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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Rumania (Romania) in WW II (01): Massacres and camps

Massacres - deportations - ghetto system - confiscations - prohibitions of profession - "illegal" emigration to Palestine - heavy tax burden - 57% survived

from: Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971), vol. 14

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)



[1941: Rumania
<In January 1941 Manfred von Killinger, a veteran Nazi known for his anti-Semitic activities, was appointed German ambassador to Rumania. In April he was joined by Gustav Richter, an adviser on Jewish affairs who was attached to Adolf *Eichmann's department. Richter's special task was to bring Rumanian anti-Jewish legislation into line with its counterpart in Germany.

During the War. [German-Rumanian invasion since 3 July 1941 - massacres on the Jews before]

On June 22, 1941, when war broke out with the Soviet Union, the Rumanian and German armies were scattered along the banks of the Prut River in order to penetrate into Bukovina and Bessarabia. As this branch of the front became active only on July 3, the Rumanian and German soldiers occupied themselves with slaughtering the Jewish population of Jassy on June 29, 1941

[[and it can be admitted that this was not the only one and that the local population was helping the slaughter]].

When the soldiers finally went into action, they were joined by units of Einsatzgruppe D, under the command of Otto Ohlendorf. Their combined advance through Bessarabia, Bukovina, and the Dorohoi district was accompanied by massacres of the local Jewish population [[with the collaboration of the local population]].

[[In the time between 22 June and 3 July a big part of the Jews of South Eastern Europe could flee within the Red Army to central "Soviet Union". Arbitrary flight was not allowed]].

[Sending deportees back and forth over the frontier to German occupied zone - and massacres]

At the beginning of August 1941 the Rumanians began to send deportees from Bukovina and Bessarabia over the Dniester River into a German-occupied area of the U.S.S.R. (later to be known as *Transnistria). The Germans refused to accept the deportees, shooting some and returning the rest.

Some of these Jews drowned in the river and others were shot by the Rumanian gendarmerie on the western bank; of the 25,000 persons who crossed the Dniester near Sampol, only 16,500 were returned by the Germans. Some of these survivors were killed by the Rumanians, and some died of weakness and starvation on the way to camps in Bukovina and (col. 401)

Bessarabia. Half of the 320,000 Jews living in Bessarabia, Bukovina, and the Dorohoi district (which was in Old Rumania) were  murdered during the first few months of Rumania's involvement in the war, i.e., up to Sept. 1, 1941.

[Installing ghetto system - deportation and looted Jewish homes]

After this period the Jews were concentrated in ghettos (if they lived in cities), in special camps (if they lived in the countryside, or townlets such as Secureni, Yedintsy, Vertyuzhani, etc.). German killing squads or Rumanian gendarmes, copying the Germans, habitually entered the ghettos and camps, removing Jews and murdering them.

Jews living in villages and townlets in Old Rumania (Moldavia, Walachia, and southern Transylvania) were concentrated into the nearest large town. The Jews of northern Moldavia, which bordered on the battle area, were sent to the west of Rumania: men under 60 were sent to the Targu-Jiu camp and the women, children, and aged were (col. 402)

sent to towns where the local Jewish population was ordered to care for the deportees (who owned nothing more than the clothing on their backs). The homes and property of these deportees were looted by the local population immediately after they were deported.

[Rumanian Transnistria: deportations to Transnistria and confiscations by the Rumanian National Bank - further prohibitions of profession]

On Sept. 16, 1941, those in camps in Bessarabia began to be deported to the region between the Dniester and the Bug rivers called Transnistria, from which the Germans had withdrawn, handing control over to the Rumanians under the Tighina agreement (Aug. 30, 1941).

The deportations included 118,847 Jews from Bessarabia, Bukovina, and the Dorohoi district. At the intervention of the Union of Jewish Communities in Rumania, an order was given to stop the deportations on October 14; they continued however until November 15, leaving all the Jews of Bessarabia and Bukovina (with the exception of 20,000 from Chernovtsy) and 2,316 of the 14,847 Jews from the Dorohoi district concentrated in Transnistria.

In two months of deportations 22,000 Jews died: some because they could walk no further, some from disease, but the majority were murdered by the gendarmerie that accompanied them on their journey. All the money and valuables were confiscated by representatives of the Rumanian National Bank.

The Jews then remaining in Old Rumania and in southern Transylvania were compelled into forced labor and were subjected to various special taxes. The prohibition against Jews working in certain professions and the "Rumanization of the economy" continued and caused the worsening of the economic situation of the Jewish population.

[1942: NS statistics mention 342,000 Jews in Rumania - deportation agreement to Poland not fulfilled - some political deportations]

According to the statistical table on the potential victims of the "Final Solution" introduced at the *Wannsee Conference, 342,000 Rumanian Jews were destined for this end. The German embassy in Bucharest conducted an intensive propaganda campaign through its journal, Bukarester Tageblatt, which announced "an overall European solution to the Jewish problem" and the deportation of Jews from Rumania.

On July 22, 1942, Richter obtained Vice-Premier Mihai Antonescu's agreement to begin the deportation of Jews to Poland in September. However, as a result of the efforts of the clandestine Jewish leadership and the pressure exerted by diplomats from neutral countries, as well as by the papal nuncio, A. Cassulo, Ion Antonescu canceled the agreement. He could afford a measure of independence, since Hitler was then seeking the mobilization of additional divisions of the Rumanian army against the Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, Eichmann's Bucharest office, working through the local authorities, succeeded in contriving the deportation of 7,000 Jews from Chernovtsy and Dorohoi and groups from other parts of Rumania to Transnistria because they were "suspected of Communism" (they were of Bessarabian origin and had asked to return to the Soviet Union in 1940), had "broken forced-labor laws", etc.

[December 1942: Permissions for Palestine - Jewish "illegal" immigrants from Rumania]

At the beginning of December 1942 the Rumanian government informed the Jewish leadership of a change in its policy toward Jews. It would henceforth permit Jews deported to Transnistria to emigrate to Palestine. Defeat at Stalingrad (where the Rumanians had lost 18 divisions) was already anticipated.

In 1942-43 the Rumanian government began tentatively to consider signing a separate peace treaty with the Allies. Although the plan for large-scale emigration failed because of German opposition and lack of facilities, both small and large boats left Rumania carrying "illegal" immigrants to Palestine, some of whom were refugees from Bukovina, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia.

Between 1939 and August 1944 (when Rumania withdrew from the war) 13 boats left Rumania, carrying 13,000 refugees, and even this limited activity was about to cease, as a result of German pressure exerted through diplomatic (col. 403)

missions in Rumania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Two of the boats sank: the Struma (on Feb. 23, 1944 with 769 passengers) and the Mefkure (on Aug. 5, 1944 with 394 passengers).

[No deportations to the "East" - but more prohibitions of professions - and special taxes against the Jews]

Despite German efforts, the Rumanian government refused to deport its Jews to the "east". At the beginning of 1943, however, there was a return to the traditional economic pressures against the Jews in order to reduce the Jewish population. This was achieved by forbidding Jews to work in the civilian economy and through the most severe measure of all, forced labor (from which the wealthy managed to obtain an exemption by paying a considerable sum). In addition, various taxes were imposed on the Jewish population in the form of cash, clothing, shoes, or hospital equipment. These measures, particularly the taxes to be remitted in cash - of which the largest was a levy [[duty payment]] of 4 billion lei (about $27,000,000) imposed in March 1943 - severely pressed Rumanian Jewry. The tax collection was made by the "Jewish center". W. *Filderman, chairman of the Council of the Union of Jewish Communities, who opposed the tax and proved that it could never be paid, was deported to Transnistria for two months.

[end of 1943: deported Jews from Transnistria coming back - German actions against Herzl Zionists - Red Army occupying Rumania - no liquidation of the remaining Jews]

At the end of 1943, as the Red Army drew nearer to Rumania, the local Jewish leadership succeeded in obtaining the gradual return of those deported to Transnistria. The Germans tried several times to stop the return and even succeeded in bringing about the arrest of the leadership of the clandestine Zionist pioneering movements in January and February 1944; however, these leaders were released through the intervention of the International Red Cross and the Swiss ambassador in Bucharest, who contended that they were indispensable for organizing the emigration of those returning from Transnistria and refugees who had found temporary shelter in Rumania.

In March 1944 contacts were made in Ankara between Ira Hirschmann, representative of the U.S. *War Refugee Board, and the Rumanian ambassador, A. Cretzianu, at which Hirschmann demanded the return of all those deported to Transnistria and the cessation of the persecution of Jews.

At the time, the Red Army was defeating the Germans in Transnistria and there was a danger that the retreating Germans might slaughter the remaining Jews. Salvation came at the last moment, when Antonescu warned the Germans to avoid killing Jews while retreating. Concurrently, negotiations over Rumania's withdrawal from the war were being held in Cairo and Stockholm, and thus Antonescu was eager to show goodwill toward the Jews for the sake of his own future. In the spring Soviet forces also conquered part of Old Rumania (Moldavia), and they made an all-out attack on August 20. On August 23 King Michael arrested Antonescu and his chief ministers and [[?]] declared a cease fire. The Germans could no longer control Rumania, for they were dependent on the support of the Rumanian army, which had been withdrawn.

Eichmann, who had been sent to western Rumania to organize the liquidation of Jews in the region, did not reach Rumania.

[57% survived Jews]

Fifty-seven percent of the Jewish population under Rumanian rule during the war (including the Jews of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina) survived the Holocaust. The following statistics give the death toll. Out of a Prewar Jewish population of 607,790, 264,900 (43%) were murdered. Of this number, 166,597 perished during the first period of the war, 151,513 from Bessarabia and Bukovina and 15,064 from part of Old Rumania. The rest died during the deportations to Transnistria or in the camps and ghettos of this region: some were murdered; others died in epidemics, of famine, or of exposure. In areas from which Jews were not deported, 78.2% of the Jewish population were left without a livelihood as a result of the discriminatory (col. 404)

measures up to 1942, the date at which statistics were last calculated. he demographic effect was that the ratio of births to deaths fell to 34.1% in 1942 from the 1934 figures of 116.5%.> (col. 405)