Copyright 1996, H-Net, all rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given to the author and the list.

H-Net Review.jpg (37078 bytes)

Randolph L. Braham, ed. The Destruction of Romanian and Ukrainian Jews During the Antonescu Era. Social Science Monographs; East European Monographs, no. 483. Boulder; New York: Columbia University Press, East Europ. xvi + 413 pp. Bibliographical references. $60.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-88033-384-7.

Reviewed by Nicolae Harsanyi, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Published by HABSBURG (November, 1998)


No Clean Hands: The Antonescu Regime and its Anti-Jewish Policies (1941-1944)

The fall of communism in Eastern Europe brought about, as a natural consequence, the revision of each country's historical narratives. With the ideological control gone, historians have engaged in a painful or proud process of rewriting history, aspiring to fill in the blanks created by former taboos. The most sensitive periods in this respect were those which had been rewritten by communist historiographers to closely suit the momentary and successive interpretations of history by the party leadership. One such episode is Romania's role in the Holocaust.

The destruction of more than 270,000 Romanian Jews is a lesser known chapter of the Holocaust. The regime of Marshal Antonescu (1940-1944) has an ambivalent record of slaughter of Jews and reluctance to participate in the deportations to the death camps operated by the Nazis. This was very convenient for the historiographers of the Ceausescu era: to ignore the former and uphold the latter, supporting in this way the multilateral official revival of Romanian nationalism. According to their version, anti-Semitism did not characterize any Romanian government, and the Jews were protected during World War II.

Since the end of 1989, Romania's newly constituted political arena contains a rather vocal extreme right-wing segment interested in maintaining and heightening xenophobic nationalism. Freedom of speech has permitted historians with chauvinistic and anti-semitic tendencies to treat the Antonescu era as a government worthy of emulation. They are attracted to it for two reasons: first it was staunchly anti-communist and second it promoted political mobilization that would further the greatness of the Romanian nation, while shielding it from the dangers of Western liberalism, Eastern communism, Jewish internationalism, etc. At this juncture, history, instead of regaining its status of independent enterprise, remains the work of a political clientele.

Historians and political scientists from three continents addressed this complex phenomenon within the "International Scholars' Conference on the Fate of Romanian and Ukrainian Jews Under the Antonescu Regime" held in Washington, D.C. on June 25-26, 1996. This volume, edited by Randolph L. Braham, is the outgrowth of this scholarly gathering organized under the auspices of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Rosenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies of the City University of New York.

Randolph Braham organized the material of the book (thirteen chapters, each of them a study by a different author), into four parts, reflecting the common focus of the studies: "Setting the Stage," "The Drive Against the Jews," "The Foreign Factor," and "Notes and History Cleansing."

Lya Benjamin's study, "Anti-Semitism as Reflected in the Records of the Council of Ministers, 1940-1944: An Analytical Overview," is based on research in more than 100 records covering the meetings of the Council of Ministers and the Cabinet Council. She focuses on four issues: the regime's project for restructuring society along ethnocratic lines through Romanianization, the racist terms in which Jewishness was formulated in political discourse, ethnic cleansing as a local variant of the Final Solution, and the rise of a new type of anti-Semitism. Although there was a change in Antonescu's approach to the Jewish question (from destruction to support of emigration) determined by the fortunes of the war, Benjamin is keen to point out that this turn in the Marshal's and the state's policy was not intended to save the Jews, but "rather an attempt by prominent figures of the Antonescu regime to save themselves by supposedly protecting the Jews" (p. 14).

In her chapter on "Emigration and Immigration: The Changing Role of Romanian Jewry," Dalia Ofer examines "the roots and evolution of Romania's emigration policy in the larger context of the ideologies, policies, and predicaments of the Holocaust period (pp. 19-20)." She points out that it was only in the late 1930s that the Romanian government considered emigration as an alternative for solving the "Jewish" problem, echoing international plans for the mass settlement of Jews in areas outside of Europe. Although in the period ranging from June 1941 to September 1942 Romania's policy toward Jews set out on more radical paths, emigration was never eliminated as an option. The case of the steamship Struma illustrates this point and also underlines the Romanian government's refusal to comply with German requests that the Jews be deported to the death camps in Poland. While pointing out that Jewish emigration was a growing source of profit for Romanian transport companies and bureaucrats, Dalia Ofer views Romania's delay and subsequent cancellation of deportations of Jews to Belzec as "a manifestation of Romania's quest for autonomy in policymaking," and "a sign of sovereignty" (p. 36).

To conclude the first part of the book, Randolph L. Braham makes a jump from the years of World War II to the 1990s by writing a study with a quite self-explanatory title: "The Exculpatory History of Romanian Nationalists: the Exploitation of the Holocaust for Political Ends." After reviewing the features of post-1989 revisionist interpretations of Romania's role in the Second World War and the Holocaust, the study underlines how this revisionist trend of Romanian nationalist historians has relied on the accounts, largely unfounded, of Dr. Moses Carmilly-Weinberger, the wartime rabbi of the Neolog Jewish community in Cluj, and of Dr. Raoul Sorban, a professor of art history at the University of Bucharest. Randolph Braham succeeds very well in underscoring that the rehabilitation campaign of Marshal Antonescu and his regime, besides belittling or ignoring the sufferings inflicted on the Jews, also has a strong anti-Hungarian dimension, a familiar theme of mainstream Romanian nationalism.

The second part of the book deals with the Romanian authorities' destructive drives against the Jewry of Romania, Bessarabia, and Transnistria in 1941-1942. Through his study "The Jassy Massacre of June 29-30, 1941: An Early Act of Genocide Against the Jews," Radu Florian pays tribute to his own father and brother who perished in this event. In addition to the killings of Jews in the streets and the courtyard of police headquarters on June 28-29, Radu Florian links the episode of the two "death trains" to the massacre,[1] thus extending the latter's temporal scope to July 6. The author also attempts to establish responsibility for the massacre by correlating the few available documentary sources with subsequent statements by some organizers of the carnage. Based on assumptions of chain-of-command structures through which information was circulated, Florian assigns the principal guilt to Ion Antonescu, as the one who "sanctioned the massacre and absolved not only the Romanian but also the German army units of all responsibility for the crimes committed" (p. 78). Regrettably, Florian's study is the result of scholarly research only; this chapter could have been enriched by the author's personal recollections as a direct witness and survivor of the events. Thus he might have contributed his own evidence concerning the controversial question of the extent to which the massacre was the work of the Romanian army or German troops, as claimed by the nationalist revisionist historiographers. When Florian mentions that some Romanian army officers (Richard Filipescu, Petru Serban, and Alexandru Manole) opposed the massacre, he neglects to say how this opposition materialized. Unfortunately, there is no reference that may send an inquisitive reader to a source containing this information.

Jean Ancel's chapter on "The Romanian Campaigns of Mass Murder in Transnistria, 1941-1942" deals not only with what its title suggests, being rather a succinct monograph about the region under Romanian rule. It presents the main factors through which Romania exercised its power as occupier: the army, the gendarmerie, the police, and the Ukrainian militia. It is only after he has finished drawing such a general picture that Jean Ancel narrates the destruction of at least a quarter of a million Jews during the winter of 1941-1942 as part of the general campaign of "cleansing the ground" (curatirea terenului). Relying solely on official documents issued by military commanders, prefects, Governor Alexianu, and the Prime Minister's Office, Ancel presents the plight of the convoys of Jews gathered from northern Moldavia, Bukovina, Bessarabia, Transnistria, and Odessa as they were driven to the crossing points on the Bug and into the hands of the Germans.

Special attention is given to the camps of Bogdanovka and Domanevka where Jews were murdered by the thousands or died in the hundreds decimated by typhus. With a sort of grisly irony, the Romanian forces proved their inability to handle so many Jews, the latter becoming a "nightmare" for the local authorities: in November 1941 prefect Isopescu of Golta district (where Bogdanovka was located) was terrified at the prospect of "the imminent arrival of tens of thousands more Jews, even before he had managed to bury the thousands of corpses of Jews who had already been murdered" (p. 112).

An equally disturbing study, with many methodological similarities, is that of Paul A. Shapiro on "The Jews of Chisinau (Kishinev): Romanian Reoccupation, Ghettoization, Deportation." It draws on new documents from the State Archives and the Ministry of National Security of Moldova in Chisinau, presenting a detailed look at the creation, administration, and liquidation of the Chisinau ghetto between the summer of 1941 and the spring of 1942. Shapiro presents the fate of the some 10,000 Jews remaining in Chisinau after the city's reoccupation by the Romanian army in July 1941. The author meticulously documents the measures taken by the authorities to concentrate the Jewish population within an overcrowded area (Visterniceni) of Chisinau, how the ghetto was administered, as well as the relationship between the Jewish Committee of the Ghetto and government representatives. Shapiro emphasizes that most of the authorities' orders were carried out in a disorderly and arbitrary manner, proving that the ghetto was conceived only as a holding point until deportation to Transnistria. Against the revisionist claim that the Chisinau ghetto and its inhabitants were destroyed by "wild men at the periphery," Shapiro demonstrates that these actors were military and civilian officials of Ion Antonescu's wartime regime (p. 178).

While Ancel's and Shapiro's studies mostly present the voices of the perpetrators, those of the victims are heard in Leon Volovici's article, "The Victim as Eyewitness: Jewish Intellectual Diaries During the Antonescu Period." Using the diaries of Mihail Sebastian, B. Branisteanu, and Emil Dorian, Volovici focuses on the evolution and nature of relations between Romanian and Jewish intellectuals in 1940-1944. These three men, who refused to be labeled as "assimilated" (p. 196), were players in a drama of historical significance with an unforeseeable ending. Besides rich reflections on the anti-Semitism permeating the Romanian official and popular discourse, the diaries, rather than providing factual information, abound in meditations on their authors' experience of discrimination and gradual exclusion, as well as the experience of their community. Since an integral part of their intellectual ordeal was the long process of waiting to see what their fate would be, a certain psychological paralysis overcame the diarists, in spite of the fact that all three of them kept open channels of communication with several personalities representing the powers of the day. Volovici also ascertains that these diaries reveal the "paradoxical behavior and double standard of the Romanian authorities toward 'their' and 'alien' Jews" (p. 212).

Three studies make up the third part of the book, dedicated to "the foreign factor" in the history of the Holocaust in Romania. Radu Ioanid, in his study "The Fate of Romanian Jews in Nazi Occupied Europe," holds Ion Antonescu directly responsible for the deportation to the camps in Poland of the Romanian Jewish citizens living in Germany, Austria, France, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Netherlands. On the other hand, Ioanid highlights Mihai Antonescu's use of the Romanian Jews as a bargaining chip in secret negotiations with the Allies, the consequence of which was the protection offered to them by the Romanian consular offices in 1943 and 1944. The change in the policy towards the Jews abroad came as a result of the eternal Hungarian-Romanian rivalry: if in 1942 the Romanian diplomatic interests were still centered on the property of Romanian Jews living abroad, in 1943 the treatment of the Jews became an "image" problem for Romania itself, as dispatches of the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasized that Hungarian Jews in Central and Western Europe enjoyed preferential status.

The following two chapters of the third section of the book provide the voices of observers from two geographically rather distant areas. Raphael Vago, in his "The Situation of Romanian Jewry During the Antonescu Period: Reactions and Perceptions of the Yishuv," extends an exhortation to further research, rather than proposing a general overview of the major events in the period, through several case studies. After analyzing such issues as the means and channels of communication the Yishuv (the Jewish community of British-controlled Palestine) maintained with the Jews in Romania, its chains of command and decision-making, and the efforts to rescue Jews from destruction, Vago infers that, despite the correct picture the Yishuv had of the sequence of events in Romania, this picture eventually became a puzzle: "the assessments between the Romanian Zionist movements and the Yishuv often differed on the significance of developments" (p. 248).

While Vago's study is based on Israeli sources, Carol Iancu ("The Jews of Romania During the Antonescu Regime as Reflected in French Diplomatic Documents"), on the other hand, relies on unpublished documents in the French Foreign Affairs Ministry's archives to examine three issues: anti-Semitic legislation in Romania, the policy of Romanianization, and violence against the Jewish population. On all three aspects the French government was kept up to date through the reports of its diplomatic representatives in Bucharest, who were sympathetic to the plight of the Romanian Jews, and at the same time could not miss the irony in some of the actions of the Romanian authorities. Thus, Ambassador Jacques Truelle could not help remarking that the Romanianization policy, the slow pace of which was caused by difficulty in replacing Jewish personnel with Romanians, inevitably "led to the Germanization of business" (p. 260). Carol Iancu also introduces little known data for the scholars of the Romanian Holocaust: Transnistria was also a place to which the Germans deported significant numbers of Jews from Western Europe: 8,600 from Holland, 11,600 from France, 7,000 from Belgium (p. 264).

>From the time of the Antonescu regime, the last section of the book takes the reader to contemporary Romania, focusing on the efforts to cleanse the dictator's image through myths and historical revisionism. Victor Eskenasy's study, "Historiographers Against the Antonescu Myth," presents the stages in the evolution of Marshal Ion Antonescu's image from the leader of a dictatorial regime to an emblematic national hero, and the endeavors of a few historians with a humanistic, democratic background to contain the developing "cult" through a clear appraisal of Antonescu and his regime. Besides the rehabilitation drive initiated by the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party after 1971, Eskenasy points to the role played by the expatriate Romanian millionaire Iosif Constantin Dragan in supporting (materially and morally) the development of the Antonescu cult and the enrollment of a section of the intellectual elite motivated by nationalist propaganda, sycophancy, or simple opportunism rather than genuine historiographical interest. Moreover, it is the latter who have also been active in the extreme nationalist and xenophobic revisionist political stream after 1989. Nevertheless, Eskenasy's study ends with a review of the "hope reserve," i.e. the contemporary Romanian historians Andrei Pippidi, Serban Papacostea, and Dinu C. Giurescu, who, through their positions and writings, are exercising a considerable influence on the development and training of future generations of historians.

In his study "Fascism, Anti-Semitism, and Mythmaking in East Central Europe--the Case of Romania" Vladimir Tismaneanu views the revival of nationalism, the cult of Antonescu, and anti-Jewish attitudes in the wider context of the East European countries. In his assessment of nationalism, the author draws on a factor that has seldom been revealed in the literature on nationalism, the psychological element: the roles resentment, national dignity, and self-aggrandizement have played in East European post-communist nationalist revivals, all relying heavily on narratives of repeated victimization. At the same time, Tismaneanu points out that "anti-Semitism is a central motif of these narratives of martyrdom, self-glorification and exclusionary practices" (p. 321). In the discussion of present-day anti-Semitism, not only in Romania, but also in Hungary, Croatia, and Poland, Tismaneanu raises another interesting issue: in the post-1989 discourse of hatred, anti-Semitism frequently also assumes the form of anti-North Americanism.

The book ends with an extensive study on "Marshal Antonescu's Postcommunist Rehabilitation: Cui Bono?" by Michael Shafir. By providing an answer to the question raised in the title, this article throws light on the seamy intricacies of current Romanian politics. He notes the weight that some political operators, like Corneliu Vadim Tudor and Adrian Paunescu, can wield due to their former association with the Securitate, with nationalist circles basking in nostalgia for Ceausescu's "golden age" of terror. With the support of I.C. Dragan, the same people are also active in the propagation of Marshal Antonescu's cult. Shafir demonstrates that the resurrected cult of Antonescu is a screen for the "forces of old to undermine Romania's imperfect democracy" (p. 393) and to preserve their hold on power in the post-1989 years. "Antonescu's figure serves both as a model for legitimization and as blueprint for a future in which communist values are no longer relevant, but power based on ethnocentrism combined with a measure of populism is" (p. 390). The author unmistakably proves the links between the prominent revisionist historians (Gheorghe Buzatu, Ion Ardelean, Ioan Talpes, Ilie Neacsu, the late Mircea Musat, to mention only some of them) and the structures of power in Ceausescu's Romania: the Securitate and the communist party apparatus. In addition, Shafir does not fail to mention that the efforts of these revisionist historians are not only limited to the rehabilitation of Marshal Antonescu's regime, but also focus on the exoneration of the Iron Guard, both having been "wronged" by communist historiography.

I would like to commend the editor for putting together this collection of studies, which is rich thanks to its diverse methodological and disciplinary approaches as well to its mixture of document analysis and psychological-cultural arguments. In order to help the reader locate the places mentioned in the second section, several maps could have been included, like the camps in Transnistria, the ghetto in Chisinau with its changing topography, and the routes of the "death trains."

The volume under discussion is very useful and commands the attention of a wide range of readers: historians and students of Eastern Europe, and of Romania especially, scholars of the Holocaust, as well as students of contemporary Romanian politics: everyone interested in a non-dogmatic reappraisal of the Romanian past. The book is a timely and informed answer to the radical nationalistic historiography aimed at reving Antonescu's image that has become a recurrent theme in the Romanian intellectual and political press.[2] It is a significant and opportune step towards uncovering the historical truth about a genocide that has been largely forgotten. Hopefully, it will help Romanians come to terms with their past. Therefore its translation and publication in Romanian should be made a priority.

Notes

[1]. The same events are presented more extensively by Radu Ioanid in The Sword of the Archangel: Fascist Ideology in Romania (Boulder; New York: East European Monographs, distributed by Columbia University Press, 1990).

[2]. A comprehensive body of documents in English, German, and Romanian concerning this debate can be found at the homepage of Halbjahresschrift fur suedosteuropaische Geschichte, Literatur und Politik located at http://home.t-online.de/home/totok/ion.htm.

Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 23/01/99
Stuart.Stein@uwe.ac.uk
S D Stein

Reviews Index Page
Holocaust Index Page
Genocide Index Page
ESS Home Page