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Balkan Backwater of Mass Murder: U.N. Exhibit Highlights Holocaust in Romania

by George Baumgarten, January 25, 2017

   In what has become a regular feature of its annual Holocaust commemoration, the United Nations opened the first of two exhibits on less-known aspects of the Holocaust, this one highlighting the Holocaust as it occurred in various parts of Romania.


     One of the larger of the Balkan republics, Romania had fought on the side of the allies in World War I. Their participation was a backwater of backwaters, but as part of the “spoils of war”, she was awarded a rather large swath of territory, including the Northern province of Bukowina (Bucovina, in the Romanian spelling) and its capital of Czernowitz (Cernauti, to the Romanians). Thus this correspondent’s father, who was born an Austrian citizen, suddenly found himself a Romanian, and his arrival record at New York’s Ellis Island reads “Roumanian Hebrew”. The country then became a [relatively] benevolent monarchy, under King Carol II.


     In the early part of the Second World, however, Romania was governed by a pro-Nazi leader named Ion Antonescu. After various scandals and what was described as a “hedonistic lifestyle”, Carol was forced by Antonescu to abdicate on 6 September 1940. He was succeeded by his son Michael, but the monarchy (if not the monarchs) proved to be not long for this world. Romania first joined the Axis and contributed more troops on the Russian front than any other German ally. After a coup led by King Carol, Romania fought the rest of the war on the side of the allies. Bucharest was finally liberated by Soviet troops on 23 August 1944 (as this correspondent personally discovered, when he arrived there on the 30th anniversary of that liberation in 1974.


     The U.N.’s “Holocaust in Romania” photo exhibit, at which both the Romanian and German Ambassadors spoke, highlighted some of the above history. In particular, Romanian Ambassador Ion Jinga mentioned the notorious pogrom in Iasi (‘yash”), on 29 June1941, in which at least 13,266 Jews were done to death. Ironically, it was in that very city, some six decades before, that the 21-year old Galician-born poet Naftali Herz Imber penned his nine-stanza Hebrew poem ‘Hatikva’, the first stanza of which would one day become Israel’s National Anthem.


     The Exhibit has numerous panels devoted to episodes in various parts of the country. Beside a introductory/explanatory panel, there are panels on various other locales, on the Queen Mother Elena (1896-1982; Mother of King Michael, who is credited with saving Jews and has been named by Yad Vashem a Chasid Umot Ha’Olsm—a Righteous Among the Nations, for her efforts) And there is an extensive panel on the Iasi Pogrom, with both details and photos. All in all an impressive portrayal of this little-known corner of the Holocaust.


                                        © Copyright 2017 George Alan Baumgarten

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