More than 70 years after Kristallnacht
(the “Night of Broken Glass”), one would
think that few secrets remain from what might be the most heavily researched and
examined period ever in world history. Each year, however, historians uncover
new elements to the scope of the horror that defined this era, and in particular
the Holocaust. The sheer magnitude of human evil is difficult enough to
comprehend, but when one looks at the mass murder of an entire people, it
becomes all the more unfathomable.
One such example must be the
complicity of the Romanian government in the murder of more than 400,000 Jews,
the vast majority of them in the villages and forests of Ukraine. Among Hitler’s
allies, the Romanians are all-too-often forgotten.
Unlike Japan and
Italy, Romania wasn’t driven by a global conquest complex. Its motivations for
an alliance with Germany were neither principled nor ideological.
were simply based on what was viewed to be in Romania’s narrow national
interest. But the crimes perpetrated were no less evil and perhaps even worse
than those of many other nations typically thought of as partners with the
At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Romania adopted an
official policy of neutrality. However, the increasing instability in Europe and
growing anti-Semitism brought a fascist political force known as the Iron Guard
to power. The regime’s policy platform was staunchly anti-communist and
Members were known for their virulent anti-Semitism.
During this period, the growing weakness of Romania’s main territorial
guarantors France and Britain became increasingly obvious. The Iron Guard
already favored an alliance with Nazi Germany, hoping such an alliance would
ensure similar territorial guarantees from the Germans.
The result was a
tragedy for the Jews of Romania who consequently suffered uspeakable evils at
the hands of their own countrymen and neighbors. In 1941, in one pogrom alone,
15,000 Jews were murdered in the city of Iasi. The horrific act was carried out
by squads of Romanian soldiers and policemen. The Jews also suffered regularly
from violent mobs in what amounted to state-sponsored genocide.
brutality of the Romanians extended beyond the borders of the country and into
Ukraine where many Jews fell victim to German-controlled Romanian
During the Odessa Massacre in 1941, Romanian soldiers gleefully
took part in a gruesome attack against over 19,000 Ukrainian Jews. The Romanians
sought reprisal for a bomb attack they believed had been carried out by Jews.
The entire local Jewish community was assembled in a square, sprayed with
gasoline and burned alive.
ROMANIA FAILED to acknowledge these genocidal
outrages along with a multitude of similar acts carried out against Romanian and
Ukrainian Jewry up until over a decade after the fall of
Adding further insult to the memory of the murder victims, no
responsibility was ever taken for the fate of murdered Jews inside Romania or in
Ukraine during their occupation there.
Today, there continue to be
serious distortions of history regarding Romania’s role in World War II and
specifically in the Holocaust. In recent years, the Romanian government
succumbed to international pressure and agreed to create a panel of historians
to investigate their nation’s actions during the Holocaust. The commission
compiled undeniable evidence that implicated Romania in the systematic murder of
Jews. It also found that Romania bore responsibility for the deaths of more Jews
than any other German allied country besides Germany itself.
Yet in the
face of all the evidence, the clear destruction of communities and loss of life,
Romania maintained its innocence.
In an attempt to absolve themselves of
any guilt or responsibility Romania has consistently laid blame exclusively on
the Germans, the Hungarians, and virtually everyone else in the area except
their own regime and the people who supported it.
Evidence of pogroms and
the fact that death trains were dispatched from Romanian cities was eventually,
reluctantly acknowledged by the authorities. Even then it was under the guise
that such tragedies were not ethnically based and took place because of the
communist sympathies of the murdered victims (i.e., Jews).
As recently as
2003, Romanian officials, including then-president Ion Iliescu, declared that it
was “unjust to link Romania to the persecution of the Jews in Europe” and that
numbers were being inflated for the sake of media impact. The odd “academic”
revisionist or extremist kook who denies the Holocaust is uniformly ostracized
by the civilized world.
Yet hardly an eyebrow was raised when the
national leader of a bona fide nation state essentially denied the Holocaust, or
at least Romania’s sanguine complicity in mass murder.
If Romania wants
to be a respected member of the community of nations, it must confront and
accept the horrors of its past in the same ways as have so many other European
With this goal sharply in mind, we will gather for the first
time on November 9 in Kiev for a conference to mark the anniversary of
Kristallnacht and to highlight the role of Romania in the Holocaust, both in
Ukraine and other countries of the former Soviet Union. We will present the
Romanian government with an historic opportunity to address the horrific crimes
of their past. Only in admitting guilt will Romania be able to properly
commemorate the memories of the victims and establish a new generation of
understanding, education and atonement.
The writer is a member of the
Ukrainian Parliament and president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.