The initiation of war against the Soviet Union signaled the opportunity for the mob, bolstered by policemen and off-duty soldiers and now supported by elements of officialdom in the first primitive attempts at forced evacuations, to turn to murder and mayhem in the streets of city, town, and village; for the first time Jews were crowded onto trains and transported from place to place without water, food, or the chance to relieve themselves away from the rolling stock in which they were entombed, a new form of mass murder soon taken over by the central government as part of an overall strategy for handling “the Jewish question.” The mob's cruelty and greed took the form of truly shocking torture, rape, killing, and robbery, all continuing earlier precedents but achieving spectacular new heights of barbarism. And yet the widespread occurrence of these episodes, their intimate connection to the war itself, the participation of Germans stationed in Romania, and the experience of murder by transport all combined to point to a new chapter in the history of Romanian anti-Semitism and the Romanian Holocaust that would get under way only as the state itself—under the inspiration of Marshall Antonescu and his cabinet—began to gain sway over events.
THE IASI POGROM
In late June and early July 1941, thousands of Jews were killed in one of the most savage pogroms of World War II, the Iasi pogrom, perhaps the most infamous event in the history of the Holocaust in Romania .
In the view of Matatias Carp, the Iasi pogrom was a natural culmination of decades of state and popular anti-Semitism and given more virulent expression during those years when European fascism was ascendent. But these phenomena were not introduced by the fascists: mass expulsions; social, educational, and employment discrimination; mob violence and the terrorism of hooligans; the existence of social and political organizations for the promotion of the most lurid anti-Semitic propaganda; robbery, rapine, and vandalism; and murder and pogroms—these all developed slowly and grandly over the course of several generations.
The Iasi pogrom was conditioned by two sets of circumstances. The first, as Carp has emphasized, was historical: the city of Iasi was steeped in a hoary anti-Semitic tradition stretching back at least a century; Iasi was to Romanian anti-Semitism what Vienna was to Nazi Jew-hatred. The second set of circumstances involved the convergence of those factors conditioning Romania 's entrance into World War II. Both official and popular propaganda in Iasi cast many of the events leading to this ill-considered adventure as part of a struggle against “world Jewry,” painting Romania's Jews as “enemy aliens,” “Bolshevik agents,” “factors of dissolution,” and “parasites on the Romanian nation.”
On the eve of the war some 100,000 people inhabited the city of Iasi , 50,000 of them Jews. Since the city was close to the Soviet frontier, it became the focus of many of the anti-Semitic measures that accompanied plans to join Germany 's invasion of the USSR . Several days before Romania joined the war Ion Antonescu ordered the compilation of lists of “all Jews, Communist agents, or sympathizers in each region.” More ominously, by Order No. 4147, issued at approximately the same time, he initiated preparations for the expulsion of all Jews aged eighteen to sixty from villages located between the Siret and Prut Rivers and their confinement in the camp established at Tîrgu Jiu in Walachia several years earlier for political opponents.
Several days before the onset of war, during a conference that brought together the leadership of the gendarmerie legions (units) of Romania, General C. Z. Vasiliu, general inspector of the gendarmerie, ordered curatarea terenului (the cleansing of the land), meaning the liquidation of all Jews in rural areas, and the internment or deportation of those living in urban areas. While waiting to be assigned their positions in Bessarabia and Bukovina when the war should get under way, some of the gendarmes were stationed in Iasi, where they were on hand just in time to take part in “action” against the city's Jewish population. During his trial in 1946, Antonescu would try to justify the concentration and deportation of the Jewish population from Moldavia by citing “a military principle that states that the population living close to the front must be displaced.” Antonescu also claimed that there had been “German demands” that the Jews of Moldavia be “organized into ghettos.” None of this explained, however, the murderous intent of the population movement imposed on the Jews, nor, indeed, why the leader of Romania would submit to pressure by another country.
Just before Romania's entry into the war the “first operational echelon” of the SSI was created, based on orders of the Office of the President of the Council of Ministers and the Office of the Chief of Staff of the army; its official mission was “to defend the rear against sabotage, espionage, and acts of terror,” and the echelon was composed of about 160 men. On June 18, 1941, this unit traveled by motor vehicle to Moldavia . Lieutenant Colonel Borcescu later stated that one of the unit's secret goals had been the elimination, through deportation and repression, of the Jews throughout Moldavia . After the Iasi pogrom the unit headed for Chisinau, where new versions of the Iasi massacres were prepared by the same SSI teams. The echelon also journeyed to Tighina and Tiraspol , where it organized looting, and then to Odessa , where it took part in further massacres. Elements of the operational echelon engaged in systematic looting and murder in Bessarabia and Transnistria.
Events had begun to unfold more rapidly after German and Romanian military operations against the USSR began on June 22, 1941 . Soon thousands of Jews from rural areas of northern Moldavia were put aboard trains and then interned in the camps of Tîrgu Jiu, Craiova , Caracal, and Turnu Severin. On that same day a report by Colonel Constantin Chirilovici, police superintendent of Iasi , stated that some Legionnaires “were taking a sort of course under the tutelage of two uniformed officers, a captain and a sublieutenant.” These were apparently sessions organized by the SSI to prepare former Iron Guards for an anticipated anti-Jewish action.
On June 24, the Soviet air force conducted a raid against Iasi producing minor damage and only a few casualties. But this provided the spark the fascists were able to fan into widespread anti-Semitic hysteria, which could be exploited by opportunists ready for plunder and by bullies afraid to fight the Soviets but prepared to assault defenseless civilians. Iron Guardists deliberately spread the rumor that the entire Jewish population of Iasi was working for the Red Army and had signaled the Soviets where to drop bombs. The next day the menace gathered strength as the municipal police department systematically contacted home owners with an invitation to paint the sign of the cross on their windows and doors so that mobs would know which homes to spare.
Things soon got worse. On June 26, a second—and this time devastating—Soviet air raid took place, hitting the headquarters of the Fourteenth Infantry Division, the telephone company, and St. Spiridon Hospital. Six hundred people were reportedly killed (including 38 Jews); other sources give a figure of 111 killed and hundreds wounded. This bombing further fueled the anti-Semitic fever. Romanian military reports claimed that Jews from Iasi had been found among the Soviet air force crews that had been shot down. Soviet paratroopers and saboteurs were allegedly active in the city. Anti-Semitic activists and opportunists exploited such kindling to stoke the fire.
That same day soldiers from the Fourteenth Division were in Iasi , including a company of one hundred men from the division's Thirteenth Regiment and a battalion of three hundred gendarmes. Another three hundred policemen were in transit from other localities, ready for action not only in Iasi but also in Bessarabia and Bukovina . German troops belonging to the 198th Division of the Thirtieth Army Corps, as well as SS and Todt Organization troops, were also ready for action against unarmed civilians.
As important as the Soviet attacks may have been in setting off the violence, the still more important fact is that government officials had been plotting against the Jewish community for several days.
June 26 therefore marks the real beginning of the Iasi pogrom. On that same day five unidentified Jews were sent to locate unexploded bombs in the courtyard of the same headquarters. Although they had been sent by Commissioner Nicolae Cra?ciun of the Fifth Police Precinct, they were not released after the task. That afternoon the leaders of the Jewish community were convened at Central Police Headquarters, and “the Jews of Iasi” were accused of having collaborated with Soviet Jewish aviators. Police Superintendent Chirilovici ordered that within the next forty-eight hours Jews had to hand over to the police all binoculars, flashlights, and photographic equipment.
On Friday the twenty-seventh sporadic rifle fire could be heard throughout the city; t he most significant events of the day represented various overt and covert preparations for a pogrom. Nevertheless, the day did not end without the spilling of Jewish blood.
The Pogrom Unfolds
On Saturday morning, June 28, a group of thirty soldiers from the Thirteenth and Twenty-fourth Artillery Regiments abused and robbed several Jews on the pretext that the former were looking for a wireless transmitter set. German soldiers got in on the action in the Tatarasi neighborhood, on Rachiti Street , around the slaughterhouse, and on Aurel Vlaicu and Vasile Lupu Streets. The police superintendent arrived with the garrison commander, the city's chief prosecutor, the military prosecutor of the Fourteenth Division, and a platoon of gendarmes to “investigate.”
Meanwhile, freshly printed posters incited the citizenry of Iasi to take matters into their own hands: romanians! for each jidan that you kill, you liquidate a communist. the moment for revenge has come. Civilians joined men in uniform to terrorize the Jews. That evening Police Inspector Gheorghe Leahu ordered the Iasi police “not to interfere with what the army is carrying out inside the city.”
At nine o'clock in the evening an airplane, apparently a Soviet one, fired off several flares, followed immediately by rifles of different calibers. Panic spread among troops heading for the front. There was shooting, military units were deployed and “returned fire,” but there were no casualties, and no bullet holes were found on the walls of houses the next day. Shells from old-fashioned hunting weapons, however, were found.
Rumors of “Soviet paratroopers” spread. Soon groups of Romanian and German soldiers, gendarmes, and civilians took advantage of these rumors to justify the widespread assaults on the Jews that began the robbery and mayhem to which they gave themselves over for the rest of the night.
The authorities, steeped in the anti-Semitism of their culture (and some sympathizing with the mob), did nothing to restore order. Many were inclined to blame the Jewish victims.
The following day shots could be heard throughout Iasi as goons—in and out of uniform—shot down Jews. Other Jews were lined up and marched through the neighborhoods to Central Police Headquarters. Some columns stopped at the National Lyceum, the Dorobanti Regiment site, the Wachtel School , and the Regional Police Inspectorate, but all were eventually herded to central headquarters; men constituted the majority of these parties, but they also included women, children, and senior citizens, many still in their pajamas. Beaten and bruised, they were forced to march in step, arms raised above their heads. Their captors, Romanian and German, as well as the mobs lining their path, spat on them; pelted them with rocks and bottles; and struck them with sticks, bars, and rifle butts. Those who could not walk because of injury or ailment were shot, so that the streets were soon strewn with corpses.
Many of the perpetrators of these crimes apparently were motivated not so much by the lust for blood as the lust for lucre. After chasing Jews away, the mob looted their homes. Often the civilians, emboldened by the company of soldiers, gendarmes, and policemen, proved the most violent pogromists; very often they were armed, highly unusual for Romanian workers or peasants in peacetime or wartime.
German and Romanian, cop and robber, civilian and soldier, the rioters soon transformed the streets of Iasi into Brueghel canvases. Survivors of the Jewish groups that were led to police headquarters later recorded the visions that accompanied their passage: those who left the Fifth Police Precinct at 5:00 p.m. were greeted by the corpse of an old man on Apeduct Street, a few paces beyond that of a child; in front of the Chamber of Commerce building and the Ghemul Verde Store on Cuza-Vodä Street, two heaps of dead people awaited them. Another group of Jews being marched down Smîrdan Street by soldiers ran into an old Jew coming from Central Police Headquarters bearing the pass marked “free,” to prove to vigilantes that he had already been cleared of suspicion, just in time to witness his murder by a German soldier unconvinced of his clearance.
History may judge the Romanians kind in comparison with the Germans in occupied Poland or Ukraine , for two Romanian officers persuaded the guards of Isidor Sulemer's group to let their people go. Others slated for the police station roundup managed to escape by bribing their Romanian guards. However, to characterize all these Romanians as kinder than their German counterparts would be to deny them their due.
Some massacres in the making miscarried at the last minute: a convoy of eight hundred to one thousand men was forced to lie facedown along several large trenches near the bank of the Bahlui River . There many were beaten by some laborers, clerical employees, and shopkeepers. But these Jews got off easy: their tormentors were forced to satisfy themselves with merely drowning a rabbi from Buhusi. Police Chief Chirilovici ordered a sergeant who was about to shoot some of the Jews to release them and thereby defused this particular situation. The director of the Dacia Mill, Grigore Porfir (later recognized by Israel as a “righteous gentile”), managed to save about one hundred Jews working at his business; and he did so despite the fact that soldiers threatened to kill him if he interfered in their anti-Semitic revelry. The pharmacist Beceanu saved dozens of Jews at similar great peril to his own life. Commissar Suvei of the Second Police Precinct freed a group of 350 being herded toward Central Police Headquarters, and Commissar Mircescu and Police Officer Sava saved many Jews by advising them to leave their homes or taking them into protective custody.
But other rescuers fared less well. An engineer by the name of
Naum, known to his friends as something of a left-wing activist, tried to protect a Jew who was about to be killed on Päcurari Street; an officer gunned him down too with the cry, “Die, you dog, with the Jew you're protecting.”
And all this time very large numbers of Jews were being corralled into the courtyard of Central Police Headquarters. One official report of 9:30 a.m. had one thousand people in the courtyard, though its author confessed that “we do not know all the details.” And yet a report signed by Chirilovici said that there were already close to 1,800 on hand by 9:00. The superintendent of the Iasi police counted 3,500 at noon, a figure District Prefect Dumitru Captaru gave the Ministry of the Interior at 1:00 p.m. Chirilovici estimated that by sunset some five thousand Jews had been arrested.
General Stavrescu, commander of the Fourteenth Infantry Division, appeared at the courtyard of the station several times during the course of that day, indicating the involvement of the highest military authorities. By 11:00 a.m. Police Commissars Dumitru Iancu and Titus Rahoveanu had begun the process of sorting the arrestees, by identification papers, by their looks, or by whatever criteria struck them and their assistants as valid. Between two hundred and two thousand individuals, most of them women, were released with papers identifying them as having been cleared. Some made their way safely home, others were slaughtered before they got there, and still others were rearrested and brought back. Ironically, just as some Jews were leaving the courtyard, slews of others were arriving. Indeed, many came of their own free will, hoping for the now famous ticket bearing the word “free” with which they hoped to ward off the numerous self-appointed street patrols.
But around noon SS troops and other German soldiers from the Todt Organization created a perimeter stretching along Vasile Alecsandri, Cuza-Voda, Bratianu, and Piata Unirii Streets to funnel the rows of Jews entering the courtyard. By 1:30 , Romanian gendarmes and policemen had joined them, as had civilian “volunteers”. All were armed with iron bars or sticks, with which they struck the Jews with all their might, primarily on the head. According to witnesses, by midafternoon the situation seemed to have escaped all control. Around 2:00 p.m. the captors opened fire on their prisoners with machine guns, other automatic weapons, and hunting rifles. One of these was the Legionnaire Dumitru Dumitriu, who owned an adjoining mechanic shop.
A crowd of panicked Jews broke through the enclosure and sought refuge in buildings and alleys around the nearby Sidoli Movie Theater. They were mercilessly hunted down and liquidated, as one of the leaders of the Iasi Jewish community later reported.
The corpses at the police station and in the neighboring streets were then relieved of watches, pens, and anything else of value. The massacre at the station and in the streets continued intermittently until around 6:00 that evening, easing off somewhat after the arrival of General Stavrescu at 4:30 . It is not known exactly why the killing slowed down and stopped, but according to Police Inspector Leahu, at the time the massacre began about 2,500 Jews had already been gathered and taken to the train station—indicating that earlier plans for these Jews had already been implemented before the pogrom started.
It is difficult to estimate the number of victims of the Iasi pogrom. The moderate estimate of Mircu suggests nine hundred were killed. The day after the police reported only three hundred. A more forthright estimate comes from the witness Captain Constantin Darie: three thousand to four thousand Jews killed or injured.
We know that at least 254 were buried in mass graves in the Jewish cemetery soon after the events of the pogrom, but we don't know how many more and how many elsewhere. The bodies were slowly removed in four trucks and a couple dozen horse carts over a two-day period. Uncounted corpses were simply taken to the garbage dumps of Copou District, though not abandoned until stripped of their clothes. Many mortally injured were tossed in with the corpses, but if a few here and a few there walked away or were quietly saved, it seems unlikely that the overall numbers would be very different. To these totals must be added the tallies from other less well-documented slaughters at the waterworks and the electrical plant. We do not know the number of these victims.
During the afternoon of Sunday, June 29 the decision was made to “evacuate” the Iasi Jews who were being held as suspects at the police station. Thus did the “transfer” of some 2,500 Jews who had survived the massacre get under way. Their movement to the train station began at 8:00 p.m. One police subinspector, two police officers, two police section chiefs, and twenty patrolmen escorted several convoys, bolstered by a group of German officers and soldiers with two tanks and two motorcycles. After a lengthy head count during which the guards made the Jews lie facedown on the ground, their captors packed them onto an ordinary freight train. During the boarding the German soldiers crammed the greatest possible number of suspects into each berth, though the train was not scheduled to depart until early Monday morning. At around 4:00 a.m. on June 30, another contingent of 1,900 Jews formed at the police station, to be loaded onto a second train. A summary report sent by Captaru at 9:20 a.m. referred to the fact that Mihai Antonescu and the Ministry of the Interior were behind the project. The destination of the trains and what became of their unhappy passengers will become clear presently, but the continued events in Iasi must detain us for the moment.
For the bloodletting of the twenty-ninth had only tapered off on the thirtieth: it did not cease. Dawn found forced laborers toiling to bury the previous day's corpses—along with “moribunds” who were just going to die anyway—in the mass graves previously prepared at the Jewish cemetery. Labor to bury all of the dead was unavailable; the crowds so enthusiastic for beatings and robbery were nowhere to be found when heavy, less emotionally satisfying work required doing. Mircu tells us that “the Germans” forced temporary Jewish funerary workers to throw corpses into the Bahlui River , along with, again, some of the mortally injured. According to the same testimony, as late as six in the evening that night, the killing was still going on.
While this work was going on, yet more ghastly events continued elsewhere. It seems that sometime on Monday one hundred Jews who had earlier been set to hard labor at the tramway electrical plant disappeared without a trace. The massacre continued throughout Monday in various parts of the city, less impressive in scale than Sunday's efforts but producing a hefty total of fifty dead, not including those at the power plant. Nearly half of this figure derives from one incident, triggered around 1:00 p.m. , when a group of tank crewmen claimed that they had come under rifle fire near the pharmacy on Bratianu Street . Some reports say the tank was German, others Romanian. Regardless, it is known that these men searched the building, assembled eighteen or twenty Jews in St. Spiridon Square , forced them to lie on the ground, and then murdered them with the tank's machine gun. So too, as the garbage crews carted away corpses and municipal crews washed blood from the streets, did the photographer's lens surprise a new group of Jews set to cleaning, stone by stone, the courtyard of Central Police Headquarters.
No further episodes took place that day in the city of Iasi . The deportees on the two trains, however, continued to die.
The Death Trains
The first of the two death trains consisted, by varying accounts, of between thirty-three and thirty-nine cars bearing 2,430 to 2,590 passengers. The cars were designed to transport freight and had no windows. With rifle butts and bayonets, the captors drove between eighty and two hundred Jews into each car. Many of the unfortunates began their journey already mortally wounded. The guards nailed slats over the small ventilation shutters, so that even breathing became increasingly difficult as the hours passed. The fascists decorated the cars with signs informing their countrymen that inside were communist jews or killers of german and romanian soldiers. The leaders had originally designated the town of Tîrgu Frumos as the site at which the deportees were to be concentrated; they soon changed this to Calarasi, and this was only the first of numerous changes in the itinerary. The first train left Iasi somewhere between 3:30 and 4:15 a.m. on Monday the thirtieth.
Contradictory directives originating in the Ministry of the Interior, the Office of the Chief of Staff, and the district prefecture sent the train on an indecisive but deadly route. At 7:00 a.m. it crawled past Tîrgu Frumos, some forty kilometers from Iasi . The train continued on to Pascani and then Lespezi, only to return to Pascani and thence to the town of Roman , where it remained from 11:45 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. It then set out once more for Tîrgu Frumos, arriving at 9:30 that night. Thus seventeen hours after departure it remained the same forty kilometers from Ias i .
The guards had forbidden anyone to open the doors, to air out the cars, or to offer the inmates anything to drink. So densely packed in most wagons that they could not move, people went mad in the sweltering heat and drank their own urine or the blood that streamed from their wounds. The socialist Carol Drimer and the capitalist Solomon Kahane, the technologist Ghetl Buchman and the Talmudist Haim Gheller—all shared one experience alike: they went mad and died raving. Others who retained their reason shortened their agony by committing suicide. Perhaps the most fortunate were those who simply lost consciousness for hours at a stretch.
Upon arrival at Tîrgu Frumos the cars boarded last reportedly contained only “forty or fifty people who were still alive, but [they were] in precarious physical condition.” In the third car there was one dead person, “an old man with a white beard.” The two hundred Jews in the last car were escorted to the town synagogue, according to one witness. Before anyone else could disembark, a German captain and the Romanian commander of a railway battalion, Danubiu Marinescu, arrived to forbid the opening of the other wagons. A telephone conversation ensued between Marinescu, who wanted to execute the survivors, and the district prefect, who was reluctant to receive either the corpses or those yet living because he had received no instructions from the Ministry of the Interior. Meanwhile, the trains stood still, serving as ovens slowly baking their human cargo.
Someone somewhere in the administration had kept his head: at dawn on July 1, a truck came from Iasi loaded with gendarmes under Second Lieutenant Aurel Triandaf to take control of the train, order the doors opened, and arrange for the corpses to be removed. The survivors were ordered “from afar” to throw the corpses out of the cars—those in charge approached only after “covering their noses with kerchiefs”—but the squad from Iasi did call in the local peasants “to see the Communists who had fired on Romanian and German troops.” The mayor of the town later reported that it had proven impossible to unload the dead bodies relying solely upon the weakened survivors, so “I ordered the police to bring in some Gypsies to complete the operation. The latter agreed, anticipating the chance to steal some shoes or an article of clothing.” The piles of corpses filled some of the railway cars halfway to the roof, however, prolonging the task far beyond the two hours originally anticipated: “in some there were 140 to 145 people, 80 to 90 of them dead.” Thus Jew and Gypsy loaded some 650 cadavers onto trucks or carts to take them to their final resting place in the town's Jewish cemetery.
Back at the station the torment of the living dragged on. Some cars, indeed, were not opened. Some captives tried to get a drink by tying many strips from their shirts into a kind of rope, which they then tossed from the railcars toward nearby puddles to sop up water. At first the Romanian and German guards had prevented the mayor of Tîrgu Frumos from bringing bread and water to the Jews, but after a while they relented. However, “when we tried to open the doors of the cars,” a merciful witness later recalled, “those inside themselves asked us to close them because the soldiers in the train station were stoning them.” Delayed at the town's Ruginoasa boarding dock, the train and its inmates just sat there.
Finally, under Second Lieutenant Triandaf, the death train resumed its journey to Calarasi just before 4:00 p.m. When the train arrived at Mircesti, forty kilometers from Tîrgu Frumos, the following morning, 327 corpses had to be unloaded and buried near the village of Iugani . A group of Jews frantic with thirst jumped off the train and ran to some ponds close to the railroad track. Triandaf reportedly ordered their execution on the spot, himself taking part by emptying his revolver into the unfortunates. The train passed through Sabaoani, ten kilometers down the road, on July 3, continuing on to Roman, whose authorities refused to let it stop because of its stench. On orders from the Supreme General Staff of the Romanian army, temporarily located in Roman in connection with the invasion of the USSR , the train was then sent back to Sabaoani, where three hundred more corpses were deposited.
The following day the Jews were transferred to other cars, and the train left Roman with fifty kilograms of sugar, presumably to feed the inmates. During the night of July 4–5, the train remained at Marasesti (120 km from Roman), where ten corpses were removed; the next night, at Inotesti (100 km from Marasesti), forty more were unloaded. At Ploiesti the inmates received water and bread. On July 6, the train finally reached Calarasi, its original destination, where 1,076 survivors, including the 69 moribund, emerged; 25 more corpses were removed from the cars.
Here also ended the journey of the first train that left Iasi on the morning of June 30 with 2,530 Jews, finally arriving at Calarasi on July 6 with 1,011. The captives had covered some five hundred kilometers over a period of six and one-half days of tropical heat, most of that time without water. The train had yielded 10 corpses at Marasesti, 654 at Tîrgu
Frumos, 327 at Mircesti, 300 at Sabaoani, 53 at Roman, 40 at Inotesti, and 25 at Calarasi. With the shootings of those trying to get water at the stops, the total fatalities on the first death train amounted to some 1,400 Jews.
At the end of August 1941, the government decided it would be safe to allow the surviving Jews to return to Iasi ; this time, however, their military escort protected them from the hooligans infesting a number of the train stations on their way home. The actions of the lieutenant in charge were particularly commendable, but history has not discovered his name.
The second death train had a briefer history. At 6:00 a.m. on June 30, 1,902 Jews boarded eighteen cars. The last car contained eighty corpses removed from the station at Iasi , people killed by gunfire, disemboweled with bayonets, or bludgeoned with sledgehammers. Six policemen under orders of Commander Ciuhat guarded the train. The transport took eight hours to reach its destination at Podul Iloaei, twenty kilometers from Iasi , moving so slowly that the guard was able at times to follow it on foot. Some cars arrived with as many as one hundred dead and as few as three or four half-dead survivors; in some of the wagons a prisoner had died, on average, every two or three minutes.
Upon arrival in Podul Iloaei the 708 surviving passengers were locked up in synagogues or assigned to Jewish residences in the community; the 1,194 dead were buried in the local cemetery.
Many circumstances contribute to the difficulty of establishing the exact number of victims of the Iasi pogrom. Such documentation is almost inevitably by nature incomplete and not fully accurate; much of what we know derives from testimony at the postwar tribunals.
EARLY MASSACRES IN BESSARABIA AND BUKOVINA
The Iasi pogrom was no isolated episode. Romanian military units, Romanian gendarmes, and Romanian as well as Ukrainian peasants murdered Jews in many places during the following weeks.
At the very end of June Ion Antonescu had issued the instructions that gave the go-ahead to numerous central and local authorities to establish what was in effect a state of emergency in regard to the treatment of the Jewish population. What this meant essentially was that as far as the government was concerned, the Jews were outside the protection of the law. That the source of this stance of the Romanian government at all levels was indeed Antonescu himself becomes apparent in such documents as his order subjecting the Jews in principle to martial law, forbidding them to leave their homes between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. His order also mandated rounding up Jews and concentrating them in appropriate “larger buildings.” To keep the most suspect Jews under observation and “to punish immediately any signs of trouble,” Antonescu's order insisted on the taking of “hostages” from among “the Jewish leadership,” to be “immediately” executed in the event of any “civil rebellion.” The army transmitted this order to units stationed in various localities on June 30, as did the Ministry of the Interior to the police prefectures.
Nearly two weeks earlier other governmental agencies had already undertaken administrative initiatives that similarly placed the Jews outside the protection of the law. On June 17 and 18, 1941, the leadership of the gendarmerie organized regional conferences in Galati and in Roman, at which the inspector general of the gendarmerie, General C. Z. Vasiliu, ordered local agencies to “cleanse the land” of Jews, entailing “the extermination on site of all Jews found in rural areas,” concentration into ghettos of all Jews in the towns, and the arrest of all “suspects,” Communist party members, and those who had held office under the brief Soviet regime. Though the order in some regions was transmitted downward in writing, in others regional bosses orally conveyed it to their subordinates, possibly to make sure that the spirit of the order is what got through rather than its letter: few were willing to leave a paper trail connecting themselves directly to the events most had reason to know would soon take place. Elsewhere, Vasiliu himself amplified his point: the government had to devote every effort to keeping the Jewish population under surveillance, he said, since everyone knew “that the Jews have for the most part collaborated with communism and have been hostile to the Romanian armed forces, authorities, and people.
On July 3, Mihai Antonescu (as vice president of the Council of Ministers, he was responsible for leading the state when Ion Antonescu was at the front) sponsored a conference of administrative inspectors and military prosecutors being sent to Bessarabia and Bukovina .
At the meeting of the Council of Ministers on July 8, 1941 , Mihai Antonescu stressed in particular his intent to reject any traditionalist humanitarian objections to the forced “migration” of the Jews from Bessarabia and Bukovina . He also supported the cleansing from those lands of “the Ukrainian element,” which would also have “no reason to be here” any longer. Romanians who had “strayed” into “the darkness of Bolshevism” would be “annihilated without pity.” To put a fine point on things, Antonescu told his auditors they should be “indifferent if history adjudges us barbarians. The Roman Empire committed acts deemed barbaric by contemporary standards, and nevertheless it established the greatest political system. This is the most opportune moment in our history. If need be, use machine guns.”
“Cleanse the soil of Communists,” “eliminate the Bolsheviks, all suspicious individuals, and Jewish provocateurs,” “rid the villages of all Jews”—such were the subsequent orders from Mihai Antonescu. And such were the orders elaborated at the next rung of the Romanian bureaucracy. As early as July 9, the governor of Bessarabia , General Voiculescu, began to receive reports on the gendarmes' “cleansing activity.” On July 11, Lieutenant Colonel A. Ionescu, chief of the Second Section, reported to his superiors that his section had already designed and implemented a plan “to eliminate the Judaic element from the territory of Bessarabia by organizing and activating teams to operate ahead of the Romanian troops.” The link from government to administration to the masses emerges clearly in his boast that teams were fostering in the villages “an environment hostile to Judaic elements so that the population will try to eliminate them on its own with the most appropriate means suited to the circumstances.” As General Topor put it on July 17, “This country does not need Jews.”
The taking of Jewish hostages was widely practiced in Moldavia , Bessarabia, and Bukovina . Theoretically, for each Romanian or German soldier killed in the regions under Romanian control, fifty Jews were supposed to be liquidated. Mere orders issued by Romanian or German officers produced mass executions. Yet the hostage-taking and land-cleansing orders attest to the fact that responsibility for the murder of Jews also belongs to the central authorities.
Troops of the Sixteenth Infantry Regiment occupied the village of Ciudei in Bukovina on July 3, 1941 ; under the command of Valeriu Carp, they had murdered dozens of Jews there after their withdrawal before the Soviets. Now the same men undertook the murder of the entire Jewish population of the area. The number of victims ranged somewhere between 450 and 572. Peasants aided their soldier brothers. Some of them broke Nathan Schuller's hands, chained him, and led him through Ciudei. A peasant murdered the schoolmaster Sumer Saltinger in front of his house; the mob then forced his wife to place him in a wheelbarrow, take him to the cemetery, and bury him. Peasants armed with axes, pitchforks, hoes, and pickaxes killed Smil Katz's family in the village of Crâsnisoara Noua . Jews were accused of blowing up the bridge at Crasna, though in fact Soviet troops had destroyed it. Fifty Jews were executed in Crasna Forest .
Romanian troops occupied the city of Storojinet on July 4 and began their massacre right away, killing two hundred Jews in two days. The mob chopped up the merchant Leon Elicher and his father at the Margulius windmill; they cut off Roza Karpel's arms in her own house, and though she was later hospitalized, she died while being carried on a stretcher during one of the deportation transports to Transnistria. The pogromists humiliated the old woman Sonntag by draping a cartridge belt on her before murdering her.
The four thousand Jews whose lives were spared were locked up inside two school buildings, where they remained for three days without food or clean water. However, their captors did allow them to drink from the nearby ponds. The recently appointed mayor, the attorney Petru Bruja, wanted to send the Jews home, but Colonel Alexandrescu, who commanded the recruitment district, and the powerful landowner Serban Flondor opposed him. The mayor resigned, and a man named Dimitrie Rusu replaced him. Under his leadership the authorities converted Gradiniti, Ieronim, Malcinschi, and Lumea Noua Streets into a “ghetto”. Deputy Mayor Stefan Tomovici issued an order requiring the Jews to sweep the streets every day. Certain figures responsible for the Jews—for example, the commander of the gendarme legion of Bîrzescu and the mayor's chief of staff, Isidor Palade—sought to minimize the suffering of their charges, but this did not prevent the transfer, in alphabetical order, of Jewish families to the Edineti transit camp in the district of Hotin. With the exception of eleven of these families, all were eventually deported to Transnistria.
The occupation troops were just as active in the neighboring villages. The soldiers who had occupied the village of Ropcea rounded up the entire Hass family and forced them on foot to the Siret River . Eugen had to carry his father for much of the nine kilometers. The soldiers drove all onto a narrow bridge, off of which they shot them one by one. The locals of Iordanesti authored a massacre under the command of their small-time leader, Halache Telefon.
One of the most horrible massacres took place at Banila on the Siret, whose inhabitants—urged on by the mayor, Moscaliu, and the self-proclaimed leader, Barbaza—slaughtered fifteen Jews. The parish priest Stefanovici refused to perform Sunday services the next day, telling his congregation, “I am ashamed to enter this church, when my coreligionists commit such crimes.”
On July 5, massacres took place in all villages of Storojinet District where Jews lived. A group of Ukrainians, Ruthenians, and Romanians (civilians and soldiers) shot or beat to death between eighty and eighty-eight Jews in the village of Stanestii de Jos ; forty more died in the village of Stanestii de Sus.
None of the above crimes were in any way atypical for Storojinet, and analogous abominations proceeded in other villages of the district. In Cires all twelve Jewish families were killed. Eleven Jews were killed on the same fifth of July in Vilavca. Still another slaughter took place in Milie, where Ukrainians killed nearly the entire Jewish population, somewhere between 110 and 180 people. In Vijnita twenty-one Jews were killed shortly after Romanian troops entered the town on July 5. The Romanian army took nineteen Jewish hostages in Vascauti, executing them shortly thereafter. A massacre took place on that same day in Rostochi-Vijnita: the local residents joined with soldiers to kill at least seventy Jews. The Romanian army also executed eighteen Jews in Tereblecea and ten in Oprisani, in Radauti District. Jews were abused and tortured but not murdered in Lucavat (Storojinet District) and a few other villages.
Units of the Seventh Infantry Division, in particular Police Company 7, commanded by Major Gheorghe Vartic, made up some of the forces that entered the city of Herta on July 5, 1941 . Vartic ordered the creation of a “Civic Guard” composed of Herta's residents that compiled lists of Jews. About fifteen hundred were herded into the city's four synagogues and one cellar. Some of these were next forced to dig a trench, and many were executed there at four o'clock in the afternoon. About one hundred were executed at the Kislinger windmill and thirty-two in a park behind the prefecture.
One of the largest slaughters on that day took place in Cernauti, the capital of Bukovina , where two thousand Jews were killed by Romanian soldiers working in league with local residents, gendarmes, and German soldiers. Two mass graves at the Jewish cemetery received 250 corpses each, a third somewhat fewer. German troops executed another four hundred Jews on July 9, setting fire to the main synagogue with incendiary grenades.
Further mass killings took place between July 9 and 12 in Cernauti, Hotin, and Soroca Districts. Specifically, German SS and Romanian troops executed 162 Jews in Zoniachie and Rapujinet on July 9, another twenty-seven in Cotmani. The same Romanian unit that had killed the Jews of Stînca Roznovanu, near Marculesti, now robbed and killed another four hundred to five hundred in Gura Cainari, including a number of newborns. A similar massacre occurred in Marculesti proper.
A group of soldiers from the Fourteenth Infantry Division came upon a group of fifty Jewish refugees. The soldiers looted their victims, herded them into a pond, and shot them. Two wounded survivors dragged themselves onto the road, where a Romanian officer discovered them and sent them to Chiscareni Hospital . The Ninth German Army protested this incident that “diminished the prestige of the Romanian and German armies.” 211 General Tataranu, deputy head of the Supreme General Staff, ordered an investigation; it led only to the burial of the victims left behind in the pond.
The Romanians reentered Hotin on July 8. The entire Jewish population there was locked up on that very day in two school facilities. Fifty Jewish hostages were selected on July 10 for execution by Romanian policemen and gendarmes. The military police executed 12 more in nearby Lipcani the next day, 40 in Lincauti, and all 160 Jews in Ceplauti. Ten people were executed for political reasons in Milovat during that month.
And so it went elsewhere in the newly reoccupied territories. Massacres occurred around the city of Balti on July 11. A total of seventy-six Jews were executed as “hostages” in Balti from July 10 to July 17, according to the list of names that the Balti police compiled.
German and Romanian troops entered the historic capital of Bessarabia, Chisinau, on July 18, 1941, almost immediately giving themselves over to the mass slaughter of its Jews and those of its environs: it is estimated that about ten thousand ultimately died. This is how the “purification of the Romanian land” proceeded in the neighboring Orhei District.
The postwar investigation revealed that approximately 250 political suspects and 500 Jews were executed in the territory of the Chilia legion, victims of “political and racial intolerance.” Those arrested for political reasons were liquidated in the same way as the Jews, most often en route between two villages, typically at the edge of a ditch prepared in advance. Non-Jewish political suspects also were killed in Cetatea Alba¨ District.
During the massacres in Bessarabia and Bukovina , Romanian soldiers and policemen operated independently of German tutelage. But in some instances the “brotherhood-in-arms” of Romanian and German soldiers found expression in joint operations against defenseless civilians. Hundreds of Jews were killed by the so-called paramilitary Civic Guards composed not only of Romanian but also of Ukrainian and Ruthenian townspeople and villagers.
All this anti-Semitic internationalism notwithstanding, relations between the Romanian and German armies were sometimes strained. The Ninth German Army protested the disorderly action. German experience in joint operations with the Romanians throughout Bessarabia and Bukovina had brought the Germans to the conclusion that although the Romanians had the right idea, they were sloppy in their work.
Raul Hilberg estimates that more than ten thousand Jews were murdered in Bukovina and Bessarabia during July 1941. Most of these were killed by Romanian and German military units acting on superior orders. Others, however, fell victim to Romanian and Ukrainian peasants who wanted (or even felt it their duty) to murder (and, of course, rob) their Jewish neighbors.
World War II transformed what might otherwise have remained a period of severe anti-Semitic outbreaks into a true Romanian Holocaust that, while part of the broader German-European Holocaust, remains at the same time a specifically Romanian story. As in Germany , the immediate background to Romania 's Holocaust tapped archaic anti-Semitic traditions and was crafted by the militant agitation of anti-Semitic parties, itself followed by state legislation and then compounded by wartime circumstances. Bloody mob violence was the result, but now, drawing in government elements, the riot took on the character of a social enterprise and thus invited takeover by the state. This transitional phase, when mass robbery and mass murder evolved from a societal to a governmental enterprise, took place in the months immediately preceding and immediately following Romania 's entrance in the war. The tempering of the Romanian-German diplomatic alliance into one of wartime fraternity augured more deliberate and more systematic ill for Romania 's Jews. Finally, during this time the Antonescu regime became more directly involved in encouraging the violence, though still more in the sense of indirect inspiration. Soon, however, it would openly take things over, as will be seen in the following chapters.