During the war years, two outstanding and courageous personalities stood at the helm of the Jewish community in Romania, the president and the chief rabbi.
Dr. WILLIAM FILDERMAN, the President, was born in Bucharest, on November 14, 1882. As a student, he excelled in public speaking and his passion for politics became obvious during his high school years. He was encouraged to study medicine, but he preferred to attend law school, stating: "What can a physician do for the cause of persecuted Jews?" Having earned his Doctorate of Law in Paris, Dr. Filderman began his militant activities on behalf of Romanian Jewry at the risk to his own life.
At the beginning of the war, he was the President of the Federation of the Unions of the Jewish Communities in Romania. Eventually his courageous interventions on behalf of his community caused his own deportation. He spent two months in a concentration camp in Transnistria, where a large part of Romanian Jewry had been deported. He was allowed to return to Romania only upon the intervention of Pope Pius XII, through the Papal Nuncio (the Vatican Ambassador), Andreas Cassulo.
On December 16, 1941, the government dissolved the Federation of the Unions of the Jewish Communities. At the beginning of 1942, it was replaced by The Central Bureau of Jews. The Bureau was designated as the sole body authorized to represent the interests of the Jewish community in Romania. From the government point of view, its function was primarily to enforce the authorities' demands of the Jewish community. However, the Bureau also took it upon itself to fund the remaining network of Jewish elementary and high schools, and to aid the needy, including the deportees in Transnistria.
The Governmnent appointed Dr. Nandor Ghingold as the head of The Central Bureau of Jews. He was a young physician, who had converted to Catholicism in December of 1941. Rabbi Safran described him as a person without scruples who would do anything to please his masters. The Bureau was subordinate to Radu Lecca, General Commissar for Jewish Affairs at the office of the Prime Minister.
The Germans planned to use this Bureau as an instrument in the implementation of their plan to cleanse Romania of Jews, similar to the deportations and destruction that were taking place in Poland.
The Romanians perceived the Bureau as a vehicle for the economic and financial plundering of the Jewish population and as a means to exploit free human labour for the benefit of the Romanian Fascist regime.
Behind the scenes, Dr. Filderman remained an active and devoted representative of the Jews in Romania, even when he no longer occupied an official position. After the war, he resumed his activities on behalf of the remaining Jewish community, under the auspices of the UER<4>. On November 17, 1947, while the National Conference of the CDE <5> was still conducting its business, Dr. W. Filderman resigned from the leadership of the UER, and after a short time, he succeeded in leaving the country clandestinely. This decision had to be made, because it was discovered that the Romanian authorities were preparing a plot in which he would be accused of being a spy for Great Britain<6.>
Dr. ALEXANDER SAFRAN [Shafran], the Chief Rabbi, was the son of the famous Rabbi Zeev Bezalel Safran from the city of Bacau. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Vienna and was known as one of the most charismatic orators of his time, touching even the most hardened anti-Semites with his speeches. He was elected Chief Rabbi of Romania at the young age of 29, and guided the community during its most difficult years of the war. While intervening on behalf of Romanian Jewry, he often risked his own life, as well as that of his wife, Sara, and their young son.
When Dr. Ghingold came to set up his office on Burghelea Street, the site of the disbanded Federation of the community, he also requested the use of the apartment occupied by Rabbi Safran in the same building. Rabbi Safran was forced to move his office and his home to an apartment on Spatarului Street. This move turned out to the benefit of the community, since it provided Dr. Safran with the opportunity to organize an "illegal committee" in his new location, under his and Dr. Filderman's leadership.
...."On December 22, 1947, the new leader of the Jewish Community (Dr. Ghingold) appeared at the residence of the Chief Rabbi, Dr. Alexandru Safran, bearing words from the government that he must leave Romania within two hours! The expulsion of Dr. Safran from the country, and his replacement by Rabbi Moses Rosen represented a turning point in the life of the Jewish community in Romania"<7>.
Romania was the only European country where some dialogue took place during the war between the Fascist government and the leadership of the Jewish community. This was due to the leadership of Dr. Filderman and Dr. Safran. After the war, Rabbi Safran became the Chief Rabbi of Geneva, Switzerland.
Chief of State
Ion Antonescu was born in 1882 in the town of Pitesti, into a family without any social standing. During the suppression of a peasant revolt, in 1907, he was an army Lieutenant who showed remarkable determination and initiative, as well as notable disregard for human life. Without waiting for instructions from his superiors, he ordered the shelling of those involved in the uprising in and around the city of Galati [Galats]. The victims of this operation were peasants who wanted to throw off the yoke of the boyar landowners. This episode, later played down in his biography, drew the attention of his superiors.
In 1911, Antonescu graduated from the military academy. In 1913, he took part in the Balkan War and received the highest military decoration. During the course of World War I, in which Romania fought against Germany and Austro-Hungary alongside the western powers and Russia, Antonescu gained a reputation as a talented staff officer, and he was quickly promoted. In 1916, he was appointed operational Chief-of-Staff to the Army Commander, General Prezan, who ordered the execution of many Jews. Toward the end of the war, Antonescu's record earned him the post of Chief of Operations on the General Staff.
His tenacity in the bloodshed during the suppression of the peasant revolt, his disregard for both soldiers and fellow officers, his high standards and malevolence along with his red hair-all earned him the nickname of "red dog" (cainele rosu).
In 1922, Antonescu was appointed military attache in France; in the years 1923-1926, he served in the same capacity in Great Britain. He was convinced of his 'greatness' and referred to himself as a 'saviour' who would rescue both the country and the people.
Some of Antonescu's personality characteristics as leader, 'Conducator' of Romania seemed to bear a distinct resemblance to those of Hitler --particularly his inner conviction that Providence itself had chosen him to restore the country to its old borders, nurse Romanian society back to health, solve the 'Jewish problem', and inscribe a glorious chapter in the history of Romania. He was susceptible to radical mood changes, outbursts of rage, alternating with calm and self-restraint, often in the course of the same conversation. Antonescu always had to be under close medical supervision.
A less known and played down chapter in Antonescu's biographies relates to his engagement to two Jewish women from Galati, and his marriage to a French woman of Jewish extraction. He divorced her, while he was still a military attach‚ in France. His only child, who apparently died at an early age, was born to him by that French woman. His marriage to his second wife, Maria, touched off a political and legal storm fanned by circles close to the King. Antonescu was accused of bigamy. Both Mr. and Mrs. Antonescu had been married earlier to French-Jewish spouses.
It should be mentioned in this context that Antonescu's father, who had been excised from all official biographies published during the war, had divorced the General's mother and had married a Jewess by the name of Frida Cuperman. After he became "Conducator" [Leader] of Romania, Antonescu demanded that his stepmother renounce the name Antonescu after her husband's death. She refused.
The range of Antonescu's anti-Jewish sentiments is abundantly attested to by his believes in the "Jewish invasion of Romania" and in "a conspiracy of world Jewry against Romania." Although his enemies included Hungarians, Russians, Ukrainians, Free Masons and Communists, he regarded the Jews as the most dangerous internal enemy.
Though not as passionate and obsessive about the subject as the legionnaires, Antonescu also saw the Jews as evil incarnate.<8>
Antonescu was a complex, ambivalent character; he was responsible for the annihilation of over 200,000 Romanian Jews. However, it is important to mention that among Germany's satellites, he alone resolutely resisted German pressure to turn over to them the rest of Romania's Jews.
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