Romania must not ignore its' Holocaust complicity

On the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Romanian government must admit the country’s historic guilt in order to establish a new generation of understanding, education and atonement

Jewish book from Holocaust 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Yuri Dojc/Handout)
Jewish book from Holocaust 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Yuri Dojc/Handout)
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.
They 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 Nazis.
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 ultra-nationalist.
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.
The brutality of the Romanians extended beyond the borders of the country and into Ukraine where many Jews fell victim to German-controlled Romanian forces.
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 communism.
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 governments.
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.