Romanian History X

The Marshall of the Latchkey Generation

de Vlad Stoicescu si Diana Oncioiu Foto: Polish National Archives 07-06-2013

How was Marshall Antonescu’s dictatorship portrayed in history text books released before 2004? What were high-school students learning about the Holocaust in Romania before the Wiesel Report was accepted by authorities in Bucharest? A Dela0.ro documentary offers some paradoxical answers.

First and foremost, there is this idea that should make us uneasy. It’s the idea that the social and economical engine of present day Romania, namely the generation that was in school in the 80s and 90s, studied history by these text books.

 

A survey carried out in the spring of 2007 and ordered by the National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania showed the tip of the iceberg. 46% of the respondents defined Marshall Ion Antonescu as a “great patriot”, 15% of them considered that he could be deemed “the saviour of Jews”, whilst a third believed that the Marshall is not guilty of anti-Semitic crimes.

 

A similar sociologic research carried out three years later, somewhat improved the situation. Percentages stayed the same for “patriotism” (44%), but collapsed in the case of those who see Antonescu as a “saviour of Jews” (3%). However, half of those questioned consistently replied that they cannot venture an opinion or declined to respond at all to questions on the way they perceive Romania’s only military dictator.

 

The Persecution Against the Working Class


During the communist regime, in order to save the image of Romania and serve the nationalist purposes of the late Nicolae Ceausescu era, historians chose the self-victimization technique. According to 1980’s Romanian history text books, the Nazis were the sole guilty for the crimes perpetrated during World War II, whilst Romania was merely a minor actor in Germany’s grand scheme.

 

More, according to this text books, the victims of Nazism and fascism had been killed on political grounds, not ethnic. The Holocaust in Romania was not genocide, but an affair between Marshall Antonescu’s state and the communist freedom figherts.

 

Here is a sample of the approach taken in pre-1989 history text books:

 

“Using the financial and political aid of pro-Hitler circles, the fascist movement in Romania determined Carol II to appoint General Ion Antonescu as Head of the Council of Ministers. Ion Antonescu, the Dictator, and the Legionary Movement leaders imprisoned or sent to concentration camps thousands of communist and anti-fascist fighters, who they subjected to an extermination policy (...) Fascist persecution was directed against all patriotic forces, especially the working class and the Romanian Communist Party.”

 

(Romanian Contemporary History, Editura Didactica si Pedagogica, 1989)


“Means Appropriate to Times”


The fall of the communist regime brought about few changes in dealing with the memory of the Holocaust in Romanian schools. The communist heritage lingered, though under a different form. The novelty item was the role that Marshall Antonescu played from 1940 to 1944. The process his rehabilitation, which started timidly during the final years of communism, reached a peak after 1989. The fascist dictator became a hugely popular historical figure in the 90s, his crimes totally ignored or simply blamed on the Nazis.

 

“An iron hand government was absolutely necessary to guarantee the future of the state and prepare the way for national re-unification (...) These requirements were met, with means appropriate to the times he lived in, by General Ion Antonescu (...)  Ion Antonescu, an enthusiast of public order and a patriot, was unhappy with the crimes and violence of the Legionary Movement  (...) Having convinced himself of the Iron Guard’s unfortunate role, Ion Antonescu fought for its elimination beginning with December 1940 (...) In exceptional circumstances, the Antonescu government intensified political repression by way of arrests, deportations and the implementation of anti-popular measures. Work camps were set up and the factories and institutions were militarised. Thus, there were active prisons and work camps throughout the country at Targu-Jiu, Caransebes or on the territory under war administration, at Odessa, Vapniarka, Smerinka, Bogdankova, Dumankova.”

 

( History, 12th Grade, Editura Didactica si Pedagogica, 1998)


Vapniarka and Bogdankova were not work camps or prisons, but extermination sites, where some of the largest mass murders took place during the Holocaust.

 

Nevertheless, post-communist Romania needs a “national hero” and finds one in Marshall Antonescu:

 

“It is the merit of Antonescu that he opposed the implementation of the Final Solution and the extermination of the Jewish population in Romania. Despite some excesses and the loss of Jewish life in territories occupied by the Horthy troops in North-West Transylvania, in Romania the Final Solution was not implemented, with the exception of the pogrom in Iasi (...) The Romanian Government accepted the emigration of Jews to Palestine, whilst Romania became a real junction for the getaway of Jews from Poland, Hungary and Slovakia”

 

( History, 12th Grade, Editura Didactica si Pedagogica, 1998)


The cancellation of deportations or the emigration of some of the Jewish survivors in Romania, though true historical facts, are not placed by credible historical sources under Antonescu’s goodwill. They are a result of a realistic political turnaround, as it became obvious towards the end of 1943, even for Hitler allies, that Nazi Germany was not going to win the war.

 

The Jewish Issue, Discussed Honourably


The introduction of alternative text books at the end of the 1990s did not solve the lack of honesty and historical accuracy in dealing with the Holocaust.

 

For instance, a text book released in 2000 by ALL publishing house included the Holocaust as a topic, inasmuch as it did not involve Romania – “Starting with 1933, in Germany, as well as the occupied countries, concentration camps were set up, where people guilty of not belonging to the superior race would be sent to (...) According to statistic data of the Holocaust, 90% of the Polish Jews, 50% of the Hungarian Jews, 75% of the Dutch Jews , 50% of the Belgium Jews, 25% of the French Jews and 20% of the Italian Jews were exterminated.“ The text said nothing at all about the Romanian Jews.

 

The same goes for another text book published by Sigma house in 1999, which introduced the concept of genocide without referring to the extermination of Jews in Romania.

 

The authors of the history text book published by RAO house in the same year chose to completely ignore the Holocaust. The only reference that could have lead the classroom to a discussion about the extermination of Jews in Romania was that to the Legion of Archangel Michael, described as an anti-Semitic movement.

 

The accent fell on the way in which Romania recovered its lost territories – Basarabia and Bucovina. The courage and military savvy of Romanian soldiers led by Ion Antonescu were lessons that the high school student was supposed to take away, after studying the events of World War II.

 

“The Jewish issue was aggravated by the illegal entry into Romania of approximately 250000 Jews (as a side effect of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia). During the authoritarian rule of Carol II, the social and political life de-tensioned. On February 4th 1940 Alexandru Safran was elected as head Rabi of the Jewish communities in Romania.”

 

(History Text Book, 12th Grade, RAO publishing house, 1999) 


A less touched up version was proposed by the 2000 Humanitas publishing house history text book for the 12th grade. Its only problem: confusing “thousands” for “hundreds of thousands”, when numbering the victims.

 

“The most important minority problem that the Antonescu regime had to face was the the Jewish issue. The political proximity to Germany in the summer of 1940 led to the aggravation of this issue (...) Measures against Jews prior to the attack on the Soviet Union were primarily of an economical nature. Exceptions were the acts committed by the Legionary Movement against particular individuals. The deportation of Jews began after the recovery of Basarabia and North Bucovina. According to estimations, nearly 100000 Jews were deported to Transnistria between 1941 and 1943.  Due to the appalling conditions and atrocities committed, thousands of people died. The Antonescu government systematically implemented an anti-Semitic policy. The purpose was to isolate, as much as possible, Romanian Jewish citizens from the country’s society, economy and culture.”

 

(The History of Romanians, 12th Grade, Humanitas publishing house, 2000)


In the end, though, to the authors of Humanitas’ text book, the fact that extermination followed after the first administrative steps is a mere detail. The conclusion is easily drawn: there was no Holocaust in Romania.

 

“But the Antonescu regime did not participate in the mass deportation of Jews, that Nazis organised as part of Hitler’s Final Solution. Although they were subject to repeated discriminations, confiscations, arrests, the essential is that, as a consequence of Antonescu’s decision, 291149 Jews stayed alive in Romania. No other Nazi dominated country can boast such a large number of Jewish survivors, as it was noticed by Dr Wilhelm Filderman in a 1946 edition of Bucharest’s The Morning Journal.”

(The History of Romanians, 12th Grade, Humanitas publishing house, 2000)



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