The His­to­ry of the Holo­caust in Romania

Jean Ancel; Yaf­fah Mur­ciano, trans.; Leon Volovi­ci, ed.
  • Review
By – May 8, 2012

Jean Ancel has pro­duced an ency­clo­pe­dic his­to­ry of the Holo­caust in Roma­nia, a prod­uct of six­teen years of work (he died in 2008, before com­ple­tion) that will sure­ly inspire oth­er mono­graphs on spe­cif­ic aspects of that trag­ic his­to­ry. Although Roma­nia before the war had the sec­ond largest Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in Europe after Poland, it has been sig­nif­i­cant­ly under-stud­ied. The same can be said for the his­to­ry of Roman­ian Jew­ry, from the estab­lish­ment of the state in 1878 until the Shoah. Ancel does much to cor­rect these defi­cien­cies in the scholarship.

In most East­ern Euro­pean coun­tries, his­tor­i­cal anti-Semi­tism oper­at­ed along­side Nazi ide­ol­o­gy and geno­ci­dal poli­cies. In Roma­nia, how­ev­er, it was the regime that was large­ly respon­si­ble for mur­der­ing their Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, at its own ini­tia­tive and under its own free will. Vir­tu­al­ly every sec­tor of Roman­ian soci­ety — gov­ern­ment min­istries, the judi­cia­ry, the var­i­ous secu­ri­ty ser­vices the army, gen­darmerie, and police), the civ­il admin­is­tra­tion, the nation­al bank, local author­i­ties — par­tic­i­pat­ed in this crime. Germany’s involve­ment was secondary.

Because the Holo­caust in Roma­nia was local­ly ini­ti­at­ed and imple­ment­ed, it was not as effi­cient as in the Nazi con­trolled areas of East­ern Europe (Poland, Belarus, and the Ukraine, for exam­ple), and was also more bru­tal, prim­i­tive, and exces­sive. Ancel pro­vides hor­rif­ic descrip­tions of this bru­tal­i­ty. He also doc­u­ments how Roma­nia drew dis­tinc­tions between the Jews of the Regat, the core Roman­ian prin­ci­pal­i­ty, and those liv­ing in dis­tricts annexed to Roma­nia after World War I and after the Sovi­et inva­sion in June 1941. The Jews of the Regat cer­tain­ly suf­fered pogroms and abuse, but on the whole they sur­vived the Shoah. The Jews in the annexed areas, in con­trast, were dec­i­mat­ed, suf­fer­ing one of the low­est sur­vival rates in Europe.

A dif­fi­cult book to read, both because of the sub­ject mat­ter and because of Ancel’s almost reli­gious com­mit­ment not to leave out any per­son, place, or orga­ni­za­tion con­nect­ed to the anni­hi­la­tion of Jews in Roma­nia and Transnis­tria, this mon­u­men­tal work is a schol­ar­ly wit­ness­ing to be admired. It may even prove to be definitive.

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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