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 régime 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.