The Nizkor Project

50 Years of Silence

History and Voices
of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria


The cruelty and the "dedication" with which a significant segment of the Romanian army, aided by many "obliging" civilians, carried out the destruction of a large part of Romanian Jewry was unequalled even within Axis' Europe. Their savagery was fuelled by deep-rooted, century-long anti-Semitism. At the outbreak of World War II, with he country economically and politically subjugated by Nazi Germany, and with the passing of an ever-expanding racist legislation, the hatred toward Jews steeply intensified and took on a more systemic thrust.

Unlike Nazi Germany, which targeted for annihilation the Jewish population of an entire continent, Romania's Fascist regime was concerned with "solving the Jewish Problem" only within its own borders. Whereas the Third Reich prepared, and conducted each stage of the "Final Solution" plan with scientific and administrative precision, the Romanian approach was less organized and less methodical. However, whatever the Romanian perpetrators lacked in planning and technical means, they made up with fervour and determination in their brutality.

"There were cases when even the hardened German Nazis intervened to stop the slaughter perpetrated by Romanians, as such methods were too offensive to their sense of discipline."1

Reporting on the Iasi pogrom of 1941, the Italian journalist, Curzio Malaparte, describes the following exchange between Hans Frank, the Nazi-appointed Governor General of Poland, and his subordinate, Fischer, the Governor of Warsaw:

"The Romanian people are not a civilized people," said Frank contemptuously.

"That's right, they have no culture," said Fischer, scratching his head.

"When it is necessary, only when it is necessary", Frank repeated emphasizing every syllable, "we use surgery, not butchery. Has anyone ever seen a massacre of Jews in the streets of a German town?"

"It's a question of method and organization", said Fischer.2

Exact figures concerning the Jewish population of pre-war Romania are not available. The census of 1930 lists 759,000 Jews. During the period preceding, and immediately following the outbreak of World War II, there was a significant influx of Jewish refugees from neighbouring countries into Romania. That inflow brought the Jewish population up to approximately 850,000. Only about 400,000 survived after the war. These were mainly Jews living in counties where there were no mass deportations.

During the fall and winter of 1941, almost half of Romania's Jewish population was deported to Transnistria, a stretch of land in south-western Ukraine. Only about 54,000 of the original deportees survived that ordeal. The thriving cultural and religious life of many communities, and their energetic Jewish institutions were destroyed. Furthermore, the potential contribution by those who perished to the development of the country and of the world community vanished.

Since the manner of annihilation chosen by Romanian authorities was rather disorganized and haphazard, the precise number of victims who perished during the many pogroms, on the Iasi Death Train, or of those who died at various "labour projects" and camps within Romania or in Transnistria, will never be known. Raul Hilberg mentions 270,000 dead. Estimates of other historians reach as high as 400,000.

Of the 150,000 Jews living in northern Transylvania (a Romanian region ceded to Hungary in August, 1940), 105,000 were murdered, mostly following their deportation to death camps in Germany and German-occupied Poland by the Hungarian Fascists.

Various sources estimate that of the 300,000 native Ukrainian Jews, living prior to the war within the territory dubbed Transnistria, between 150,000 and 200,000 perished.

"Today Transnistria is an historic phantom, having vanished without a trace. But in Jewish history it is inscribed in blood and tears; it will never be forgotten. Transnistria spells horror --horror that defies description; savage revolting acts of cruelty and bestiality; ... in which one group of men torture, rob, and destroy their helpless victims in cold blood. Transnistria symbolizes genocide." 3

During the last five decades Romania's governments did not assume responsibility for the annihilation of about half of its Jewry. That chapter in the country's history was constantly ignored. Some Romanian politicians, historians, and writers are currently trying to whitewash the atrocities inflicted on the Jews by altering, or even entirely denying certain historical facts. Thus, they attribute the wartime abominations to a fringe of the population. In fact, anti-Semitism was a widespread historical phenomenon in Romania. The sad truth is that, during the Holocaust, some Romanians of all socio-economic strata -- professors, students, professionals, merchants, blue-collar workers, or peasants -- became willing and active participants in the persecution and killing of Jews.

There were, of course, even under those circumstances, some Romanians who did maintain their decency. There were national leaders who distanced themselves from the anti-Semitic official policies; there were ordinary citizens who hid their Jewish neighbours, or warned their Jewish friends about upcoming pogroms and deportations. Many of those have been acknowledged as "Righteous Among the Nations" by the Yad Vashem Institute in Israel.[4] Those dignified individuals deserve our deepest respect and our heartfelt gratitude for their acts of human decency in a world gone mad. Many others remain known only to those whose lives they saved by risking their own.

The denial practiced in Romania came to an end in May 1997, just a few months after the publication of this book. At that time, the President of Romania, Mr. Emil Constantinescu, finally acknowledged the role Romania had played in the destruction of about one half of its Jews. (The chapter "The Current Situation in Romania" is presenting the text of the above-mentioned declaration, as well as additional information about the socio-political environment in present-day Romania).

Unfortunately, Mr. Constantinescu's attempts to involve the country in the coming to terms with its past and further the democratic process is not yet shared by the majority of Romanian citizens. In November 2000, Emil Constantinescu, decided to withdraw from political life before the new elections, and a new wave of nationalism and radicalism resurfaced in the country.

The current political leadership of Germany, Hungary, Austria, Ukraine, Poland and many other countries did apologize for the participation of their countrymen in the attempted annihilation of European Jewry, during World War II. In 1996, Germany proclaimed January 27, the day of liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, as The Annual National Day of Commemoration for the Victims of Nazism.

"There is also an encouraging change to be noticed in the attitude of the Catholic Church: "The Polish Catholic Church has designated January 17 as an annual 'Day of Judaism' in Polish churches. The day will be dedicated to interfaith dialogue and to teaching Polish Catholics about Judaism. The initiative, slated to involve Roman Catholic dioceses throughout the country, follows the example of The Italian Catholic Church which, several years ago, declared January 17 an annual 'Day of Judaism' in Italy."5

Other countries, which recognize the danger of intolerance and prejudice, promote recognition of the calamity of the Holocaust on a national basis, in the hope that such tragedies will never be repeated.

Britain observed its first national Holocaust Memorial Day last Sunday (January 28, 2001) with ceremonies across the country and a service in London that also honoured victims of other 20th-century genocides... The guest list for a special service at Westminster Central Hall in London included Prince Charles, Prime Minister Tony Blair, the archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster and the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks... It (the ceremony) came on the 56th anniversay of the liberation of Auschwitz, which is commemorated around Europe...
Germany's commemorative events took place at the site of the planned national Holocaust memorial, close to the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate, in the heart of Berlin...
...Italy held its first Holocaust Memorial Day with a ceremony in Milan organized by Italian Unions, and a moment of silence was planned during the evening soccer game. Padua, in northern Iraly, honoured Giorgio Perlasca, a butcher credited with having saved more than 5,000 Italian Jews by pretending to be a Spanish diplomat. Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi acknowledged Italy's blame in the Holocaust, calling Benito Mussolini's racial laws a betrayal of the country's founding principles...
...In Sweden Prime Minister Goeran Persson attended a ceremony at a Stockholm synagogue6
Finland announced that next year it would begin observing an annual Holocaust memorial day on January 27.

Although there are democratic forces in present day Romania, the country had not yet come to terms with its role in the destruction of half of its Jewish population and thousands of Roma.

*      *     *

The Holocaust was not just an attack on Jews. It was an attack on humanity as a whole. Fifty-seven years after this horrific chapter in human history, we watch on our television screens innocent people being slaughtered in Rwanda, Algeria, Indonesia, Kurdistan, and the "ethnic cleansing" in former Yugoslavia. It seems that the world has not yet assimilated the lesson of the Holocaust. This history must not be allowed to repeat itself, not for us Jews, nor for any other people! When World War II was over, eleven million civilians had died. Among them, six million Jews had been annihilated for no other reason than the fact that they were Jews. Much work remains to be done in the area of educating the young generation about the tragic consequences of racial, religious and any other kind of prejudice and discrimination.

Heinrich Himmler, the chief of the infamous SS, felt elated and proud of this "accomplishment". Commenting on the success of the Final Solution he stated: "It is a glorious stage in our history, but it will never be recorded!"

Shattered! 50 Years of Silence, History and Voices of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria, is indeed meant to be a record of that "glorious stage" in history. It is my solemn pledge to spare no effort in keeping this memory alive, as our very humanity depends on it. "Do not forget!" is the legacy that the victims and the survivors of that calamity require, demand, and deserve.

Dr. Felicia (Steigman) Carmelly

[1]. Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, p.486
[2]. I. C. Butnaru, The Silent Holocaust -- and its Jews, p.98.
[3]. Julius Fischer, Transnistria, The Forgotten Cemetery, p. 9.
[4]. A national Israeli centre based in Jerusalem, dedicated to perpetuate the memory of the martyrs and heroes of the Holocaust. It is also the most important establishment for research, documentation and Holocaust education in the world.
[5]. The Canadian Jewish News, December, 11, 1997.
[6]. The Canadian Jewish News, February 1, 2001
[7]. The Canadian Jewish News, February 22, 2001

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