To study history sometimes means that we have to go beyond straightforward narratives that are simply pleasing, or those that talk only of human ‘goodness.’ It is a stark fact that at times it is very troublesome, for when we learn about the achievements of individuals throughout history, we inevitably must also learn about the most horrid things that people can do as well.

The Jassy Pogrom. פוגרום יאשי 1941

It is very difficult for I, and really any historian, to refer to those days in June 1941 where close to 14,000 human beings were murdered in the most despicable manner. It is even more unnerving for me, as Jassy is my hometown, the place where I was born.

The time I have spent collecting primary evidence for my upcoming book, has opened a world of knowledge about people, that has compelled me to try and tell their stories, so that they may never be forgotten. Imperceptibly so I remain somber, as think of how difficult it is on the soul to actually read the history of Shoah. I assure you, that as Ellie Wiesel has reiterated, to write it is that much more strenuous.

Yet, the history of the Jews of Jassy has not always been one of such grave circumstances, it is after all the place where Abraham Goldfaden started his famous troupe, which was really the first modern Yiddish theatre of its time. It is also, interestingly, the place where Imber wrote the lines for his famous poem “Hatikvah,” which are the words that make up Israel’s national anthem today. The words that the children of Israel sing.

Undeniably a place of culture, and a rich Jewish presence, Jassy was liable to be a target of the fascist and xenophobic arm of Antonescu’s government-the military leader of Romania, and Hitler’s ally, which gave the orders for Jassy to be cleared of all its Jews, in the summer of 1941.

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On June 27th of that year Marshall Antonescu telephoned the colonel of a nearby military garrison and ordered Jassy to be completely emptied of its Jewish population. People were riled up days before with false rumors of Soviet troops parachuting next to Jassy, and allegations that the Jewish population was working with them- which of course were complete lies.

The soldiers and other authorities accused Jews of sabotaging military structures, and even attacking soldiers in the street, again things that were used to get the population roused with fear and hate for the days to follow.

As crosses hung in the windows of Christian houses, soldiers and even citizens began to round up families; children, men, and women from all the prominent Jewish neighborhoods of Jassy. Beatings, rape, and looting took over the entire town, yet not only at the hands of the Romanian military, but also people who had been neighbors with Jews for years.

A great deal of people were taken to the police headquarters, where close to 8000 were murdered in its infamous courtyard. They were put into lines against the wall and executed by a firing squad. Today a small plaque can be found that commemorates those that perished.

Over the next few days thousands of people were thrown unto two trains that roamed the countryside for days, without food, water, or rest- in an erratic attempt to try and kill as many as possible. Hundreds died of suffocation alone, as more than 100 people were stuffed into each car. The train made frequent stops to try and dispose of the bodies along the tracks, until finally the few that survived were let out at Podu Iloaiei, 15 km away from Jassy.

It might be surprising to hear that this was before the Einsatzgruppen-the German death squads that perpetrated a great deal of evils across Eastern Europe even began to operate. This, in fact, was completely perpetrated by the Romanian authorities, and was the first and most bloody pogrom of its kind before the mass killings even began across Europe. Although with the encouragement of Nazi Germany, the German presence was minuscule in Jassy.

It remains an interesting debate among historians as to the peculiarity of Romanian anti-semitism, which was in ways far more rooted in a hatred of Judaism rather than the ethnic lines of Nazi Germany’s xenophobia. Throughout every book that I have read on the pogrom, from Jean Ancel to Wiesel, every single historian has made it clear that this pogrom played a role in setting if not the mood, but the mindset necessary to perpetrate such egregious and vile acts of violence against others for the rest of the Second World War.

Interestingly, Arendt once called Romania the most anti-semitic country in Europe, which of course does make sense when we understand the way that the nation individually ran its own mass killings of Jews, Gypsies, and so many other minorities, all rather free from Nazi control- in other words with autonomy and full knowledge of what it wanted to accomplish.

The most important thing that must be remembered however, is that people were murdered not only by cold brutes, rather by people they lived side by side with, and even greeted across the fence that divided their homes.

In my talks with many of the survivors, as well as people that have been studying the pogrom, they often reiterate that they struggle with the questions of ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ More precisely 'how could this happen?'- something which is commonly met among those who study the Shoah, but really anyone who ponders on it.

These questions cannot be answered, but I know one thing. Those words of hope that are found in Israel’s anthem, they are the best means by which to remember not only the victims at Jassy, but those across the whole of Europe.It is the narratives of all of these individuals: those who have passed, as well as those who have survived that must make up the history of this dark chapter of Jassy’s Jews.

With every page of history that we read, we find ourselves saddened, and even in tears, not only with a sense of trite but also hope that Israel is the legacy of those men and women who have perished, and could never be welcomed home. But their home is here, standing, and their people care for it.

Am Yisrael Chai.

Milad Doroudiam a native of Jassy Romania, is a writer, historian, and the senior editor of The Art of Polemics magazine. He is currently working on a book on The Jassy Pogrom of 1941.


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