Romania


Romania
   On the eve of World War II, there were approximately 770,000 Jews living on Romanian soil. The situation of the Jews, however, was a precarious one because of the vehement anti-Semitism of the Romanian fascist Iron Guard and the pressure exerted on the Romanian government by the Germans, once World War II commenced. Prior to the outbreak of war, King Carol II attempted to maintain a policy of neutrality between Germany, and Great Britain and France. Once the war began, Romania tilted toward the Axis, and after the Soviet Union invaded the country in June 1940, it was forced to cede the territories of northern Bukovina and all of Bessarabia. The Germans also pressured Romania to cede the northernmost part of Transylvania to Hungary. Accompanying the departure of Romanian troops from the ceded territories was a campaign of terror against the Jews living in the area. Romania’s national humiliation as a result of its loss of territory was partially assuaged by the enactment of a law in August 1940 that canceled citizenship for most Romanian Jews and prohibited mixed marriages. The law was a popular one because the Romanian government accused the Jews of aiding the communists and serving the interests of the Soviet Union.
   The situation of Romania’s Jewish population further deteriorated when King Carol II, hurt by a loss of popularity as a result of the loss of the territories, was forced to install the National Legionary State in September 1940, with Ion Antonescu as prime minister and members of the Iron Guard placed in key government positions. King Carol II himself was deposed in a bloodless coup as the Iron Guard became the country’s only legal party. Two months after its accession to power, the Iron Guard celebrated its political triumph with a rampage, slaughtering scores of its political opponents and massacring Jews. As the power of the Iron Guard grew in the Legionary State, the situation of the Jews continued to deteriorate. The government legally confiscated Jewish enterprises and removed Jews from the economy. These acts were accompanied by a further campaign of terror, and when Antonescu insisted on the maintenance of law and order, he was opposed by the Iron Guard. On 21–23 January 1941, the Iron Guard staged a coup against the Antonescu government that was accompanied by anti-Jewish riots. In Bucharest, 123 Jews were killed as the Iron Guard invaded the city’s Jewish section. Synagogues were burned, property destroyed, and the apartments of Jews thoroughly trashed. The coup failed, however, as Adolf Hitler allowed Antonescu to suppress the Iron Guard.
   Hitler, preparing for the invasion of the Soviet Union, required a stable Romania and viewed the indiscriminate violent behavior of the Iron Guard with displeasure. Units of the Wehrmacht were placed at Antonescu’s disposal, and with this support he overcame the Iron Guard and replaced the National Legionary State with his own military dictatorship. In turn, Antonescu and the Third Reich forged a new relationship that made Romania “Hitler’s favorite ally.”
   The failed coup, however, did not result in the alleviation of antiJewish measures. The German government sent a special adviser to Romania to advise Antonescu on legislation against the Jews that was similar to the types of laws enacted in Germany. The result was the enactment of the Law for the Protection of the State, which was passed on 5 February 1941. Under the law, Jews would receive double the punishment as Christians for the same offense. In a subsequent law, Jewish-owned dwellings were legally confiscated, and many Jews already dismissed from employment were now also evicted from their homes and made destitute. Additional laws were passed that sought as their objective the “Romanianization” of the country, with the final goal of removing the Jewish population from Romanian life.
   In June 1941, Romania joined Germany in the invasion of the Soviet Union. Antonescu was in personal command of the Romanian army, which committed 15 divisions to the Nazi cause. Following the invasion, the Antonescu regime expelled Jews from various areas of Romania. Forty thousand Jews were driven from villages and towns, and their property confiscated. Romanian troops cooperated with Einsatzgruppe D in the killing of Jews in the Soviet Union. As a reward for its alliance with Germany, Romania was able to reoccupy Bukovina and Bessarabia as well as receive territory in Ukraine. Along with the territory, Romania also acquired a large number of Jews.
   Subsequently, thousands of Jews were rounded up by Romanian soldiers and sent off, without bread or water, in freight cars that had no apparent destination. Those who did not die as a result of suffocation or hunger were shot. The remaining Jews from Bessarabia and Bukovina were interned in transit camps and ghettos, from where they were deported to Transnistria in August 1941. The 200,000 Jews of Bessarabia deported to Transnistria, which was located between the Dniester and Bug rivers, were part of Antonescu’s solution to Romania’s Jewish question, whereby thousands of Jews would die of starvation or disease.
   Antonescu’s Jewish policy, however, made a distinction between the Jewish populations of Bessarabia and Bukovina, and of Jews in Romania living in the pre–World War I borders, as well as those in southern Transylvania. Antonescu consented to the Final Solution of the Jews in Bessarabia and Bukovina, which was dutifully carried out by German and Romanian army units, and assisted by Einsatzgruppe D. In September 1941, the surviving 150,000 Jews in both areas were expelled to the Transnistria “reservation.” Between 1941 and 1944, when the area was under Romanian control, some 90,000 Jews died as a result of terrible conditions. By early 1942, however, Antonescu doubted that Germany would win the war or that Hungary would be forced to return northern Transylvania, with its millions of Romanians, to the mother country. Adding to Antonescu’s doubts were the reports of heavy Romanian losses on the Russian front. Together, they forced him to reconsider his cooperation with Germany. In the summer of 1942, Adolf Eichmann sent one of his operatives to Bucharest to coordinate with the government the deportation of the city’s Jews. Intervention, however, by the Romanian clergy and the papal nuncio, together with the appeal of the Jewish community, led Antonescu to cancel his agreement with Germany to deport the country’s 292,000 Jews to the Belzec death camp. The large number of Jews given this reprieve from deportation reflected the Romanian racial laws passed during Antonescu’s regime. The racial definition of a Jew also included converts and their offspring.
   In a diplomatic visit to Adolf Hitler in March 1943, Antonescu refused to bow to pressure and reverse his decision. By the end of the year, Antonescu concluded that the solution to Romania’s “Jewish problem” was to allow them to emigrate in return for a considerable payment. Although Eichmann was determined to abort Antonescu’s plan, the Nazis ultimately failed to execute their extermination plan in Romania. Nevertheless, large numbers of Jews were murdered by Romanian troops and deported by the Germans. In Transnistria, only 50,000 out of 300,000 Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jews survived. Most of the others were killed by Einsatzgruppe D and their auxiliaries, including Romanian troops. Out of an estimated total of 770,000 Jews in all of Romania, 420,000 were killed.

Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. . 2014.

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