The Holocaust in Romania

Figure 1.--The fate of Romanian Jews depnded largely on where they lived. The Jews in the regions seized by the Soviet Union (Bessarabia and Bukovina--1940 ) were largely murdered in the aftermath of Barbarossa by the Romanian Army (1941-42). Jews in northern Transylvania, the area seized by Hungary as part of the Second Vienna Award including Cluj, were largely untouched (1940-44)). This changed abruptly when the Germns seized control of Romania (March 1944). They then shared the fate of the Hugarian Jews. They were immediatly ghettoized and otherwise concentated and trasported to Auswitz where most were murdered. This is the Markovits family in Cluj, Romania's second city, before the War. The father was a World War I veteran. /i>

About half of Romania's Jews were killed in the Holocaust. The fate of Romanian Jews was differed, depending on where they lived in the country. The borders of Romania changed greatly in 1940. The Romanians lost considerable territory. Stalin demanded Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. Bulgaria had obtained southern Dobruja. Hungary obtained about 40 percent of Transylvania under the terms of second Vienna Award. These humiliating losses had fueld the rise of Antonescu and the Iron Guard and weakened King Carol's position. The Jews were significantly affected by these territorial changes. Members of the pro-NAZI and virulently anti-semeitic Iron Gurard assasinated Prime Minister Armand Calinescu on September 21, 1939. Calinescu had sought to supress the Iron Guard. The Iron Guard was being trained by German army officers suposedly in Romania as teachers at Romanian schools. General Ion Antonescu who had been the Minister of War seized power with the support of thee Iron Guard and the Army (September 6, 1940). He ininiated a Fascist state. The Iron Guard conducted a terror campaign against Jews, especially in Bucharest, but were suppressed by Anotescu when they attempted to seize power. The Army was loyal to Antonescu and Hitler supported him. Antonescu's performance is horendous, but mixed. The Romanian Army engaged in terrible attroicities both in Bessarabia and northern Bukovina as well as in the Ukraine. Here they conducted killing actions as dreadful as anything carried out by the SS. Antonescu adopted severe anti-Semetic measures, but never allow the NAZIs to deport Jews from Romania proper. Some gyseies were deported. Plans were in place to kill Jews in Romania, but never carried out. As a result, many Romanian Jews survived the War.

Romanian Jews

The first Jews to arrive in Roman Dacia may have been merchants. Jewish tombstones have been found in Romania dating from the Roman era. The first Christians in Romania may have been associated with the earky Jews as Christianity began as the Jesus movement within Judiaism. Almost not information about early Jewish communities from this era survive. Aurelian was forced to withdraw the Roman Legionsn from Dacia allowing the Germanic Barbarians to occupy the province (272 AD?). Much of the Romanized population was evacuated. It is likely that this included most if not all of the small Jewish community. Romania did not exist in the Medieval era, but principaloties from which modern Romania was formed coaleased in this period. One of the most important Romanian principalities was Walachia which was founded about 1290. Many Jews expelled from Hungary (1387) emmigrated to Walachia. More Jews arrived after Spain expelled its Jews (16th century). Moldavia was an important stop in the trade routes between Poland-Lithuania and the Ottoman Empire. Jewish merchants participated in this trade and some settled in Moldavia. Jewish settlement was encouraged by Moldavian princes as helpful for this lightly populated principality. Moldavian princes in the 18th century the granted charters guaranteing a range of privliges to Jewish communities. These offers attracted Polish Jews. Anti-semitism was not as pronounced in Romania as in many other European countries. It has the same kind of roots in Romania as in other European countries. A major source of anti-Semitsm was not religious, but commercial. Greek Orthodox Christianity while geneally not as intensely anti-Semetic as Roman Catholcism was intolerant and priests preached anti-Semetic semons. The Church also influenced anti-Jewish legal measures. Anti-Semetic liternature began to appear in the late-18th and early-19th centuries, including Tthe Golden Order (Jassy, 1771) and A Challenge to Jews (Jassy, 1803). Emerging Romania Most of Romania's historic Jewish popultion was murdered by the NAZIs and Romanian Fascists during the World War II Holocaust.

World War II Neutrality

King Carol after theNAZIs launched World War II by invading Poland attempted to kepp Romania out of World War II. The country was offered security guarantees by Britain and France. The Romanians had lost considerable territory. The NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact (August 1939) not only opened the way for the partition od Poland, but affected other countries bordering on the Soviet Union. Stalin after the fall of France (June 1940) demanded Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. Bulgaria demanded southern Dobruja. Hungary got 40 percent of Transylvania ry under the terms of second Vienna Award. These humiliating losses had fueld the rise of Antonescu and the Iron Guard. The territorial changes also affected the NAZI strategy at getting at Romanian Jews.

Prime Minister Armand Calinescu

Members of the pro-NAZI and virulently anti-semeitic Iron Gurard assasinated Prime Minister Armand Calinescu on September 21, 1939. Calinescu had sought to supress the Iron Guard. The Iron Guard was being trained by German army officers suposedly in Romania as teachers at Romanian schools. [Gilbert, p. 276.]

Iron Guard

The Iron Guard was the Romanian version of the NAZI SA. The Iron Guard organized a para-military "legionary police". The S.S. and the and S.D. provided assistance. Popular opinion in Romania was outraged over the loss of territory to the Soviets and then Hungary and Bulgaria. This played into the hands of the Fascist Iron Guards and other extremne nationalists. The resulting political turmoil brought General Iron Antonescu to power (September 6, 1940). The Iron Guard supported by rebelious military officers and premier General Ion Antonescu with the support of the NAZIs seized control. They forced King Carol to abdicate (Septenber 6). The Iron Guard at this stage was a important part of General Ion Antonescu support.

King Carol II (1930-40)

The Romanian royal family was of German origins established in the 19th century. King Carol had a play boy reputation because of two marriages and even more mistresses. He gave up his claim to the throne (1925), but then changed his mind and returned to Romania (1930). After trying to negotiate between the political parties and rising Fascist influence, King Carol seized personal control of goverement (1938). He was thus discredited by the losses of Romanian territory the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, and Hungary. He was forced to abdigate and replaced by his son, Crown Prince Michael, still a teenager. The Government, however, was controlled by Geral Ion Antonescu.

Prime Minister Ion Gigurtu (1940)

Ion Gigurtu was aomanian military anbd=d political figure. He briefly served as prime minister (July-September 1940). Even before becoming primeminister he held positions in King Karol's government and came to the conclusion after the Munich capitulation that France and the Britain were unable to guarantee Romania's security and borders. He thus moved to alignment Romania with NAZI Germany, seeing them as the only possiblke way of protecting the country from the Soviets. And to appease the cGermans he began an official policy of anti-Semitism. He enacted a Romanian version of the NAZI Nuremberg Laws. His Government fell as a result of the loss of territory to the Soviets (September 1940).

General Ion Antonescu (1940-44)

General Ion Antonescu was the most respected military figure in Romania. He served a Miniister of War. He does not seem to have been a virulent ant-Semite himself. His stepmother, Frida Cuperman, was Jewish. He also married Rasela Mendel while serving as a military attaché in London during the 1930s. Even so he oversaw the NAZI Holocaust in Romania. We are not entirely sure about his motives, but suspect that he thought the nationasl interest mandated cooperation with Hitler and the NAZIs and had no real desire to protect the Jews. He seems to have thought that participating in the murder of Jews was part of the cost of promoting Romanian interests or a military necessity. Much of the killing was of Ukranian Jews and Jews in the Romanian privinces seized by the Soviets. He and Army commanders believed that Jews in these areas were were assisting the Soviets. (Here we are talking about the whole civilian population not just partisans.) His role in the Holocaust is mixed. He never allowed the deportation of Romanian Jews.

Fascist Romania

Antonescu who had been minister of defense in the Goga government. He seized power in Romania (Sepotember 1940). He began to style himself Conducator (Leader) following Hitler's example in Germany. He ruled Romania on the basis of the Fascist Führer principle. Antonescu government's government included Iron Guard ministers. As a result, Romania was declared a Nationalist-Legionary State. The Iron Guard members called themselves "legionnaires". Antonescu ininiated a Fascist state and swiftly instituded a wide range of anti-semitic measures. Antonescu expanded the anti-Jewish laws passed by Gigurtu during bhis short premiership. Jews were fired from government jobs and many private businesses. Jewish professors were fired and students expelled from universities. [Gilbert, p. 343.] Antonescu approved 80 anti-Jewish regulations during 1941 and 1942.

Iron Guard Coup (September 1941)

The Iron Guard after playing a major role in bringing Antonescu to power. They proceeded to murder democratic politicians and hundreds of Jews were killed in the streets in Bucharest. Many more were beaten on the streets and shops looted. The Iron Guard persued anti-Semitic terrorism that lasted for 5 months after Antonescu seized power (September 1940). Signs reading "Jewish shop" were posted and green-shirted "legionary police pickited them. Many Jewish-owned shops were ransaked or seized. The Iron Guard then began seizing Jewish industrial and commercial enterprises. The Legionary Police arrested and tortured Jewish businessmen until they sign over their businesses. Iron Guard groups entered Jewish homes at will ad seized money and other valuables. The Iron Guard llawlessness disrupted the Romanian economy and threatened non-Jews. Anotonescu attempted to reduce Iron Guard violence. The Iron Guard responded by killing Romanians they knew to be hostile to them. Antonescu's actions alienated his former supporters. Finally they launched both a coup and a pogrom in Bucharest (January 21, 1941). The Iron Guard "Legion" attempted to seize government offices and barious important points in Bucharest. Fighting began with the Army which was loyal to Antonescu. Other Iron Guard units began a pofrom. The Irn Guard and sympathetic louts attacked Jews on the street, in their homes and shops, or any where they found them. Shops were looted and burned. They also attacked synagogues. Two synagogues (the Great Sephardi Synagogue and the old bet ha-midrash) were totally destroyed. The Iron Guard had a list of important or wealthy Jews. Some were locjed up in the community council building. The wealthies Jews the Irn Guard managed to arrest were taken to Iron Guard offices. Some were taken out into forests and shot. Others were murdered in Bucharest and hung on meat hooks in the municipal slaughterhouse. A sign was posted, "kosher meat." They killed 120 Jews. The violence only occurred in Bucharest and not in the provinces where the Army maintained control. Antonescu using the Army and with German support stopped the violence and brutally put down the coup. This put Hitler in the position of helping to put down anti-Jewish actions. Here his primary concern wa the planning for the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Romanian Army which was to play a role in the south was loyal to Antonescu. Another outcome of the Iron Guard coup was that Antonescu's base of support was narrowed. The Iron Guard had been his populr base, but now it was limited basically to the Army. This meant that he was more subject to German pressure. Iron Guard leaders had fled to Germany and Hitler could use them if Antonescu gave him any trouble.

Mass Slaughter

The Romanian Army began carrying out actions against Jews when they invaded the Soviet Union with the Germans. While Antonescu had put down the Iron Guard coup, this did not end violence against the Jews. This escalated after the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). The Romanian Army conducted a horrendous killing campaign. Of all of the German allies on the Eastern Front (Finland, Hungary, Italy, and Spain), only the Romanians were involved in the mass slaughter of Jews). About half of Romania's Jews were killed in the Holocaust. The fate of Romanian Jews was differed, depending on where they lived in the country. The borders of Romania changed greatly in the late 1930s and early 40s and the Jews were significantly affected by these changes. In addition, the Romanian Army killed large numbers Ukranian Jews.

Bessarabia and Bukovina

The vast majority of the Jewish population of Bessarabia and Bukovina perished after June 1941, (80,000-150,000 people). Romania under Antonescu and the Iron Guard enthusiastically partiipated in the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). Bessarabia and Bukovina was the area of Romania annexed by the Soviet Union. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, German killing squads with the active help of the Romanian authorities and military, especially the Jandarmerie, began killing Jews. The massacres were carried out at numerous locations almost immediately after the area was captured from the Soviet Union. The first major action occurred at Iaşi where over 10,000 Jews were murdered (July 1941). Jews in these provinces were seen as cooperating with Soviet authorities after the 1940 annexations. There were reports of Jewish resistance groups shooting at Romanian soldiers. (I am not sure to what extent this occurred. Some Bassarabian towns (Edinet and Ismail) had substantial Jewish populations. Antonescu ordered that the Jewish population in these provinces who weren't Romanian citizens or who were considered "Communist agents" be deportation en masse to the Transnistria labor camp. Many Jews died during the deportation process. Few survived the terrible conditions in the Camp. There were also executions. There were deportations from Trasnistria to NAZI death camps. Antonescu halted these deportations when he decided to persue peace feelers with the Allies (1943). Here he resisted strenous NAZI complaints.

The Ukraine

The Romanians engaged in massacres as the Romanian Army fighting with the Germans drove into the Ukraine. Major actions were carried out at Odessa, Bogdanovka and Akmecetka (1941 and 1942). I am not sure who oversaw these operations and to what extent Antonescu knew about them or was involved. The Romanian Army in the Ukraine was under the operational control of the Wehrmacht. The actions against the Jews appear to have been as horendous as any actions conducted by any SS Einsatzgruppen.

Northern Transylvania

Northern Transylvania was annexed by Hungary in 1940. The Jews there were thus under Hungarian rule from 1940-44. As a result, their fate was similar to that of Hungarian Jews. Under the personal supervission of Adolf Eichmann during the spring and summer of 1944, they were rounded up and deported to the Auschwitz death camp where more than 90,000 were murdered.

Central Romania

Antonescu never became a full participant in Hitler's final solution, at least on Romanian territory proper. In particular he never permitted the deportation of Romanian Jews to the NAZI death camps in occupied Poland despite German demands that he do so. Romania after the 1940 partitions had been reduced to Moldavia, Wallachia, and Southern Transylvania. Jews there thus remained under Romanian rule until the Red Army arrived in 1944. These Jews had their rights restricted and and they were compelled to perform forced labor. Other actions included special taxation and war contributions, expulssion from schools, working places, homes and shops seized, and most were prevented from any kind of a decent life. Thousands were imprisoned and deported to concentration camps in Transnistria, but not to NAZI death camps. This Antonescu never authorized. Tens of thousands were killed in Iron Guard pogroms, death sentences, and summary executions. The persecution in Romania, however, was not as systematic as in the NAZI controlled areas and thus many Romanian Jews managed to survive. Romania unlike many other countries even sheltered foreign Jews. Some Jewish refugees from Poland and Czechoslovakia managed to reach Romania. Antonescu also refused to turn them over to the Germans.

Killing Plan

Romanian Heros

One of the heros of Romanian Jews was Martin Bercovici who had been the Director of the Gas and Electric Company in Bucharest. Like other Jews he was dismissed from his job. When Jewish children were expelled from Romanian schools he somehow managed to obtain permission to operate a Jewish polytechnic (high school) which he opened (December 11, 1940). It grew to 50 teachers and 500 students. He would gather cildren from the streets, many having fled killing actions. [Gilbert. p. 343.] A key group was the Union of the Jewish Communities, under the leadership of another hero, Chief Rabbi Dr. Alexander Yehuda Safran. He worked tirelessly to prevent further worsening of the situation. He managed, with the help of several righteous gentiles, to obtain the reversal of some anti-Jewish measures, especially a decision to deport all Romanian Jews to the death camps in Poland (July 1942).

Ship Evacuations

Romanian authorities permitted 13 ships with about 13,000 Jewsish refugees to depart Black Sea ports. These Jews were attempting to reach Palestine. Two of the ships were sunk. NAZI officials protested these efforts and the Romaniams authorities stopped them. Interestingly these Jews later erected a statue to honor Antonescu in Haifa.


Romanian Gypsyes were targeted during World War II, but not to the same extent as the Jews. There was never any anti-Gypsey laws passed. The major rOMANIAN action targeting the Gypsies was ordered by Marshal Ion Antonescu on his own initisative. He personally ordered the deportation of Gypsies to the Ukranine during 1942. This was a Romanian operation nd not carried out under German pressure, but they appeared to willing to carry out killing operations. . The Romanians deported 25,000 gypseys to camps in the Ukraine. The orders targeted nomadic gypsies, but settled gypsies and even soldiers in uniform on home leave as well as Gypsey-looking Romanians were caught up in the sweep. Plans involved depoting more, but were cancelled. Armed Gyseys in the Army may have been a factor here. There were no further deportments. The SS reported executed 11,000 of these unfortunate people at the Trihati camp. Many died of typhoid, starvation and maltreatment. Only about 6,000 survived and managed to make it back to Romania.

Personal Expereinces

Holocaust accounts are very important. They provide us a glimse into the people affected by the Hilocaust and an inkling into what was lost to humanity. These accounts have to sufice as a memorial to the countless victims whose lives were cut short. (HBC believes that it is not the piles of bodies that should be the image of thecHolocaust, but rather testimonials like this of the vibrant lives and culture destroyed by the NAZIs.) Aharon Appelfeld has written a haunting account of his childhood before, during, and after the Holacaust. It is an especially important work as he describes the events from his childhood perspective. Aharon as a young boy was raised in a prosperous and loving Jewish family. There is a glowing account of his life before the War. He was very close to his parents. He writes that his mothers gaze was filled "with so much softness and tender solicitude that I feel it to this very day". Aharon also existed within in a loving and close knit extended family. Aharon was a clever boy with a seemingly bright future. Then everything changed. As the Fascist tide swept over the Balkans, Aharon's father was unable to get the family out of Romania. The Fascists seized control of Romania when Aharon was 7 years old (1940). He and his family was forced into a ghetto where his mother was killed. "My mother was murdered at the beginning of the war. I didn't see her die, but I did hear her one and only scream. Her death is deep inside me, but more a part of me than her death is her reappearance after it. Any time I am happy or sad I see her face. She's either leaning on the windowsill or standing at the doorway of our house, as if she 's about to come toward me. Now I am thirty years older than she was when she died. Time hasn't added years to her. She's always young and fresh." Aharon although, very young boy, somehow managed to survive. In the sad history of the Holocaust, his mother's murder probably saved his life. If his mother had not been murdered in the ghetto, she would have certainly kept him with her trying to protect him. This would have meant that they would have been deported together to the death camps. At age 9 in 1942 he found himself completely alone. He hid and foraged in the forest like a animal. He was taken in for times by peasants. A prostitute harborded him for a time. He writes, "I was not myself, but like a small creature that had a burrow, or, more precisely a few burrows." He explains, "Only two years before, I had had parents. Now my existence was no more than what I saw before me." [Appelfeld] We have found nother child survivor--Shimon Kerner. One if the Jew Jews to have survived the killing in the Czernowitz Ghetto. He somehow managed to survive the War and made it to Israel after the war.


Appelfeld, Aharon. The Story of a Life (2004), 198p.

Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.

WW II -- Holocaust

Navigate the CIH Holocaust Section:
[Return to Main Holocaust R-Z country page [Return to Main Romanian World War II page]
[About Us]
[Allies] [Biographies] [Children] [Concentration camps] [Countries] [Decision] [Denyers/Apologists] [Displaced persons]
[Economics] [Eisatzgruppen] [Eugenics] [German Jews] [Ghettoes] [Impact] [Justice] [Literature]
[Movies] [NAZIs] [Occupied Poland] [Process] [Propagada] [Resistance] [Restitution] [Questions] [SA] [SS] [Special situations] [Targets] [Wansee Conference]
[Return to the Main nWorld War II]
[Return to Main Holocaust page]
[Return to the Main mass killing page]
[Return to CIH Home page]

Created: January 2, 2003
Last updated: 7:27 AM 6/13/2015