The Nizkor Project

50 Years of Silence

History and Voices
of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria

Further Deportations Stalled and Halted

A large part of this section is drawn from The Silent Holocaust - Romania and its Jews, by I. C. Butnaru.

In 1942, the German Nazis intensified their pressure to deport the remaining Jewish population from Romania. Eichmann travelled to Bucharest to speed up those deportations.

Under this terrible threat, the Jewish leaders from Arad, Timisoara, Turda and the Old Romanian Kingdom, decided to convene a meeting in Bucharest. They prepared a lobbying plan and contacted the underground Jewish resistance for assistance.

"In June 1942, under the impact of impressive German victories in Russia and following the Romanian army's advance in the Caucasus and its crossing of the Don River, Antonescu agreed to implement the 'Final Solution' with regard to Romanian Jews. This involved the deportation of the remaining Jews from Romania. On August 19, Rintelen, a Foreign Ministry official in Berlin, summed up the negotiations with the Romanians and reported that 'in line with the Marshal's wishes,' German agencies would begin removing Jews from Romania. The first transports were to depart from southern Transylvania, from the districts of Arad, Timisoara, and Turda. The deportations were scheduled to begin on September 10, 1942, aboard German trains, in groups of 2,000 people per transport.

The distribution of apartments that would become available due to those deportations had already been discussed in the various government ministries in Bucharest. Agencies that expressed interest in Jewish property were told by R. Lecca that 'our plan provides for the evacuation to Poland of all the Jews found not to be useful for the national economy.

However, Antonescu decided not to publish that in the press. That implies that the Marshal left some room for negotiations. Over the following ten days, he yielded to the persuasions of Maniu and Bratianu and also took into consideration that Hungary had not deported its Jews. It appears also that he was influenced by interventions from the Royal Court circles, as well as by an official letter from the United States, delivered to him through the Swiss Embassy. But, perhaps his main consideration was the concern over the fate of northern Transylvania and the link between this national issue and the continuing Jewish presence in Romania. The fact is that Antonescu did not yield to the German Nazis, even though they exerted heavy pressure on him (initially through the German Ambassador, and later also during his meeting with Hitler and Ribbentrop in April 1943) to fulfil his promise to deport the remaining Romanian Jews.

The politics of Romania in relation to the Jews were directly connected to the evolution of the war. During the first two years of the war, a series of state sanctioned anti-Semitic operations were implemented by Antonescu. These acts left no doubt about the danger the Jewish population found itself in. Although he was unstable in his decisions and easily swayed, when the war was going in favour of Nazi Germany, Antonescu was loyal to Hitler. He remained firm in his refusal to return the Jewish deportees from Transnistria, despite all the interventions that were made. However, on September 12, 1942, Iuliu Maniu cautioned Antonescu that the situation concerning the Jews had become a serious concern on the international scene. This warning was a result of a message from President Roosevelt and statements made by Churchil, which threatened sanctions which 'history has not yet known' against those who would deport the Jews"<38>.

Nevertheless, Marshal Antonescu did not officially rescind the decision taken at the Berlin conference in September 26 - 28, 1942 to deport 280,000 Jews from the Old Romanian Kingdom to Belzec<39>. He delegated the implementation of this plan to Mihai Antonescu.

Meanwhile, during the winter of 1942 - 1943, the German armies headed by General Paulus were defeated at Stalingrad. This turning point in the war brought about a change in the position of the Romanian government towards the Jews.

Following interventions on his behalf by the Papal Nuncio, Andreas Cassulo, Dr. W. Filderman had just returned from his exile to Transnistria. Hoping that Andreas Cassulo would also intervene to halt further deportations, Dr. Filderman contacted him. General Piki Vasiliu, the Minister of Police, was also contacted to enlist his influence over Marshal Antonescu. In order to present arguments for extenuating circumstances, Vasiliu sent a report to the Marshal pointing out that due to the heavy rains and the approaching winter, the implementation of further deportations would be too difficult. He requested a postponement until the spring. While the deportation order was not yet rescinded, he did succeed in obtaining a delay.

At the same time, Dr. Rabbi Safran sent a messenger to the Metropolitan Archbishop of Transylvania, Nicolae Balan, requesting his intercession to halt the deportations. Although the Metropolitan Archbishop was known for his anti-Jewish feelings, after several intricate interventions, he met with Chief Rabbi Safran and promised to set up a meeting and intervene with Marshal Antonescu.

The luncheon meeting took place at the Royal Palace. In attendance were King Mihai, Queen Mother Elena, Metropolitan Archbishop Balan, and Marshall Antonescu. Antonescu was heavily pressured to rescind the order for further deportations. Later that day, Metropolitan Archbishop Balan telephoned Rabbi Safran to inform him that, while the deportation order has not been rescinded, it had been postponed.

Following a further appeal by Chief Rabbi Safran, the Papal Nuncio, Andreas Cassulo, travelled to Rome to enlist papal support to have the deportation order rescinded. Andreas Cassulo was supported by deWeck, the Swiss Ambassador to Romania, Selbarty Istinyell, the Turkish Charge d'Affaires, as well as Karl Kolb and Setingher, representatives of the International Red Cross.

This outpouring of internal and external pressures was further intensified by the fact that the tide of the war had changed. At the end of 1943, the Soviet army speedily advanced toward Transnistria. These circumstances, prompted Marshal Antonescu to reconsider his options. In November 1943, he convened a meeting, in order to analyse the ramifications of the existing situation. In his detailed report about the situation in Transnistria, General Piki Vasiliu pointed out that of all the deportees from Bucovina, Bessarabia, Dorohoi, and other areas of Romania, only about 50,471 people remained alive. Finally, Antonescu decided to halt further deportations.

Nevertheless, Antonescu did not give up the idea of "cleansing" Romania of Jews. For this purpose a new approach to this issue was devised, namely, the authorizing of emigration of the remaining Jews from Romania to Palestine. However, each individual authorization would be issued for the price of 200,000 lei, an enormous amount of money. Having made this decision, the government awaited the appropriate moment to implement it.

During 1943 and 1944, Mihai Antonescu, General Piki Vasiliu and other high-ranking officers began feverish activities to improve their public image with respect to the "Jewish problem". The fact that the war was coming to an end, as well as the warnings by Roosevelt and Churchill, prompted Antonescu to consider new alternatives.

On January 1, 1944, in his official address to the army, he denied not only the massacres that took place in Romania during the pogroms, but also the deportations to Transnistria. His speech was so masterfully deceptive that a person unfamiliar with the facts could truly believe that no Romanian soldier had ever set foot in the territories of Bessarabia, Bucovina, and Transnistria.

Yet, when Antonescu made this speech there were still over 50,000 surviving deportees in Transnistria. Mr. Clejan, a Jewish architect who built Antonescu's villa, pleaded with him to order the repatriation of these deportees. Not only did Antonescu refuse his appeal, but he cynically wrote in his reply: "I was forced to deport the Jews from Bessarabia and Bucovina because the population was so enraged against them, that without these measures the most vicious pogroms would have taken place"<40>. In this distortion Antonescu tried to set himself up as the protector of the Jews, pretending that the deportations to Transnistria were intended to save the Jews from being massacred in the pogroms. Antonescu continues: "Although I have decided to deport all the Jews from Bessarabia and Bucovina, due to varied interventions, I was prevented to do so. Today, I regret that I did not do it"<41>. In this statement he obviously referred to the 16,000 Jews in Cernovitz whose deportation was averted. This letter to Mr. Clejan was dated February 4, 1944, when the Soviet army was already advancing towards the River Bug.

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