Romania, 1938, 264 000 Jewish Men, Women and Children are murdered

The Jerusalem Post's feature "This day in history" reports on September 6, 1938, when a rabid anti-Semite took power in Romania:

Jewish women under the guard of Romanian soldiers. Kishenev, summer of 1941.
King Carol of Romania resigned, leaving the way for Ion Antonescu, the former minister of Defense, to take power.

Now a National Socialist state with the Iron Guard, its police force began anti - Jewish programs.

Many Romanian guards joined the SS taking part in the mass killings of Jews. In Romania 264,000 Jewish Men, Women and Children (43% of the Jewish population) were murdered.

This story particularly touched me, since my family on my father's side is from Romania. In fact, my grandparents lived in Iasi, and my great-grandfather, Emmanuel Marcovici, was a bank owner. Part of my family managed to survive the Holocaust, but they all left in 1947, after the USSR invaded the country. My grandfather was deported to Siberia and only came back 11 years later, but my grandmother, her parents and my Dad (who was 3) were able to escape and go to Italy, and eventually France.

My parents tell me the house that belonged to my great-grandfather became the embassy of the USSR in Romania - unfortunately they lost everything they had after WWII and the Russian invasion.

Jews that did not live in Israel have been the subject of random luck: if the leader of a country such as Romania hated Jews, there was very little they could do. Long live the State of Israel!

I copy below an article that gives more information on the Romanian Holocaust.

The Romanian Holocaust

Introduction to the Romania Holocaust

The tragedy of the Romanian Jewry remains one of the most neglected chapters in the history of the Holocaust. This web page will examine the suffering Romanian Jews faced during WWII to illuminate the reasons for the tragedies that individuals went through, many not surviving. The main reason used by Romanian officials when killing Jews was the belief that they would ally with the Soviet Union and become spies. Thus not only did communists have to be killed, but Jews as well. However, oppression and killing also took place for the same beliefs held by Hitler. Jews were seen as inferior creatures that polluted society, however the latter reason played a more minor role. In the Old Romania, in the territory without the lost provinces, Jews were hardly affected by the war. However, the story is quite different East of the Prut River. No country, with the exception of Germany, was involved in massacres of Jews on such a large scale. (The Destruction of the European Jews, pg. 759).

“There were also instances when the Germans actually had to step in to restrain and slow down the pace of the Romanian measures. At such times the Romanians were moving too fast for the German bureaucracy.” (The Destruction of the European Jews, pg. 759)

Methods used to wipe out large number of Jews did not include gas camps or other methods use in Nazi Germany, but more primitive practices such as suffocation, starvation, and hanging. This web page will examine first the racist policies before the Holocaust started, to see how Jews were treated before the start of WWII. Then it will focus on the mass killings that took place in Iasi, Bessarabia, Bukovina and Transnistria to show why and how Jews were killed and who is to blame.

Anti-Semitism before the Holocaust

In 1939, Romania had the third largest Jewish population, after the Soviet Union and Poland. Romania had a history of anti- Semitism that was based in the Christian movement. The summer of 1940 marked the decisive turning point for fascism in Romania under Carol II. On June 21, as a preventive measure to save his throne, he announced the Party of the Nation, thus ending political pluralism. Within the one party system, the Iron Guard occupied an important role. (The Sword of the Archangel, chapter 6)

However, the same year Carol II was forced to resign. The government, headed by Ion Gigurtu, introduced draconian anti-Jewish legislature, which was openly inspired by the Nazi Nuremberg Laws. Antonescu, which followed Gigurtu as leader of the nation, created the Legionare state in coalition with the Iron Guard. They expanded on the laws passed by Gigurtu. During 1941 and 1942, thirty-two laws, thirty-one decree-laws, and seventeen government resolutions, all sharply anti-Semitic, were published in the Official Gazette (Monitorul Oficial). Among other things, these laws forbade Jews:

-access to higher education
-the right to hold pubic office
-the possession of radios
-the right to practice legal or artistic professions

Many professional organizations excluded Jews from membership. They included:

-the Bucharest Bar
-the Romanian Opera
-the Society of Romanian Writers
-the General Assembly of Dentists
(From The Tragedy of Romanian Jewry, pg. 119)

Many Jews felt threatened by the increase of anti-Semitism and the Antonescu regime. In the fall of 1940, thousand left for ships for Palestine. Unfortunately, many ships sank, killing hundreds. (The Destruction of European Jews, pg. 762)

Why Jews were Considered a Threat to Romania

During the summer of 1940, Romania was forced to give up Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to the USSR, Northern Transylvania to Hungary, and Southern Dobrudja to Bulgaria. This huge loss of territory was a determining factor in Romania’s alliance to the Axis Powers. The Interior Ministry ordered the removal of Jews from frontier areas as a precautionary measure against “sabotage and espionage”. Many individuals were transported in inhumane conditions from frontier districts to the interior of the country. (The Destruction of the European Jews, pg. 763) Jews were also considered “madmen” that caused syphilis, prostitution, divorce, etc. It was suggested that they should be sterilized in the name of science. For these two reasons, especially for protection during wartime, Antonescu felt Jews must be put in labor camps, ghettos, and in the worst case killed.

The Iasi Program

Iasi, before WWII, consisted of a hundred thousand individuals, half of which were Jews. The Iasi program is the most infamous in the history of the Romanian Holocaust. On June 25, 1941 (three days after the outbreak of the war) rumors circulated that Soviet parachutists landed near the city of Iasi. The army ordered a search of all Jewish homes. Many believed that Jews in Iasi were “enemy allies” of the USSR, “Bolshevik agents, and “parasites on the Romanian nation." (The Holocaust in Romania, pg. 63).

Reports circulated that Jews were firing upon the soldiers, and thus the massacre stared. It is hard to establish how many were killed, but estimates are around nine hundred people. Most were shot inside the police station courtyard (around five hundred) or the movie house. Most victims were buried in mass graves dug up a few days before by some of the same Jews. Many more died on trains that carried Jews to the interior of the country because of suffocation and starvation. They had to leave regions between the Siret and the Prut River and go to the camps established at Tirgu Jiu. It is estimated that more than one thousand Jews died on these trains, suffocating to death. (Burning Ice, pg. 50) This would ensure that they were not as close to the frontier, and also that they could be more closely supervised.

Bessarabia and Bukovina

Bessarabia and Bukovina were also territories that were homes to large Jewish populations. There were 206,958 Jews living in Bessarabia and 69,144 in Bukovina. These two regions were recovered from Russia in 1941. Under Soviet Rule, which lasted from June of 1940 to June of 1941, Jews were largely forbidden to practice their religion and customs. Interrogations and deportations occurred at night, with over 4,000 deported. These, at first, included Zionist and other local leader, but then Jews of all social classes were being deported. However, with Romania’s reposition of the territory, Jews were made to suffer a much worse fate.

The year between June 1941 and June 1942 was the cruelest for the Jews living in Bessarabia and Bukovina. Jews were once again moved from small country town to large urban centers that became Jewish ghettos. The Romanians, with the aid of the Germans, occupied the territories. German mobile killing units drawn from the S.S. were commanded by Otto Ohlendorf. (Burning Ice, pg. 50). Ion Antonescu declared about the Jews in Bessarabia and Bukovina:

“I am in favor of expelling the Jews from Bessarabia and Bukovina on the other side of the border... There is nothing for them to do here and I don’t mind if we appear in history as barbarians… There has never been a more suitable time in our history to get rid of the Jews, and if necessary, you are to activate machine guns against them.” (Burning Ice, pg. 51).


More than 800,000 Jews were killed in Transnistria during WWII (Burning Ice, pg. 151). In Transnistria about 200 different labor and concentration camps were set up for Jews, throughout the 118 counties in the area.

About a third of the Jews at these camps died of malnutrition, and the remaining ones were killed. Jews in these camps were killed without warning and in the most brutal matter.

On October 16, 1942 one hundred and fifty young women were told that they would travel to go work in German hospitals. They were brought to the forest, where they were killed and raped. Similar actions followed. The Antonescu regime, together with German troops, continued to torture Jews in Transnistria until August of 1944, even after the Soviet attach on the Romanian and German troops.

Many others died in an effort to move Jews to regions further west, such as Bassarabia, Bukovina, and even Tirgu Jiu.


It is important to mention that Jews were not the only minorities targeted by Romanians. Gypsies were also affected by the Holocaust, with twenty six thousand deported, around seven thousand massacred, and three thousand starved to death. (The Sword of the Archangel, chapter 6) They were not viewed as enemies of Romania, but inferior creatures that had to be killed in order to keep the Romanian race pure.

However, the Romanian Jews were most affected during WWII, with the second largest number, after Germany, killed and tortured.

The Antonescu regime feared that the Jews would ally with the Russians and fight against the Romania. Even before WWII, laws were passed to ensure that Jews were not treated as equal citizens, with the belief that they were inferior creatures that caused diseases and disaster.

Therefore the Antonescu regime, with the Iron Guard in the few months that they were in power, felt justified in killing a large number of Jews during the Holocaust. However, few Romanians are aware of this part in its history. The genocide that occurred in Romania has to be brought to light not only the international arena, but in Romania as well.

With the return to democracy in Romania, individuals need to take responsibility and speak honestly about the past. Only through an accurate examination of its history will Romania learn from the past and ensure that the tragedies that took place during WWII do not occur again.

1) Braham, Randolph. Romanian Nationalists and the Holocaust. New York: Colombia University Press, 1998.
2) Braham, Randolph. The Tragedy of Romanian Jewry. New York: Colombia University Press, 1994.
3) Hilberg, Raul. The Destruction of the European Jews. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1985.
4) Ioanid, Radu. The Holocaust in Romania. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000.
5) Ioanid, Radu. The Sword of the Archangel. New York: Colombia University Press, 1990.
6) Shachan, Avigdor. Burning Ice. New York: Colombia University Press, 1996.

Note: All pictures and captions are from Radu Ioanid’s The Holocaust in Romania.

The photographs on this page have been reproduced here for educational purposes only and no copyright infringement is intended.

Posted by David Melle
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my ancestry is also of the Marcovici grandfather and grandmother, on both sides, escaped from Romania...My grandmother's maiden name was Bloom and my grandfather's name was Markovitz/Markowitz/ husband and I are going to visit in October. Do you know of a trustworthy, Jewish tour guide that could take me to some of the cemetaries?
Thank you,
Cyndy Jordan

Posted by: Cynthia K. Jordan at September 21, 2003 10:10 PM

My name is altough MARCOVICH and i'm loocking for my grandfather's mass grave in iasi romania.If anybody have some information about where is the mass grave in iasi please send me to my E-mail' thanks!!!

Posted by: Reuven Marcovich at August 28, 2006 12:58 AM

I am looking for information on the Nichtburg family that lived in Homorod before the war. I would like to find out to which ghetto they were deported and when. I would appreciate any information I can get.
My mother's name is Miriam. Thank you.

Posted by: Bella Weil at July 3, 2008 10:39 AM

Thousands were imprisoned and deported to concentration camps in Transnistria, but not to NAZI death camps. This Antonescu never authorized. Tens of thousands were killed in Iron Guard pogroms, death sentences, and summary executions. The persecution in Romania, however, was not as systematic as in the NAZI controlled areas and this many managed to survive. Romania unlike many other countries even sheltered foreign Jews. Some Jewishg refugees from Poland and Czechoslovakia managed to reach Romania. Antonescu also refused to turn them over to the Germans.

Posted by: at August 30, 2008 05:57 PM

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