- An Important New Document on the Romanian Policy of Ethnic Cleansing during World War II
A newly discovered plan approved by Romanian dictator Ion Antonescu in December 1942 anticipated massive population transfers on Romanian territory. The following reconstructs its context to show how it and other recently discovered plans related to the Antonescu regime's calculations on the outcome of World War II and priorities for postwar arrangements. The article argues that the existence of such population transfer proposals necessitates a substantive reinterpretation of the sources and dynamics of the Holocaust in Romania.
The recent opening of the Romanian archives alerted students of the country's wartime history to several previously unfamiliar dimensions of its government's policies. One of the most important revelations is that the Romanian government of General (after August 21, 1941, Marshal) Ion Antonescu envisioned the complete "purification" of the country of all ethnic minorities. Not only was that idea frequently discussed in the Council of Ministers and other bodies, but concrete plans were developed in various official agencies during the period 1941–1943; after debate at different levels—up to that of the national government—specific variants were approved or rejected. Viorel Achim has recently discovered, published, and interpreted two such plans, one from 1941 and another from 1943.1 In the summer of 2005, while working in the archival collections of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, I discovered a third, presented in December 1942 by State Undersecretary of Romanianization, Colonization, and Inventory Titus Dragoş. This document sheds new light on the dynamics of Romanian war aims in general, and, specifically, on the policy of "ethnic cleansing" (purificarea etnicǎ).
Ethnic cleansing was a vital goal for Ion Antonescu, his government, and even wider circles of the Romanian elite in the early 1940s. For reasons that will become apparent, practical policy was more moderate than the radical vision. The development of plans commenced during the "euphoria of victory" in the summer [End Page 268] of 1941. At this time the Romanian dictator took the momentous decision to start the "cleansing" of the territories re-annexed from the Soviet Union during the first months of the Axis invasion. "Cleansing" Bessarabia and Bukovina of Jews in the summer and fall of 1941 was conceived as a first step toward the total "purification" of all Romania. The following discussion of the population transfer plans will explain why the dictator approved only one of them while rejecting the others. The wider implications of this analysis will be addressed in the conclusion.
"The National Ideal"
A wide consensus prevailed among Romanian governing circles during World War II on the vital necessity of attaining "ethnic homogeneity" in the country. This idea was inextricably linked to the traditional definition of the Romanian nation as a community based on a common origin, from which all non-ethnic Romanians were excluded. In "Old Romania" as it existed between 1859 (the formation of Romania from the Danubian principalities of Moldova and Walachia) and 1918 (post– World War I settlement), this idea presented no serious political problems because the proportion of minorities in the population was modest, about 8 percent. With the doubling of Romanian territory and population after World War I, however, the situation changed drastically. Not only did the share of minorities rise dramatically, reaching over 28 per cent by 1930, but, as Irina Livezeanu has aptly observed, these minorities were typically "more urban, more schooled, and more modern than the Romanians." Moreover, with ratification of the constitution of 1923, they enjoyed voting rights. The Jews were the most visible minority in both pre- and postwar Romania, but Romanian elites now saw all minorities as "alien grafts" and suspected their loyalty to the state.2
From 1923 until the late 1930s, Romanian governments more or less consistently pursued compulsory ethnic assimilation combined with discrimination in the public sphere against non-ethnic Romanians. However, while minorities were subject to various forms of discrimination, occasional state violence against them was not systematic and "ethnic purification" was not considered an option. One major reason for this relative moderation was the international obligations assumed by Bucharest at the Paris Peace Conference...