After the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and the subsequent opening of the Romanian archives, a new generation of historians working in the field of Holocaust studies emerged, challenging Romania’s previous Communist-imposed silence on the subject. Utilizing new archival materials and building on previous scholarship, these historians opened the door for discussing the participation of the Romanian state and its citizens in persecuting, robbing, deporting, and killing their Jewish and Roma neighbors. Among these new voices is the Moldovan historian Diana Dumitru. Her new book constitutes a significant attempt to clarify the contested and often [End Page 113] blurry understanding of Romanian/Moldovan participation in the genocide of the Jews in Bessarabia and Transnistria during World War II.
Using a wide array of archival sources from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem, the State Archive of Odessa Region, and Romanian and Russian document collections, and drawing on an array of Holocaust survivor testimonies, this book paints a detailed picture of inter-actions between Jews and Gentiles in the two regions. Employing various qualitative and quantitative methods stemming from political science and psychology, the theoretical underpinnings of the book show a brilliant historian following in the footsteps of major scholars of Holocaust and Soviet studies, engaging with yet critically challenging their assumptions.
The introduction offers the reader a comprehensive account of the author’s aim, methodology, and conceptual framework. By comparing how local Moldovans in Bessarabia and Ukrainians and others in Transnistria treated their Jewish neighbors, Dumitru intends to “underlin[e] the role and the responsibility of pre-WWII state policies in fostering either animosity or goodwill among various population groups” (p. 1). According to Dumitru’s analysis of the archival material, the Romanian/Moldovan inhabitants showed a stronger disposition for robbing, raping, and killing their Jewish neighbors than did their Ukrainian counterparts in Transnistria. Dumitru attributes this to the Romanian state’s ultranationalist antisemitic propaganda (p. 10) and to the violent activism of various fascist movements in interwar Romania.
The book is organized into six chapters, each with its own conceptual framework. The first, entitled “Experiencing the Russian Empire: Jews between Integration and Exclusion,” follows the fortunes of Russian Jewry under the Tsar, establishing both Transnistria and Bessarabia’s nineteenth-century and pre-revolutionary contexts. The following two chapters discuss the divergent fates of Jews in the newly emerging states of Romania and the Soviet Union. Chapter two, “Antisemitism Reframed: Bessarabia within the Romanian State,” demonstrates how after 1918, in its newly acquired province of Bessarabia, the Romanian state patronized antisemitism, propagating it at the grassroots level. Antisemitic electoral propaganda from fascist movements such as the National Christian Party (Partidul Naţional-Cresţin) and the Iron Guard (Garda de Fier) drew encouragement from and encouraged the state’s antisemitism. By insisting on a Judaic, anti-Christian nature of “Bolshevism” and promising the distribution of Bessarabian Jewish wealth to the Moldovan peasantry, the most outspoken movements brought antisemitism “to the forefront of political and social affairs” (p. 70). Nevertheless, there were significant differences in the attitudes of urban and rural segments of the population towards the Bessarabian Jews, with the peasantry more receptive to the heated antisemitic rhetoric of right-wing rabble-rousers.
The third chapter, “Committed to Change: Fighting Antisemitism and Integrating Jews in Soviet Transnistria,” surveys the Soviet regime’s attempts to wipe out religious and class boundaries between its Slavic and Jewish citizens in the 1920s and 1930s. By making reference to the latest literature in the field of Sovietology and Jewish studies, Dumitru paints a comprehensive picture of the various stages of Jewish integration in Soviet society: awarding equal rights to Jews, suppressing public displays of antisemitism, and emphasizing the constructive economic role of the Jewish population. Relying on an extensive collection of interviews with Transnistrian Jews, Dumitru reaches a pivotal conclusion: “Jews lived in a friendly environment, without ethnic conflict, especially in schools” (p...