The Nizkor Project

50 Years of Silence

History and Voices
of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria

The Outbreak of the War

On June 22, 1941, when Romania entered the war against the Allies, Antonescu was the sole leader of the country. He made enormous contributions in goods and men to the Nazi war effort, subjecting the already frustrated and humiliated Romanians to a state of attrition. In order to deflect the anger of the population from the reality of Romania's subjugation, Antonescu readily supported the Nazi propaganda machine in blaming the Jews for all of the problems in the country.

The Jews of Romania were in a very vulnerable position from consecutive anti-Jewish decrees and legislation, and were at the complete mercy of the anti-Semitic forces. It became a national duty to mercilessly persecute and destroy the Jewish population - "the culprit". And there was no mercy! A ferocious campaign of ethnic cleansing began, resulting in a terrible cost to the Jewish community.

Before World War II, the Jewish population lived in cities as well as in the country. For the most part, the Jews were merchants, professionals, door-to-door salesmen, cobblers, tailors, bakers, butchers, artisans, actors, and musicians. There were also some landowners and industrialists. Economically, the majority of the Jews were a part of the middle-class, but a few belonged to the upper class and many others lived in poverty. There were many typical east-European shtetls<3> in Romania.

There was a vibrant religious and cultural life in the Jewish communities. They were highly organized, with a strong central, regional and local structure of traditional Jewish institutions: schools, burial services, kosher food, synagogues, free loan societies, welfare services, matchmaking, and others. These institutions had been developed through many generations who had lived under the persecution and discrimination to which the Jews had historically been subjected to in Europe. These institutions were of the greatest importance both for the maintenance of the thriving Jewish traditions and for acting as a safety net during times of persecution. Naturally, Jews also made significant contributions to the development of the country in all fields of endeavour.

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