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  • The Romanian Orthodox Church and the Holocaust by Ion Popa
  • Lucian N. Leustean
Ion Popa, The Romanian Orthodox Church and the Holocaust. (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2017. 238 pp. (hardback, $50); ISBN: 978-0-253-02989-8.

On 25 June 2018, the Romanian parliament passed new legislation condemning the public use of anti-Semitic symbols and membership of organizations established on anti-Semitic platforms. At first sight, the law is comparable to similar legislation in most other European countries. The parliament stated, "It is important to note that in 2018, 80 years have passed since the introduction of racial and anti-Semitic laws in Romania that were the catalyst for the Holocaust on Romanian territory." However, the 2018 law also indicated that, two decades after the fall of communism, the role played by the government and social actors in the Holocaust remains contentious. Only a few years earlier, a senator and Minister for Parliamentary Relations declared that "no Jews suffered" in Romania and that "only 24 Jews were killed during the Iaşi pogrom by the German army." In reality, around thirteen thousand Jews were killed during the 1941 Iaşi pogrom, and most Jewish communities in northern and eastern Romania were completely annihilated, whether on Romanian territory or through deportation to German-controlled regions. Official figures offer an insight into population changes. In the interwar period, Romania had around seven hundred fifty-thousand Jews; however, by the end of the Second World War the number had declined to around four hundred thousand, most of whom would emigrate to Israel during the communist period. By 2006, only nine thousand Jews were recorded as living in the country.

Ion Popa's book makes a welcome contribution to the debate on the Holocaust in Romania by focusing on the largest religious confession, the Romanian Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church was recognized as "a predominant church" in the 1923 Constitution and has played a major role in establishing the national identity of Romanians.

The book starts with the key date in the institutionalization of Jewish persecution, namely the appointment of Patriarch Miron Cristea, the first patriarch of Greater Romania, to the position of prime minister from February 1938 until his death in March 1939. Cristea's appointment marked the beginning of King Carol II's dictatorship, which, on 11 February 1938, saw the parliament, the constitution, and all political parties dissolved. The patriarch's appointment came at a time of increasing political power of the Iron Guard, Romania's far-right movement that appealed to large segments of the population. Support of the Iron Guard among the masses was already evident in the previous year, when, in parliamentary elections, 33 out of 103 candidates were Orthodox clergy. Cristea's leadership remains controversial not only due to the conflation of religion and politics in his dual roles but, most important, due to his government's decision to strip Romanian citizenship from the Jewish population. In public speeches, the patriarch defended the decision by portraying the Jewish people as "foreigners" and "parasites" who "invaded" the country (32). Throughout the country anti-Semitic articles were regularly published in the church journals, while the British ambassador to Bucharest wrote about his surprise at Cristea's "mania" against the Jews (33).

The government's decision to remove citizenship had a complex background. The first constitution of the principalities of Moldova and Wallachia in 1859—the precursor to the modern Romanian state—declared that "Romanian citizenship may be acquired [End Page 227] by Christians only." In the late nineteenth century and the interwar period, the Orthodox Church constantly perceived the Jews as foreigners who did not fit their concept of "Romanianness" and the building of a national state. Joining the military forces, mixed marriages, or converting to the Orthodox faith did not automatically lead to citizenship. In 1918, only two thousand Jews out of a population of three hundred thousand were able to acquire Romanian citizenship. Popa comments on the inflexibility of the Church leadership by providing a number of cases discussed by the Holy Synod regarding the racial law of 8 August 1940 that excluded Jewish people from public jobs. The synod decided that even...