rapidly, most of them coming from the north, from Galicia and also from Russia. They settled above all in the towns, and especially in the towns of Moldavia. It is normal that such an influx should give rise to tensions. On top of this, the Romanians, a great majority of whom were tied to the land and to traditional activities (in 1930 almost 80% of the population still lived in villages), did not particularly excel in economic and commercial pursuits. These sectors were occupied by many foreigners – not just Jews, but also Germans, Greeks, Armenians etc.. Romanian nationalism, including anti-Semitism, also had a strong economic motivation.

The Legionary movement (The ‘Legion of the Archangel Michael’, founded in 1927, later the ‘Iron Guard’) was not the only manifestation of Romanian anti-Semitism, though it was the most radical (combined, in its case, with a fervent Orthodoxist ideology).3 At the beginning of 1938, the Goga-Cuza government adopted a number of anti-Semitic measures; others followed in August 1940. However systematic action against the Jews was launched when King Carol II abdicated in September 1940 and General (later Marshal) Ion Antonescu took over the leadership of the state, at the head of a government which also included the Legionaries. Although the ‘National-Legionary’ state lasted only until January 1941, when the Legionaries were ousted following a failed attempt on their part to take over complete control of the government (the ‘Legionary rebellion’), Antonescu continued this anti-Semitic policy, albeit with various oscillations and inconsistencies.

The fate of the Jews was not the same all over the territoryof Romania. Three distinct zones may be distinguished. The Jews of Bessarabia and Bukovina (territories recovered in the summer of 1941, following Romania’s entry into the war on the side of the Germans) were subject to an exterminatory treatment. They were accused by the Antonescu regime of siding with the Soviet occupiers in 1940 (thus generalising from the pro-Soviet attitude of some Jews to an inculpation of all), and almost all were deported beyond the Dniester , to ‘Transnistria’, the territory controlled by the Romanian army between 1941 and 1944. Some were victims of summary execution, but the majority perished as a result of the hardships they suffered in the camps. The number of dead may be estimated at between 110,000 and 120,000 (assuming that some 100,000 had managed to leave for the Soviet Union with the retreating Red Army). In addition, the Romanian authorities were responsible for the extermination of a large number of ‘non-Romanian’ Jews belonging to Transnistria (who were massacred or died in the camps). In Romania itself (apart from Bessarabia and Bukovina) there were a number of brutal actions directed against the Jews. 120 Jews were killed in Bucharest during the ‘Legionary rebellion’ of 21–23 January 1941. The most bloody episode was the pogrom in Iaşi, at the end of June 1941, in which thousands died. Otherwise the Romanian authorities, perhaps after some hesitation, refused to apply the ‘final solution’ which the Germans were urging on them. The Jews were subjected to all sorts of persecutions, in the context of a large-scale policy of ‘Romanianisation’: their property was confiscated, they were excluded from schools and universities, and so on. They were not sent to the front (they were not worthy to die for Romania!), but they were required to do compulsory labour, and to pay extra taxes in money and in kind. Worst of all, however, was the fact that they lived for years with fear in their hearts: anything could happen to them. A simple decision could mean the end for them. And yet, ultimately they survived.

Finally, the third zone is represented by Northern Transylvania, which was ceded to Hungary as a result of the Vienna arbitration on 30 August 1940 (42,000 km2: almost half the territory acquired from Hungary in 1918). The Jews from this zone were deported to Auschwitz in 1944, and most of them perished there: some 100,000 people in all. However these are victims for whose fate Romania cannot be blamed; in their case it was the Hungarian and German authorities who were responsible.4

In 1945, there were still almost 356,000 Jews living in Romania (excluding Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, which had been re-annexed by the Soviets). In the 1950s they began to emigrate on a massive scale, to Israel or to the West. In 1956, 146,000 were left; in 1966, 43,000; and in 1977, 25,000. At the most recent census, in 1992, fewer than 9,000 Jews were recorded.5 Their history has thus almost come to an end, but it is a history that continues to fuel passions and controversies.


Naturally not all Romanians have the same attitude towards the Jews, nor do they interpret in the same way the history of their relations with the Jews and especially the events of the Second World War. As in any other problem, there are a variety of points of view, but it is possible to formulate a number of stereotypes which would be accepted as ‘truths’ by a majority of Romanians. These can be summarised as follows:

the Romanians were not anti-Semitic; it was precisely because they found favourable conditions in Romania that the Jews (like other foreigners) came and settled there;

during the War, Marshal Antonescu’s regime had a quite different attitude towards the Jews to that of Hitler, and actually saved most of them. Thus what appears in the foreground is not the persecution or extermination of the Jews, but, on the contrary, their survival; on the other hand, the Jews are considered to be substantially implicated in the installation of Communism and in its most brutal phase (given the relatively large number of Jews who held key positions in the Communist Party and in the system of repression and propaganda);

consequently, no feeling of Romanian guilt can be detected as far as the Jewish issue is concerned.


Of course all these are not ideas fixed once and for all in people’s minds from the start. They are the result of a certain education and of a certain type of information. Thus they have a history, which I intend to summarise in what follows. And it is certain that they will evolve in the future, in as much as Romanian society, too, will experience substantial modifications.6

 The years of Communism The half century of Communism has contributed substantially to the ignoring, forgetting or minimising of the anti-Semitic dimension to Romanian history in the Second World War period. Communism had other objectives. In fact Romanian Communism can be seen as having two successive phases, at least as far as its discourse and relation to history and national values are concerned. The first, in the late 1940s and the 1950s, was marked by an ‘internationalist’ and pro-Soviet tone. This period saw a veritable assault on Romanian historical and cultural tradition, and on national identity. In the interpretation of history, the ethnic, religious and cultural dimension was done away with, or at best subordinated to social determinants. Class solidarity came before national solidarity. Then, from about the middle of the 1960s, in the ‘Ceauşescu era’, there was a shift to the opposite extreme, with nationalist discourse becoming predominant. Neither variant had a place for the Jews –considered as Jews –, as they upset the logic of the system of interpretation.


Of course even in the years of Communism there were memories distinct from the official discourse, memories cultivated in various groups or within the family. However these remained isolated and unable to communicate with each other. The only history addressed to everybody – and in a highly insistent manner – was the official history. Even if it was not always believed, it managed to imprint in the consciousness of most Romanians a whole series of images and symbols, which to a certain extent still retain their force. What took hold especially – being a reaction, generally appreciated by the Romanians, against the attempt to wipe out national values in the 1950s – was the nationalist ideology promoted by Ceauşescu, the accentuated distinction between the Romanians and the ‘others’, and the blaming of the ‘others’ for everything that had happened to the Romanians throughout their history.

Immediately after the war, Matatias Carp (secretary of the Jewish community in Romania) published a highly detailed account of the drama experienced by the Romanian Jews: Cartea neagră. Fapte şi documente. Suferinţele evreilor din România. 1940–1944(The Black Book: Facts and Documents: The Sufferings of the Jews of Romania 1940–1944) (3 vols, Bucharest, 1946–48). Other books on the same theme, by Jewish authors, appeared around the same time. However these years were just the prelude to the full installation of the Communist regime. Thereafter, the treatment of the Jewish issue as such was no longer approved. Carp’s book became impossible to obtain (it was eventually re-issued in 1996). In 1977, a ‘Centre for the Study of Jewish History’ was set up in Bucharest (associated with the Jewish community). This was an unofficial initiative, which was at best tolerated; there was no way its researches could be published. A ‘Museum of the History of the Jews of Romania’ was opened in 1978, also organised by the Jewish community. Everything remained closed within this community, just as other circles of memory remained closed.

Only the official history could proclaim itself unhindered, offering single and indisputable ‘truths’ (even if these contradicted themselves from one period to another). In the following paragraphs I present some samples of this history, taken from texts with a wide circulation, belonging to the various phases of Communism.

In the Stalinist period, Istoria R.P.R (The History of the R.P.R. [Romanian People’s Republic]) – the single textbook, addressed to pupils, students and teachers, but also to the general public (with a number of editions between 1947 and 1956) –, compiled by Mihail Roller, who was himself a Jew, makes no reference to manifestations of anti-Semitism. The Legionary movement (or Iron Guard), which was well known for its virulent anti-Semitism, is denounced in strong terms, but only for its fascist, reactionary character (there is no mention of its attitude to Jews). Likewise with the Antonescu regime.7 The explanation lies in the fact that the communist scheme of history (which was rigidly applied in Roller’s textbook) was based exclusively on class struggle. The line of demarcation did not pass between Romanians and Jews, but between exploiters and exploited. The Legionaries and Antonescu are inculpated for their crimes against progressive and revolutionary forces (and, of course, for the war against the Soviet Union), and in no way for crimes of a racist character.

In 1964, the second volume of the Dicţ ionar enciclopedic român (Romanian Encyclopaedic Dictionary) – the principal reference work of its kind in the Communist period, published in four volumes between 1962 and 1966 –, devoted a sizeable article to the Iron Guard. This is defined clearly as a ‘fascist organisation in Romania, created and subsidised by the most reactionary circles of the Romanian bourgeoisie and landlord class as the principal shock force against the revolutionary movement of the proletariat, against the struggle of the masses for the improvement of their living conditions, for democratic rights and national independence.’8 It is an aberrant characterisation, and an example of wooden language at its purest! Many meaningless things are said, but precisely the two most characteristic features of the Legionary movement are omitted: Orthodoxism and anti-Semitism. The only vague reference to anti-Semitism is the following: ‘As their basic method in the political struggle, the Iron Guard used terror, assassination, pogrom.’ However the reader might look in vain for an explanation of the term pogrom: it is not included in the Dictionary.

In later textbooks, of the Ceauşescu period, some timid references began to appear. Thus in the textbook of contemporary history of Romania aimed at high school pupils (published in a number of editions in the 1970s and ’80s), there is a reference to the pogrom of June 1941 in Iaşi, in which it is mentioned that ‘over 2,000 people were murdered, most of them Jews.’ After this there is a single sentence: ‘numerous other citizens, without distinction of nationality, but especially Jews, were interned in work camps.’ (In the first editions, starting in 1969, the sentence continued thus: ‘where, by various methods, they were also subjected to physical extermination.’ These last words disappeared in the 1980s, probably because they were considered too unfavourable to Romania .)9 The presentation is succinct and softened. The Jews are mixed in with ‘others’; they were not subjected to a wholly specific treatment. ‘Work camps’ sounds quite idyllic compared with ‘concentration camps’; there is no mention of the number of dead in these camps. The emphasis continues to be on the class conflict: on the one side the reactionary regime of the Legionaries and Antonescu, and on the other the progressive forces with the Communists at their head. In contrast to the rapid dismissal of the Jewish issue, the textbook records numerous names of Communists or ‘bourgeois’ politicians who were killed by the Legionaries. We may note also the fact that in the most detailed synthesis of history that appeared in the time of Ceauşescu, Istoria militară a poporului român (The Military History of the Romanian People), in which the Legionaries and the Antonescu regime receive extensive coverage (vol. VI, 1989), there is not a word about the Jews, nor about the camps in Transnistria, but only about the assassination of political adversaries. The nationalist orientation of historiography in the ‘Ceauşescu era’ largely explains this silence.

The same tone can generally be found in the various works devoted particularly to the Second World War (and addressed to a more restricted circle of specialists). Their conclusion is that, despite a few excesses, a policy of extermination was not pursued in Romani – in contrast, they insist, to Nazi Germany and to Hungary. The insistence on the crimes committed by the Hungarians, both against Romanians and against Jews, in occupied Northern Transylvania, pushes the behaviour of the Legionaries and of the Antonescu regime towards the Jews into the background. (This kind of approach has continued to some extent after 1989.) The gentler treatment of the Jews in Romania emerges as an illustration of Romanian ‘humanitarianism’ and of traditional Romanian tolerance.

Starting in 1969, successive editions of the history textbooks also reproduced a photograph which for a long time remained the only one of its kind. It shows two rows of bodies laid out on the floor of the Bucharest morgue (during the days of the ‘Legionary rebellion’ of January 1941). The caption refers to ‘murders committed by Legionary bands’, without giving any further details. With the slightly modified title ‘murders committed by Legionaries’, it continued to appear after the fall of Communism, in some editions of what was still the single textbook until 1999. This image has certainly enjoyed a larger circulation in Romania than any other of its kind. With the passage of time, the ‘murders committed by Legionaries’ have acquired a more precise connotation. The same illustration is exhibited in the Museum of the History of the Jews, and reproduced (in a number of variants) in recent publications, with the clarification that it shows ‘Jewish bodies’.

  The memory of the Jews after 1989

The exit from Communism brought with it the possibility of expressing options and of affirming and indeed confronting a variety of memories, without restriction and often in a polemical manner. In this respect the Jews of Romania have proved to be very active. It is remarkable how such a small number of people – around 9,000, a large proportion of whom are elderly – have managed to make their voice heard and to bring to contemporary attention a history which most Romanians do not know or have forgotten.

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania publishes a monthly magazine, Realitatea evreiască (Jewish Reality), in a print-run of 3,400 copies (a sizeable figure for present-day Romania, and certainly large in relation to the number of Jews). The House of Jewish Culture in Bucharest hosts conferences and other events on themes including the Holocaust, which are attended by Romanians as well as Jews. The Centre for the Study of the History of the Jews of Romania has emerged from anonymity and is active in research and publication. The Museum of the History of the Jews of Romania (housed in the building of a synagogue) has been reorganised and enriched. It offers a rich collection of images, objects and works of art, well presented by way of explanatory texts, statistics, extracts from documents etc. – all in all, a convincing synthesis of the history of the Jews of Romania and of their contribution to modern Romanian culture. There is a section devoted to the Holocaust, containing numerous images illustrating the most dramatic episodes of the years 1940–44: the Jewish victims of the ‘Legionary rebellion’, the Iaşi pogrom, the deportations to Transnistria etc.. However it may be questioned whether many non-Jews visit this museum. Interest on the part of Romanians seems to be somewhat lacking. With a view to improving communication, the Museum has also organised temporary exhibitions on the Holocaust in a number of Romanian cities: Iaşi, Tîrgovişte and Braşov. In addition, there are also Jewish museums in Iaşi and Bacău. An exhibition entitled Die Juden aus Rumänien was organised in Vienna in 1998 (under the aegis of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania, together with a number of Romanian institutions).

Since 1991, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania has had its own publishing house: Hasefer. After a slow beginning this gained momentum around 1995–96, and now manages to publish over 20 titles a year: to date (2001) a total of some 120–130 volumes. It publishes a wide variety of original literary, religious, historical and political works and translations, written by Jews or about Jews. Many of them are addressed to a wide readership, evidently not limited to Jews. Their distribution is very effective and they can be found in many bookshops. A series of titles deal with the Holocaust, either in general or with particular reference to the Jews of Romania. Thus the classic work of Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, appeared in 1997, translated for the first time into Romanian. The same year saw the publication of Evreii sub regimul Antonescu (The Jews under the Antonescu Regime), by Radu Ioanid (a Jewish historian of Romanian origin who works at the Holocaust Museum in the United States). This is a complete and very well informed synthesis, which has become an indispensable work of reference not only for Jews but for Romanian historiography in general. (2,000 copies have been sold: an average Romanian print run, and indeed a high one for a book primarily aimed at specialists and dealing with a subject in which Romanians do not show very much interest.) Ioanid’s book has also put into circulation a number of disturbing images of the massacres and deportations of the years 1940–1944. Perhaps most shocking are those of the ‘death train’, in which thousands of Jews evacuated from Iaşi during the pogrom of June 1941 were crowded into completely closed freight wagons; the majority, over 2,500, never reached their destination, having perished by asphyxiation or from lack of water. The photographic images which have been preserved – showing heaps of bodies in the wagons, or laid out beside the railway – make up a macabre reportage of the episode.

Thanks to the efforts of the Federation of Jewish Communities, a number of monuments have also been erected in memory of the Holocaust. Some were already put up under the Communist regime, such as those at Dej (which was in the zone belonging to Hungary during the war) and at Sărmaş (a village briefly occupied by the Hungarian army in September 1944, where 126 Jews were massacred). More recent – since the fall of Communism – is the monument erected in Bucharest in front of the Choral Temple (the city’s principal synagogue). In the summer of 2000, commemorative ceremonies took place at the Dej and Sărmaş monuments, in which, as well as Jews, various official dignitaries and representatives of other faiths took part.

  The Romanians after 1989: the traps of memory

After 1989, for the Romanians, the recovery of the memory of the Second World War has meant, above all, the rehabilitation of the action of the Romanian army on the Eastern Front. Up until 1989, the war waged alongside Germany against the Soviet Union was considered criminal (with a degree of attenuation of interpretations in the 1980s, when a new treatment of Antonescu and his regime was sketched out: negative overall but nevertheless somewhat less accusatory; this relative ‘softening’ of tone corresponded to the nationalism of the Ceauşescu era and to certain tensions in relations with the Soviet Union). In Communist discourse the only positive thing was Romania’s shift to the side of the Allies by the coup d’état of 23 August 1944, an event mythologised by the Communists, considered to be almost exclusively their achievement, and turned into a ‘revolution of social and national liberation’. The war on the Western Front, alongside the Red Army and against Germany, was presented as a heroic epic, which almost completely masked the war which had been fought in the preceding years in the opposite direction.

However Romania entered the war in June 1941 in order to recover Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, which had been occupied by the Soviets, following an ultimatum, a year before. For many Romanians the reconsideration of the war in the East has meant a recovery of memory and of ‘authentic history’. For them, Antonescu was above all a patriot, whose only aim was to get back the lost territories and to remake Greater Romania. From this point of view, his alliance with Hitler was merely a matter of conjuncture: Romania kept its independence (vigorously asserted by the Marshal in front of the Führer) and pursued its own objectives. The execution of Antonescu in 1946 made him a martyr, a victim of Communism. Here Romanians and Jews have divergent memories. Those who regard Antonescu more or less favourably are not necessarily anti-Semitic or inclined towards authoritarian solutions; for many, the source of their attitude towards the Marshal is patriotism and anti-Communism. However such an understanding of history inevitably makes them less sensitive to the sufferings of the Jews, which are pushed into the background in relation to the Romanian national issue.

It must be remembered that the Romanian nation has undergone a dramatic history, marked by many losses and sufferings. In 1940, Romania was subjected to territorial amputation, which reduced its area in a few months from 295,000 km2 to 195,000 km2; at the end of the war, the recovery of Northern Transylvania brought it up to 237,000 km2. Romanians in the Soviet- or Hungarian-occupied territories were also victims of discrimination, merely because they were Romanians; there were massacres in Transylvania, and many Romanians from Bessarabia were deported. Hundreds of thousands of Romanians died on the two fronts, in the East and the West. Then, the installation of Communism threw Romania into a ‘dead end’ of history. Many Romanians suffered imprisonment, and not all survived the years of detention. Properties were confiscated. And, above all, there was a general dislocation of the economic and social mechanism, for which the Romanians are still paying and will continue to pay for generations to come. Nowadays, Romania is one of the poorest countries of Europe. The Romanians have the feeling that the world is more ready to see the sufferings of others than their own. Hence there is a feeling of frustration, which is capable of feeding nationalist reactions.

Beyond any doubt, there is also a nucleus of admirers of Marshal Antonescu who are plainly attracted by authoritarianism and a nationalist ideology, complete with anti-Semitic accents. There are also those who are nostalgic for the Legionary movement, though their influence on public opinion is limited. In recent years, the burden of nationalism and authoritarianism has been largely concentrated in the Greater Romania Party (which obtained a worrying 20% of the vote in the parliamentary elections of November 2000). The leaders of this party make no secret of their sympathy for Antonescu, nor of their antipathy towards Western democracy and towards Jews, Hungarians and Gypsies. Such ideological orientations have their counterpart in historical works, in a sometimes very favourable treatment of Antonescu, in a somewhat indulgent approach to the Legionary movement, and in the minimising or even covering up of less praiseworthy episodes.

A book which offers an eloquent example in this respect is the synthesis by Ioan Scurtu and Gheorghe Buzatu entitled Istoria românilor în secolul XX. 1918–1948 (The History of the Romanians in the 20th Century: 1918–1948) (Bucharest, 1999), a work addressed, its presentation would suggest, to a wide public and in particular to students. Ioan Scurtu is head of the department of the History of the Romanians in the University of Bucharest, and a former director of the State Archives. The manner in which he treats the Legionary movement and its motivations amounts almost to a justification: ‘Some citizens considered that their difficult situation was due to the Jews, who had acquired control of the principal economic levers, held a veritable monopoly of the press, and were manoeuvring Romanian politicians from the shadows. Many young people concluded that they no work could be found for them because the jobs were occupied by Jews. The fact that, under the pressure of Jewish financial and political circles, the treaty on minorities and the obligation to ensure full rights for Jews, even though they had already received Romanian citizenship, had been imposed on Romania at the Peace Conference, amplified the current of hostility towards this minority.’ The author proposes an almost idyllic image of inter-war Romania when he comes to the attitude to the ‘others’: ‘The exacerbation of nationalism was a general European characteristic of the 1930s. In Romania there no serious phenomena were recorded, such as there were in Germany, the Soviet Union or Hungary.’ On the contrary, “throughout the inter-war period, Romania was a place of refuge for numerous Jews persecuted in other states, many of whom settled, particularly in Moldavia.’10 As for Gheorghe Buzatu (who contributed the pages dealing with the Second World War), a prominent member of the Greater Romania Party and a tenacious defender of the memory of Antonescu, he quite simply says not a word about the Jews, or about the Legionary murders, or about pogroms and deportations. The problem is resolved with maximum simplicity: it does not exist!

This is an extreme case. There are also numerous Romanian intellectuals, including historians (some of them of considerable prestige), who do not hesitate to approach in an open and responsible manner the period of the Second World War and the delicate problems of recent Romanian history in general. Noteworthy in this respect is România în al doilea război mondial (Romania in the Second World War) (Bucharest, 1999), by Dinu C. Giurescu, one of the most respected Romanian historians. Without abandoning the national point of view, and setting out to explain the objective determining factors behind Romanian options, including Antonescu’s decision to enter the war against the Soviet Union, Giurescu not only does not bypass the ‘Jewish problem’, he gives it a detailed treatment. In the chapter ‘The Jews of Romania (1940–1944)’, he reaches the conclusion, after a minute analysis of the sources, that the Antonescu government was guilty of the deaths of 123,000 Romanian Jews (most of them deported from Bessarabia and Bukovina to Transnistria). The total number of Jews who perished (including those of Northern Transylvania) he reckons to be some 214,000. At the same time, however, Giurescu insists on the fact that the ‘final solution’ was not applied in Romania. Thus the greater part of the Jewish population survived.11

As far as school textbooks are concerned, the line of attenuated presentation continued to be followed for a time after 1989, the more so as the tone with which Antonescu was treated was ‘softened’. In the final editions of the ‘single textbook’ there is a brief reference to anti-Jewish ‘excesses’, but the merits of Antonescu, who opposed the application of the ‘final solution’ in Romania, are also underlined.12

An evolution took place with the abandonment of the single textbook, the radical revision of the school curriculum (seeking to go beyond nationalist interpretations and to emphasise European integration), and the publication of several parallel textbooks on the history of the Romanians (in 1999). Now, at last, though not in all the textbooks, the Jewish issue appears as a sub-chapter in its own right, in the context of the Antonescu regime and the involvement of Romania in the war. This is how the episode is presented in one of the books:

‘The Jewish problem’

The most important problem which the Antonescu regime faced in the area of minorities was the ‘Jewish problem’.

The rapprochement of Romania with Germany in the summer of 1940 led to a worsening of the situation of the Jews. After the foundation of the National Legionary State, Antonescu and the Iron Guard proceeded to Romanianise the economy. The measures taken against the Jews before the attack on the Soviet Union were primarily economic in character.

The acts of violence committed by Legionaries against individuals were an exception. The deportation of the Jews began after the recovery of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina.

A large number of Jews from these provinces, approximately 130,000, had already taken refuge in the Soviet Union.

According to some estimates, in the period 1941–1943 some 100,000 Jews were deported to Transnistria. Thousands of people died as a result of the terrible conditions and the atrocities committed. The Antonescu government systematically applied an anti-Semitic policy. This was intended to isolate Jewish Romanian citizens as much as possible from the society, economy and culture of the country. But the regime led by Antonescu did not participate in the mass deportation of the Jews which the Nazis organised in the context of Hitler’s ‘final solution’.

Although they were subjected to repeated discrimination, confiscations and other pressures, the fact remains that, through the decision of Ion Antonescu, 292,149 Jews remained alive in Romania until August 1944.

‘In no country dominated by the Nazis has such a large proportion of the Jewish population survived,’ declared Dr Wilhelm Filderman in Jurnalul de dimineaţă[The Morning Journal], published in Bucharest in 1946.13

But even this does not go all the way. The ‘thousands’ of Jews reported to have died in Transnistria were actually over 100,000. And there are no illustrations. There are no symbolic images, which would have had a greater impact than an abstract treatment.

The problem of the war and the Antonescu government is complicated in the consciousness of the Romanians by what followed after the war. The installation of Communism also meant the entry of a relatively large number of Jews into the structures of power – the political apparatus and the systems of repression and propaganda. This fact, which is beyond dispute, can be explained in terms of a number of factors: in the small Communist Party prior to 1944, Romanians were in the minority, and Jews and other ‘minorities’ were in the majority; for Jews, the coming of the Soviets meant a liberation, the end of the nightmare of a an anti-Semitic dictatorship; the old Romanian political class had collapsed, giving way to ‘new people’, among whom were Jews. However there were also Jews who were persecuted and even imprisoned by the Communists. And on the other hand plenty of Romanians also took part in the installation of Communism, while with the passage of time the Party became almost completely Romanianised. But in Romanian historical mythology those who bear the guilt for Communism are the Soviets and the ‘foreigners’ within (Jews, Hungarians etc.) more than, or indeed rather than, the Romanians. Thus the Jews appear as betrayers of national interests and as responsible for bringing disaster upon Romania. Ana Pauker, a Jewish member of the Communist Party leadership in the 1940s and early ’50s, has become a negative symbol, a counter-myth in relation to the myth of Antonescu. Whenever anything bad is said about Antonescu, the reply is prompt: what about Ana Pauker? On the other hand the Romanian Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, who removed Ana Pauker from power in 1952 and remained alone at the head of the Party and of the country, is allowed extenuating circumstances. At least Gheorghiu-Dej was a patriot! What is clear is that the real or imaginary implication of Jews in the crimes of Communism serves as an alibi for those who are not prepared to acknowledge the crimes of Romanians against Jews.

And yet in recent years, the Romanians have found out many things that they hardly knew before. There have been articles in the press and programmes on the television channels about the genocide, particularly on the occasion of the various commemorations: television documentaries have dealt with such subjects as the deportations to Transnistria, the Legionary rebellion, and the tragic tale of the ship Struma (which sank in circumstances which remain obscure in the Black Sea, off the coast of Turkey, in February 1942, with the loss of 769 Jews who were trying, in desperate conditions, to leave Romania). Many Romanians have a great respect for Alexandru ªafran (born 1910), who was Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community in the years 1940–47 and later settled in Switzerland (becoming Chief Rabbi of Geneva). He has returned to Romania on several occasions, and has given long interviews of a remarkable balance and lucidity for the press and on television. A speech which he delivered in the Romanian Senate (touching directly on the Holocaust) was published in September 2000 by Magazin Istoric, the popularising historical journal with the largest circulation in Romania (which has also published other texts on the same theme). The 60th anniversary of the Legionary pogrom of 1941, on 21–22 January 2001, was marked by commemorative ceremonies in a number of Romanian cities, in which not only Jews, but also Romanian intellectuals and political figures participated, including, in Bucharest, the President of Romania, Ion Iliescu. The event was well covered by television channels, including the national television (along with images and film sequences from the period). It would be easy to find more examples of this kind, the general impression being that the mass media and public opinion have recently become more receptive to this theme.

In 1996, a sensation was caused – in intellectual circles at least – by the publication of the diary of the Romanian Jewish writer Mihail Sebastian (1907–45) for the years 1935–44. The diary is a vivid and dramatic chronicle, which highlights the drama undergone by people who had previously considered themselves integrated in Romanian society and sudden found themselves abandoned or treated with condescension even by their old Romanian friends –and, more than anything, the fear … Its publication gave some Romanians the opportunity to become aware of things they had not known or about which they had preferred not to think – or the full drama of which they simply had not understood.14

While works of contemporary history have multiplied, dealing with subjects which were covered up before 1989, and the school history textbooks of the last few years also give a significant weighting to recent history, the same cannot be said of the museums of history. In the Communist period, the Museum of National History in Bucharest, together with the Museum of the History of the Communist Party and the Revolutionary Movement, and museums conceived on the same pattern in all the counties of Romania, strongly highlighted the contemporary period, albeit, of course, in a highly ideologised manner: the museum was an excellent means of propaganda. After 1989, the contemporary history sections (illustrating the period since 1918) were closed, and theoretically they are in the course of reorganisation. If and when they reopen, it will be possible to see how radically the discourse has been reformulated, and to what extent the Romanians have succeeded in harmonising their own identity with recognition of and respect for the ‘others’.

An even more neglected subject has been the fate of the Gypsies in the same period. If anti-Semitic prejudices have become attenuated in Romania, prejudices against Gypsies remain very much alive. In fact they, too, were victims of discriminatory measures and repression somewhat similar to those directed against the Jews. Gypsies, too, were deported to Transnistria – albeit on a smaller scale. In recent years, a number of works have also highlighted this side of the policy of racial discrimination and ethnic ‘purification’. The number of Gypsies deported by the Antonescu regime is estimated at about 25,000 (slightly less than one tenth of all the Gypsies in Romania), around half of whom perished.


It may be said that, in spite of certain anti-Semitic manifestations (or certain controversies which do not necessarily imply anti-Semitism), relations between Romanians and Jews have evolved in a positive direction in the last ten years. And it is not only a matter of the small Jewish community left in Romania. There are many Jews of Romanian origin who return to the country periodically, and there many Romanians who travel and work in Israel. Romanian-speaking Jews represent an important constitutive element of the Israeli nation. There is an active Romanian-medium cultural movement in Israel (with its own literature and press).

Gradually, the Romanians are becoming more sympathetic towards the values and attitudes of others, including the Jews. The process is relatively slow, because the starting point is a history conceived in a strongly national spirit, an interpretation which was accentuated, even exacerbated,in the time of Ceauşescu. Pluriculturalism, and the idea that Romania belongs equally to all its citizens are reorientations which will take some time to penetrate consciousness. But the fact remains that historical interpretations have appeared recently which raise a question mark over the traditional nationalist discourse and the various cultural and historiographical taboos.15

However it must be recognised that ‘Jewish memory’ and ‘Romanian memory’ still maintain different accents as far as key issues of recent history are concerned (principally the Second World War and the Communist period). From the Jewish perspective, the Romanians treat Antonescu too favourably, and betray at least a ‘latent anti-Semitism’ when they insist on the Jewish component in the first decade of Communism. The Romanians, even many of those who do not minimise the racist and repressive aspect of the Antonescu government, refuse to see nothing more than this in Antonescu; they see him also as a patriot and a martyr, or at least as the tragic hero of a history to which Romania fell victim at a certain point. In any case, the Romanians insist on the fact that the majority of Romanian Jews were not exterminated but were saved, and by the Antonescu regime itself, which refused to apply the ‘final solution’, resisting German pressure in this respect. Antonescu thus appears paradoxically as both exterminator and saviour of the Jews. He is guilty of the deaths of over 100,000 Jews, but he saved 300,000. But while killing is a crime, can not killing be seen as a merit? Perhaps, in the context of the period.

What is important, however, is that the discussion has been opened up, and that there are no taboo subjects anymore. Different and even divergent interpretations in fact illustrate the present state of Romanian society and its ideological tensions (as a rule, history is the most precise indicator of present options, and all the more so the history of the Second World War, the tragic founding event of the world in which we live). The whole spectrum of options appears, from nationalism to Europeanism, from authoritarianism to democracy, from ethnocentrism to multiculturalism.


1 The demographic data are taken from Recensămîntul general al populaţiei României din 29 decembrie 1930, ed. Sabin Manuilă, 9 vols (Bucharest: 1938–41), and the chapter ‘Populaţia României’ in Enciclopedia României, vol. 1 (Bucharest, 1938), pp. 133–160.
2See, for example, Carol Iancu, L’Emancipation des Juifs de Roumanie, 1913–1919 (Montpellier, 1992); the author considers Romania to be one of the countries which practised ‘a systematic state anti-Semitism’.
3 The most reliable work on the Legionary movement is that of the German historian Armin Heinen, Die Legion ‘Erzengel Michael’ in Rumänien. Soziale Bewegung und Politische Organisation. Ein Beitrag zum Problem des internationalen Faschismus (Munich, 1986).
4Regarding the (partial) extermination of Jews of Romania, see Radu Ioanid, Evreii sub regimul Antonescu (Bucharest, 1997), and Dinu C. Giurescu, România în al doilea război mondial(Bucharest, 1999), pp. 133–184: the chapter ‘Evreii din România’.
5Recensămîntul populaţiei şi locuinţelor din 7 ianuarie 1992, volume‘ Structura etnică şi confesională a populaţiei’ (Bucharest, 1995).
6 Regarding the ideological adaptation and mythologising of various aspects of Romanian history and culture, see Lucian Boia, History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness (Budapest; New York, 2001).
7 Istoria R.P.R. (Bucharest, 1952 edition), pp. 663–668.
8See the entry ‘Garda de Fier’ in Dicţionar enciclopedic român, vol. 2 (Bucharest, 1964), p. 506.
9 Istoria României, ed. Miron Constantinescu, Constantin Daicoviciu and Ştefan Pascu (Bucharest, 1969), p. 527; Istoria contemporană a României (Bucharest, 1983 edition), p. 95. (Successive editions of these textbooks borrowed, often word for word, the text of the 1969 Istoria României.)
10Ioan Scurtu and Gheorghe Buzatu, Istoria românilor în secolul XX: 1918–1948 (Bucharest, 1999), pp. 47 and 153.
11 Dinu C. Giurescu, op. cit.
12 Istoria românilor. De la 1821 pînă la 1989(Bucharest, 1997 edition), p. 341.
13 Istoria românilor (Bucharest: Editura Humanitas, 2000), p. 164.
14 Mihail Sebastian, Jurnal. 1935-1944 (Bucharest, 1996), also published in French and English translations as Journal (Paris, 1998), and Journal (Chicago, 2000).
15 In this connection I refer the reader again to my own History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness. See also Lucian Boia, Romania: Borderland of Europe (London, 2001).
Despre autor

© Universitatea din Bucureşti 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the University of Bucharest, except for short quotations with the indication of the website address and the web page. This book was first published by Editura Universităţii din Bucureşti ISBN: 973-575-658-7
Comments to: Manuela DOBRE
Last update: Septembrie 2003
Web designer, Text editor: Annemarie LIHACIU