A TV Documentary on Rescue during the Holocaust: A Case of History Cleansing in Romania

By Braham, Randolph L. | East European Quarterly, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

A TV Documentary on Rescue during the Holocaust: A Case of History Cleansing in Romania


Braham, Randolph L., East European Quarterly


Politically and ideologically motivated intellectuals often exploit history as a means of achieving particular objectives: they embroider the past to shape a future that is in tune with their myths and aspirations. Although their objectives vary, they appear to be guided by the Party slogan in George Orwell's 1984: "Who controls the past controls the future, who controls the present controls the past." Following the collapse of Nazism and Communism, the manipulation of the past has emerged as a favorite pastime of chauvinists pursuing conflicting ethnic-national interests. This is especially true in post-Communist East Central Europe.

Romanian chauvinistic intellectuals have engaged in "history cleansing" both during and after the Communist era. During Nicolae Ceausescu's rule, these intellectuals championed the program of nationalist--socialism as defined by the dictator; after his fall, they embraced the cause of xenophobic, chauvinistic nationalism. They are currently engaged in a vigorous campaign to sanitize Romania's record as a Nazi satellite, finding their political nourishment in the Rightist ideologies and movements of the pre-Communist era. This is particularly true in their depiction and evaluation of the tragedy that befell the Jews of Romania during the Second World War.

For many years, in Romania as elsewhere in the former Soviet bloc nations, the Holocaust was sunk in the Orwellian black hole of history. It was indirectly brought to the fore in the 1970's, when the Ceausescu regime launched a subtle campaign to bring about the gradual rehabilitation of Marshal Ion Antonescu--fascist Romania's head of state--and, with the worsening of Hungarian--Romanian relations, to contrast Romania's humanitarianism with Hungary's barbarism. The wartime tragedy of Romanian Jewry and the destruction of the Jews in Hungarian--held Northern Transylvania became intertwined with the domestic and foreign policy requirements of the regime. Broad historical policy guidelines were expressed clearly by Ceausescu.(1) He minimized and distorted the number of "persons" (the word "Jews" was not used) murdered in the Jassy (Iasi) pogrom of June 1941 and "interned" in the "occupied Soviet territory" in 1941-43, and whitewashed the role of the Romanians in the mass murders. In contrast, he emphasized that "during the Horthyist and Nazi occupation, 170,000 citizens (sic) from Northern Transylvania were sent as forced laborers to Germany to concentration camps, and of these over 100,000 were killed."

Guided by Ceausescu's expressed views, the Party-supported "official historians" undertook to portray Antonescu's Romania as a country that not only prevented the Holocaust, but also afforded haven to thousands of foreign Jews and allowed their emigration to Palestine. This is, of course, partially correct in the sense that the Jews of Old Romania (Wallachia and Moldova) and Southern Transylvania almost all survived the war, although basically deprived of their livelihood and civil rights. But the fact that many of Romania's humanitarian actions, including the smuggling of Hungarian Jews and other refugees across the borders, the emigration to Palestine and the return of the survivors from Transnistria, were largely due to the venality of Romanian officials and payoffs by foreign Jewish organizations is conveniently overlooked, while the Romanian involvement in massacres is subtly reinterpreted. The mass murders that took place in Bucharest (1940), Jassy (1941), Dorohoi, Odessa (1941), and Transnistria (1941-43), claiming close to 270,000 lives, were--and continue to be--placed primarily at the door of the Germans.(2) The number of Jewish victims is minimized, the historical events are distorted, and the atrocities committed by Romanian gendarmes and military personnel are generally explained as actions of self-defense against pro-Soviet elements, including "Judeo-Bolsheviks" and Communist collaborators. To the extent that the involvement of individual Romanians is acknowledged, the criminal actions are identified as the "illegitimate activities of a few misguided and overzealous legionnaires. …

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