The Nizkor Project

50 Years of Silence

History and Voices
of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria

Historic Preamble

In addition to other sources, this section, as well as that of Anti-Jewish Decrees and Pogroms are drawn mostly from I. C. Butnaru's The Silent Holocaust-Romania and its Jews.

In 1241, took place the great Mongol invasion in the area, and some two centuries later the two principalities of Wallachia [Vallahia], presently Muntenia, and Moldova had to contend with the emergent power of The Ottoman Empire. The fight for independence from the many Turkish invasions lasted for about five centuries, although the autonomy of the principalities was recognized in treaties concluded at various times with Hungary, Poland, Austria and the Porte. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, their status as autonomous units of the Ottoman Empire was also recognized in various Austro-Ottoman and Russo- Ottoman treaties.

In 1856, the Conference of Paris recognized not only their right to independence, but also their right to unite. The principalities were united in 1859, and, in 1878, they became known as Romania. During that same year, Dobrojea also became a county of Romania. In 1878, The Congress of Berlin recognized Romania's full independence.

However, "Romanian oppression of its Jews was quite well known, and the Congress made the granting of civil rights to Romanian Jews a condition of this recognition. Despite this condition, relatively few Jews actually received Romanian citizenship"<2>. The long yoke of the Turks had a devastating effect on the psyche of the Romanian people, who had yearned for a feeling of freedom and national pride.

In order to comprehend the tragedy of Romanian Jewry between 1940 and 1944, it is important to mention the complex political, historical and socio-economic dynamics, which operated in the country prior to World War I. These dynamics constituted significant contributing factors to the destruction of half of Romania's Jewry.

As an ally of the Western Powers, Romania emerged from World War I with the annexation of additional territories; Transylvania, Bucovina, and Bessarabia became counties of Romania. This annexation doubled the country's territory as well as its population. Greater Romania was thus established, and Romanians experienced a strong surge in their national pride.

Minority groups, comprising roughly 20% of the population, were considered "foreigners" and were generally treated with disdain. However, the emerging chauvinistic nationalism impacted less on the Hungarian, German, and Bulgarian minorities because they were ultimately protected by their mother countries. The wrath of the accumulated hostility both from century- long religious accusations of deicide, as well as the resentment from the yoke of the Turks, fell on the Jews, who had no mother country to protect them. Moreover, the social position of many Romanian Jew - merchants, professionals and craftsmen - made them a target for envy and hatred by a gentile population largely plagued by poverty and ignorance.

There was an unequal distribution of Jews in Romania. The national average was approximately 4%, but in Transylvania it was 5%, and in Moldova (including Bessarabia and Bucovina) it was closer to 11%. Consequently, anti-Semitism was highest in Moldova. Extreme anti-Semitic movements, like the LANC, later PNC, and the Legion were founded in Iasi [Iashi], the main city in Moldova. Bessarabia (a region of Moldova annexed by Russia in 1812) also had a legacy of violent anti-Semitism. The 1903 pogrom began in Kishinev, and this is also where the Protocols were first published.

After 1918, Romania's Jewish population more than doubled. Some of these newcomers were not well disposed toward the new state. Most of the Jews of Transylvania spoke Hungarian and regarded themselves as Hungarians of Mosaic faith. They also shared the Hungarians' superiority complex vis-a-vis the Romanians. Therefore, after Moldova, Transylvania was the most fertile ground for the anti-Semitic activities of the Legionnaires.

Following World War I, there was intense fragmentation and volatility in Romania's political life. Finally, two large political parties emerged in Greater Romania. The National Liberal Party was formed in 1926 and was led, until 1927, by I. C. Bratianu . He was followed by his brother Vintila, then by I. G. Duca, and finally, by Ion Bratianu's third son -- Constantin ('Dinu') Bratianu. Splinter groups were led by Gh.Tatarescu and Ion Bratianu's fourth son, Gheorghe. The National Peasant Party was led by Iuliu Maniu. Together these two parties represented the majority of the votes in the country. A few smaller political parties also attracted votes, some of them relying on extremist, nationalistic, chauvinistic and anti-Jewish platforms. Their leaders were A. C. Cuza, Octavian Goga, and Corneliu Zelea Codreanu. The latter headed the Fascist Iron Guard, also called the Legionnaire Movement. In 1927, there was an organization called the Legion of the Archangel Michael. That Legion was banned several times (1931, 1933, 1938) and was reorganized under various guises: the C. Z. Codreanu group, the Iron Guard, and The All-for-the Fatherland Party. The Iron Guard became a major agent in the destruction of Romanian Jewry.

In 1930, King Carol II occupied the throne of Romania. He precipitated the disintegration of some of the political parties and governed through his confidants. However, in 1937, these confidants failed to secure the forty percent of the votes required to form a new government. Consequently, in February 1938, King Carol II established a monarchic dictatorship. He inaugurated a long unfortunate period of three consecutive dictatorships in the history of Romania: the Monarchic dictatorship, the Military-Fascist dictatorship (under Ion Antonescu); and the Communist dictatorship (under Gheorghiu Dej and later Nicolae Ceausescu).

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