Puri­fy­ing The Nation: Pop­u­la­tion Exchange and Eth­nic Cleans­ing in Nazi-Allied Romania

Vladimir SOlonari
  • Review
By – September 1, 2011
Between 1940 and 1944, close to half of Romania’s Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion was killed by Roman­ian troops, with­out nec­es­sar­i­ly hav­ing been urged to do so by Nazi Ger­many. Where­as Hitler mur­dered Jews in the name of fight­ing Bol­she­vism and impos­ing a new order in East­ern Europe based on racial suprema­cy, this was not the objec­tive that prompt­ed mass mur­der in Roma­nia.

The per­se­cu­tion and mur­der of Roman­ian Jew­ry, argues Vladimir Solonari, stemmed from the effort of the country’s dic­ta­tor, Ion Antones­cu, and his fol­low­ers to cre­ate an eth­ni­cal­ly pure Roma­nia. Antones­cu believed that for­eign ele­ments, espe­cial­ly Jews, con­trolled all aspects of Romania’s eco­nom­ic and cul­tur­al life and sought to replace them with Roma­ni­ans who could prove their descent from the orig­i­nal Roman col­o­niz­ers who inter­mar­ried with the indige­nous pop­u­la­tion. Thus the com­bi­na­tion of xeno­pho­bic nation­al­ism, includ­ing vir­u­lent anti-Semi­tism; the acqui­si­tion of ter­ri­to­ry that Roma­nia believed his­tor­i­cal­ly belonged to them, and the fear of Com­mu­nism ema­nat­ing from the Sovi­et Union led Antones­cu to forge an alliance with Hitler, whom he believed would be sym­pa­thet­ic to his pol­i­cy of puri­fy­ing the Roman­ian nation.

Antonescu’s pol­i­cy entailed the expul­sion of the var­i­ous eth­nic groups that resided in the coun­try, which includ­ed Hun­gar­i­ans, Bul­gar­i­ans, Ukraini­ans, Gyp­sies, and Jews. One method of attain­ing this vision of a Roma­nia for Roma­ni­ans” was to engage in pop­u­la­tion exchanges with the var­i­ous coun­tries that these minori­ties rep­re­sent­ed, but in the case of Gyp­sies and Jews, there was no coun­try to exchange with; hence the deci­sion to deport these lat­ter minori­ties to the dis­put­ed ter­ri­to­ry of Transnis­tria. Dur­ing this process of eth­nic cleans­ing, ter­ri­ble mas­sacres by Roman­ian mil­i­tary and police units were per­pe­trat­ed against both the Jews and Gyp­sies, with per­haps the worst of these mass mur­ders dur­ing the Iasi pogrom in June 1941, which wit­nessed, accord­ing to Solonari, the mur­der of between 8,000 to 15,000 Jews. The mas­sacre coin­cid­ed with Nazi Germany’s inva­sion of the Sovi­et Union where­in Roman­ian army units joined the Wehrma­cht in the war against Bol­she­vism.

Roma­nia was an ally of Nazi Ger­many as long as Antones­cu believed that Hitler would be suc­cess­ful in win­ning the war. But by the begin­ning of 1942, the war had turned against Ger­many, and Antones­cu feared the con­se­quences of being on the los­ing side. Solonari con­tends that this was an impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tion in explain­ing why Antones­cu refused to deport Bucharest’s Jews to Belzec despite the Nazi pres­sure to include Romania’s Jews in the planned Final Solu­tion.

The non-spe­cial­ist may find Solonari’s book a bit dif­fi­cult due to lack of famil­iar­i­ty with the names of the many Roman­ian per­pe­tra­tors involved in Romania’s role in the Holo­caust, but the book i s well worth the effort.
Abra­ham J. Edel­heit is an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of his­to­ry at Kings­bor­ough Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege (CUNY) and the author, co-author, or edi­tor of eleven books on the Holo­caust, Zion­ism, Jew­ish and Euro­pean his­to­ry, and Mil­i­tary affairs. His most recent pub­li­ca­tion appeared in Armor mag­a­zine, the offi­cial jour­nal of the US Army Armor and Cav­al­ry Command.

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