The Nizkor Project

50 Years of Silence

History and Voices
of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria

The Bucharest Pogrom
January 21 - 23, 1941

As a powerful political force, The Iron Guard, became a part of the Romanian cabinet. However, Antonescu, the Chief of State, was in conflict with this party over the leadership of the country.

On January 20, 1941, The Iron Guard launched a rebellion in order to overthrow General Antonescu. After three days of brutal street fighting, the putsch was crushed by the General's army, but only after the rebellion erupted into a vicious pogrom.

Legionnaires,<9> consisting of students, priests, intellectuals of every. kind, young and old, men, women, and children, descended like birds of prey on the Jewish districts to grab whatever they could carry away. They were burning down synagogues, demolishing stores, and plundering private apartments. Streetcars were drenched with gasoline and set ablaze. Buildings along the street caught fire, yet the mobs continued to break down the shutters and plunder the Jewish stores and apartments. Flames and smoke were visible for many miles around the city.

In order to avoid "confusion", the houses of the Christians displayed religious symbols, icons, or signs with the inscription "Christians live here." Signs posted on Jewish houses stated "Kikes live here!" This is how neighbours of these unfortunate Jews, helped the plunderers from other districts, who were unfamiliar with the area. People, who had lived for many years as friendly neighbours with the Jews, suddenly became unscrupulous informers. They joined the gangs who broke into the Jewish homes, from where one could hear groans and screams of terror. The gangs went about their business, fully aware that the authorities would not interfere with their despicable actions.

For three and a half days, the Jewish districts were at the complete mercy of the uncontrolled mobs. During this time, several thousand Jews were dragged out of their homes, and arrested on the streets, and in synagogues. Among them were lay leaders of the Jewish community, Rabbis, personnel from synagogues and Jewish community offices, as well as Jewish journalists, writers, doctors, and engineers. They were taken to previously established destinations, the Legionary Headquarters, the Police precincts, and even to designated synagogues, where they were subjected to savage treatment.

The workers of the Parcomet factory arrested a group of young men, who had been dragged out of the building of the Zionist organization on Anton Pann Street. They were beaten for three days. Then, they were forced to drink a concoction of bitter salts mixed with gasoline, kerosene and vinegar. Eventually, most of them lost their consciousness. In this state, they were locked in the basement of the jail, and left to lie in their own filth.

Other groups of Jews were beaten and tortured from seven o'clock in the evening until dawn. Then they were forced to do calisthenics. One group was taken to a farm, in the Straulesti district of Bucharest, where they too were shot.

At the headquarters of the Legionary Workers' Union, at 37 Calarasi Avenue, more than two hundred Jews were held under arrest. Among the men and women in this group, were the venerable Rabbi, H. Gutman, and his two sons, Joseph and Jacob. After they had been robbed of everything they possessed, many from this group were subjected to a "new form of torture". They were forced to run up and down the stairs, under a rain of blows from the Legionnaires posted along the staircase armed with sticks. The women were led to the basement and whipped on the face with ox sinews. Then, they were freed.

Many Jews were driven to the Jilava forest, where they were shot. The day after the shooting, about eighty bodies of slain Jews were found there. This is how the tragedy and pain to which Rabbi H. Gutman was subjected is described by an eyewitness:

"Rabbi Gutman and his two sons were in the last transport vehicle. When the truck stopped at the edge of the forest, shots were heard from the massacre of the Jews brought there in the previous transports. The Rabbi got off the truck holding both his sons by the hand. They were ordered to lie face down on the ground. A rain of bullets was then fired at all of them. The father did not feel anything hitting his body, but, while squeezing his children's hands, he felt their pulses beat slower and slower until they stopped.

Then, the murderers left, and silence settled over this empire of the dead. The Rabbi, the only one left alive among the dozens of corpses, got up from beside the inert bodies of his children. While walking to the highway, he encountered two gendarmes who urged him to leave. As he stumbled in a daze along the highway, he was spotted by German sentries, who took him to the Jilava town hall. There were seven other Jews there, four of which were wounded. The eight were kept at the town hall all day Wednesday, and, in the evening, they were again taken to the forest. They were ordered to stretch out on the ground face down, then, they were shot. For the second time, the Rabbi was not hit. He lay motionless in the darkness among the corpses, until two Legionnaires came to strip the clothes off the dead bodies. When they discovered that he was still alive, they wanted to shoot him again, but in the end they decided to let him go, urging him to leave the woods for the village of Darasti.

On Thursday, towards daybreak, the Rabbi arrived once again at the Jilava town hall. Enraged by the fact that he was still alive, the Legionnaires tortured him all day. He was mocked, beaten, and they plucked out hairs from his head and beard. They told him that he would be shot again that night, and that this time he would not be able to work another miracle and escape. However, before their threats could be carried out, the Rabbi was freed by four gendarmes! The Legionary Rebellion was crushed!

Accompanied by a lieutenant, the grieving Rabbi returned to the forest. There, among dozens of corpses, he found his sons' bodies stripped naked. The Rabbi moistened the cold foreheads of his sons with his saliva, and, with a copy pencil he had borrowed from the officer, he wrote their names so that they could be identified"<10>.

At dawn, on January 23, 1941, a truck from the Podsudeck sausage factory was loaded with fifteen of the Jews that had been held under arrest at the Police Prefecture. They were driven to the city slaughterhouse. At the inquiry following the Legionary Rebellion, Reserve Lieutenant I. N. Vladescu, the military prosecutor, revealed his report about these events:

"TO THE ABATTOIR: Under the pretext of acting against a movement of a political nature, the Legionnaires committed mass murder at the city slaughterhouse, at Baneasa. More than a hundred people were butchered. Some were found with their bellies deeply cut open by the despicable assassins, who used butcher knives for this purpose. As masters in the art of torture, they had taken the intestines they had torn out of their victims' bodies and tied them like neckties around their necks. While this carnage took place inside the slaughterhouse, outside a large number of Legionnaires were singing and making a mockery of Jewish psalms and prayers. The German military attache in Bucharest was collecting casualty reports.

In one of his memoranda he wrote 'In the Bucharest morgue one can see hundreds of corpses, but they are mostly Jews'. Reports from Jewish sources state that the victims had not merely been killed, but they had been butchered. They could no longer be identified as human bodies. In the municipal slaughterhouse, parts of bodies were hanging on hooks like carcasses of cattle. One witness saw a girl of about five hanging by her feet like a calf, her entire body was drenched in blood".<11>

The building of the Federation of the Union of Jewish Communities, was invaded by a group of twenty-four Legionnaires. They smashed down the doors and trashed the offices. Then, they went upstairs and broke into the apartment of Chief Rabbi, Dr. Alexander Safran, stealing anything of value they could find. The following day, the Legionnaires arrested everybody who came into the building and locked them in the cellar.

Other groups paid particular attention to the destruction, pillaging, and burning of the synagogues. Valuable religious artifacts were stolen. Torah Scrolls were torn to pieces, trampled and slashed with knives. Twenty-five synagogues were destroyed and burned. The property losses were astronomical. But the emotional trauma caused by the desecration and loss of the synagogues (some dating back to the beginning of the nineteenth century) resulted in even greater sorrow.

After the pogrom, by January 27, 1941, the workers of the Jewish community offices had identified 121 of the dead, however, 400 were still missing. General Ion Antonescu was fully aware of the course of events, but he made no attempt to stop the savage pogrom.

Some of the personnel of the German Embassy was following the events closely, but did not intervene. German soldiers patrolled through the streets taking notes of the atrocities. That information was transmitted to Berlin. This was precisely what Antonescu wanted. In the comfort of his office, the General was waiting for a reaction from abroad. When the telephone rang, he lifted the receiver, and a smile appeared on his ruddy face. Hitler demanded that he restore order: "I don't need any fanatics. I need a sound Romanian Army," he barked.

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