Local His­to­ry, Transna­tion­al Mem­o­ry in the Roman­ian Holocaust

Valenti­na Gla­jar and Jea­nine Teodor­es­cu, eds.
  • Review
By – December 5, 2011
This is an impor­tant book that explores the mem­o­ry and his­to­ry of the Holo­caust in Roma­nia and Transnis­tria through the lens­es of local mem­o­ry and speci­fici­ty informed by the transna­tion­al and trans-cul­tur­al under­stand­ing of the Roman­ian events in the wider con­text of Holo­caust and geno­cide stud­ies. While schol­ars now fre­quent­ly inter­pret the Holo­caust as a uni­ver­sal trope of suf­fer­ing and per­se­cu­tion — a metaphor to explain geno­cide in oth­er times and places — Roma­ni­ans are still in the begin­ning stages of com­ing to terms with their country’s role in the Holo­caust. And that role was par­tic­u­lar­ly bru­tal and prim­i­tive. Whether it was slaugh­ter­ing Jews and label­ing them kosher meat” dur­ing the Bucharest pogrom in Jan­u­ary 1941, or exe­cut­ing thou­sands dur­ing the Iasi pogrom in June 1941, or asphyx­i­at­ing thou­sands in sealed death trains,” the Roma­ni­ans brought a resolve and blood lust to the enter­prise that, accord­ing to Raul Hilberg, forced the Ger­mans to step in at times to slow down the pace of the killings. The Roman­ian expe­ri­ence shows, as the authors in this vol­ume demon­strate, that it is mis­lead­ing to talk about a Holo­caust” expe­ri­ence sep­a­rat­ed from its local con­text. There is still much research to be done on vio­lence in the East, par­tic­u­lar­ly at the fringes.

The edi­tors and the authors, both from the West and from Roma­nia itself, explore the mem­o­ry of what hap­pened, its rep­re­sen­ta­tion and the impli­ca­tions for Roman­ian his­to­ry as well as for our under­stand­ing of the Holo­caust, anti-Semi­tism and the issue of the col­lab­o­ra­tion of locals. The essays in this vol­ume dis­cuss sur­vivor accounts, let­ters and art work, as well as lit­er­a­ture and film, in order to break the silence imposed by the com­mu­nist regime and debunk the claim that the Roman­ian gov­ern­ment and peo­ple were not com­plic­it in the geno­cide against the Jews. There are also some excel­lent reflec­tive essays on the impact of renowned authors like Paul Celan, Aharon Apple­field and Eli Wiesel and film direc­tors like Radu Gabrea, who have helped shape our under­stand­ing of the Shoah while work­ing through their com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ships with their coun­try and cul­ture. This is a most wor­thy vol­ume and par­tic­u­lar­ly of inter­est to those who want to learn about the Holo­caust in Roma­nia and how con­tem­po­rary Roman­ian intel­lec­tu­als and artists are slow­ly com­ing to terms with what hap­pened then and what it means for con­tem­po­rary Roma­nia today.
Michael N. Dobkows­ki is a pro­fes­sor of reli­gious stud­ies at Hobart and William Smith Col­leges. He is co-edi­tor of Geno­cide and the Mod­ern Age and On the Edge of Scarci­ty (Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty Press); author of The Tar­nished Dream: The Basis of Amer­i­can Anti-Semi­tism; and co-author of The Nuclear Predicament.

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