Robert Levy, Jean Ancel, Transnistria, 1941–1942: The Romanian Mass Murder Campaigns, Romania, Romanian Jews, Transnistria, 1940s Romania, Antonescu Regime, Genocide, the Holocaust
In this outstanding three-volume collection of documents and analysis of Romania’s treatment of Jews in Transnistria in 1941 and 1942, Jean Ancel offers ample proof ‘that will enable students, historians, and Romanian scholars to grasp the essential truth that the Antonescu regime committed genocide’ during World War II (p. 16). That truth, ironically enough, is still debated among Romanians, whose government acknowledged Romania’s involvement in the Holocaust for the first time only in October 2004.1 Until then, both Communist and post-Communist regimes largely ignored the overwhelming evidence of Romania’s extermination of Jews within the Soviet territories it had occupied during the war. Instead, they focused on the fate of Jews in northern Transylvania, deported by the Hungarians to Auschwitz in 1944—as opposed to those under Romanian control in southern Transylvania, who survived the war thanks to Romanian dictator Ion Antonescu’s rescinding his plans in the fall of 1942 to deport the Jews of the ‘Old Kingdom’ of Romania (Wallachia, Moldavia, and southern Transylvania) to Nazi death camps. Antonescu’s mixed and contradictory legacy has enabled Romanians to deny any complicity whatsoever in Hitler’s Holocaust.
What Ancel provides is confirmation from Romania’s own archives (made available in 1994–95) of a reality long documented in other sources (Nazi documents, survivor testimonies, war crimes trial transcripts): that Romania not only participated in but independently implemented its own autonomous genocide of Jews in Bessarabia, Bukovina, and Ukraine—the only Nazi ally to do so during the war. The first stage of this genocide took place when gendarmerie units attached to the Romanian army ‘carried out a secret order to ‘cleanse the ground’ (i.e., to kill all Jews in rural areas) in Bessarabia and Bukovina’ in the summer of 1941 (p. 39). Ancel [End Page 424] estimates the death toll from this massacre to have been ‘at least 100,000’ Jews (pp. 531–32).
Henceforth, Romania’s mass murder campaign took place in Transnistria, a part of Ukraine that Hitler placed under Romania’s exclusive control as a reward for its considerable contribution to the Nazi war effort. (After Germany, Romania furnished the largest army for the blitzkrieg against the USSR.) Comprising land between the Dneister River on the west and the Bug River on the east, Transnistria had three million residents at the start of the war, of whom roughly 311,000 were Jews. Its largest city was Odessa, the cosmopolitan center of the Russian Haskalah, with Jews composing 30 percent of its population (pp. 17–19). It is not known exactly how many of them failed to evacuate with the Soviets: Raul Hilberg estimates more than half; Radu Ioanid suggests ‘perhaps a third.’2
The extermination of Jews in Transnistria was first carried out by the Nazis’ Einsatzgruppe D, with the collaboration of the Romanian army: ‘tens of thousands . . . perhaps even more than 100,000’ Transnistrian Jews were annihilated soon after the attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. On August 30, the Germans removed Einsatzgruppe D from the region and allowed Romania sole responsibility for dealing with the Jews there (pp. 32, 49–50). Immediately afterward, Romania set in motion a plan to rid itself of Bessarabian, Bukovinian, and Transnistrian Jewry: on September 30, 1941, Antonescu ordered Transnistria’s Jews imprisoned in camps along the Bug River (p. 87); on October 6, he ordered 110,000 Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jews deported to two forests in the same area (p. 518). The Romanians’ intent was to drive these Jews eastward across the Bug into the waiting hands of the Nazis (pp. 56, 88).
What commenced, then, was the shocking spectacle of hordes of terrorized Jews forcibly crossing Transnistria, mostly without food and water, in a myriad of hounded convoys. Each group was to be composed...