- The History of the Holocaust in Romania by Jean Ancel
The name Jean Ancel is synonymous with the study of the Holocaust in Romania. A Romanian-born Israeli independent historian and research associate of Yad [End Page 502] Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research, Ancel dedicated his professional life to the dimension and details of the Holocaust in Romania and territory Romania occupied during World War II, requiring, as Yoav Gelber’s introduction notes, “an immense psychological investment.” Those of us fortunate enough to have known Ancel were awed by his encyclopedic knowledge; readers of this volume will admire his ability to weave myriad details into a striking tapestry.
Romania’s Holocaust was sui generis: it was carried out by a sovereign German ally, and the deaths resulted primarily not from systematic murder, but from deportation and incarceration under inhuman conditions. Antonescu acted on his own—if in a context established by Nazi domination over Europe. In summer 1942, for instance, Antonescu decided against German requests to deport the remaining Jews of Romania—from the Banat, Southern Transylvania, Wallachia, and Moldavia—to German death camps.
For English-language readers, full access to the horrors of Antonescu’s treatment of the Jews and Gypsies first came in Radu Ioanid’s The Holocaust in Romania (2000), made possible by the vast documentation Ioanid’s team has brought to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum since 1993. Some of this material appeared in Ancel’s three-volume study of Transnistria, published in Romanian in 1998. Others, such as Randolph Braham, Paul Shapiro, and (in the present issue) Albert Kaganovitch have made incisive incursions into the fate of Jews from Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia. Writing his foundational 1957 study of Axis rule in Odessa (published in 1998), Alexander Dallin could only dream of the kind of archival access now possible.
Ancel completed Yad Vashem’s two-volume study in 2002, and was working on a revised English-language edition at the time of his death in 2008. The revision and updated bibliography were completed by the editors on the basis of correspondence between Ancel and the University of Nebraska Press. The result testifies to Ancel’s scholarship, the editorial dedication of Leon Volovici and Miriam Caloianu, and the linguistic sensitivity of translator Yaffah Murciano.
Importantly, Ancel’s work constitutes the mightiest riposte to Holocaust denialists, minimizers, and relativists in Romania. That their views still circulate reflects the distortion of history practiced under Communism and after, as epitomized in the announcement by Social Democratic Party spokesman and soon-to-be cabinet member Dan Sova that “no Jew suffered on Romanian territory” (Sova has recently apologized for that statement). Under Communist rule the past was manipulated to suit regime ends; Ion Antonescu was—for the early period at least—largely taboo. Historians adopted various strategies to address their country’s war record: justifying the occupation of Transnistria; contrasting Romanian to German occupation; inflating the Communist Party’s role in King Michael’s anti-fascist coup of August 23, 1944; emphasizing Romania’s contribution to the war against Germany after that; or casting Romania as a victim of Germany, which imposed its political and military will on the country. The same approaches have been employed since 1989. [End Page 503]
What Ancel and others have demonstrated is that hundreds of thousands of Jews met their death at the hands of Romanians and Germans in Romania and Transnistria. It is generally accepted that the Romanian and German soldiers shot 12,000 to 20,000 Jews in Bessarabia and Bukovina during July and August 1941. Romanian forces themselves put to death an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 in Odessa that October. But disagreements remain over the total number of Jews (including Ukrainian) who perished at the hands of the Antonescu regime. Dinu C. Giurescu counts at least 108,710 Romanian Jews dead in Transnistria, but this excludes the Ukrainian Jews as well as those killed on the spot in Bessarabia...