Introduction to Rescue in Romania


In 1930, there were 756,930 Jews living in Romania.  This was the third largest Jewish community in Europe.  Most Jews lived in the Jewish centers around Bessarabia, Moldavia, Walachia, Crishana-Maramuresh, Bucovina, and Transylvania.  Three hundred thousand Jews lived in Bessarabia and Bucovina, 150,000 in Northern Transylvania.

Romania did not have a long history of national antisemitism, as had Germany, Poland and Russia.  Romania, in fact, had been a refuge from antisemitic pogroms in Central and Eastern Europe.

Antisemitic legislation against Jews was proposed in the 1930s, largely due to the worldwide depression.

In August 1940, 150,000 Jews in Transylvania came under the rule of Hungary.  One hundred thirty-five thousand Jews were murdered in the spring of 1944, mostly in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

Jews made up approximately 4% of the Romanian population.  Two thirds lived in the urban centers.

A substantial number of Romanian Jews were in the middle class, participating in manufacturing, the trades, and commerce.

In 1938, a large number of Romanian Jews had their citizenship revoked.  In addition, they were subject to economic deprivation and widespread acts of antisemitism.  The umbrella organization of Jewish groups in Romania was the Federation of the Unions of Jewish Communities. 

In June 1940, Romania was forced to cede northern Bucovina and Bessarabia to the Soviet Union. 

In August 1940, Romania enacted an anti-Jewish law that began to expel Jews from economic and cultural life.  On September 6, 1940, the fascist Iron Guard Party came to power, led by dictator and general Ion Antonescu.  In October 1940, Jewish property was appropriated by the Romanian government.  Jews were subject to forced labor and military service without compensation.  In January 1941, 170 Jews were murdered in a pogrom.

After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Romanian army was authorized to murder Jews. 

In June 1941, Romania entered the war on the side of Germany.  With the military offensive against the Soviet Union, Germany recaptured northern Bucovina and Bessarabia.  More than 280,000 Jews who lived there were either murdered or deported.  German Einsatzgruppe (murder squads) and Romanian units killed tens of thousands of Jews.  Under the orders of Marshal Ion Antonescu, the remaining survivors were deported to Transnistria, an area in the southern Ukraine.  Thousands were killed in Odessa, or died of exhaustion or hunger.  The Jewish population of Bessarabia and northern Bucovina was virtually annihilated.

At the same time, Romanian troops in Iasi began deporting and murdering Jews.  About 8,000 Jews died in this pogrom.  An additional 12,000 were killed in Czernowitz (Cernauti) and Storojinetz.

In mid-November 1941, more than 120,000 Bessarabian Jews were deported to Transnistria.  By late 1942, 200,000 Jews had been shipped there.  By September 1943, only 50,000 Romanian Jews had survived in Transnistria.  On December 16, 1941, the Romanian government closed the Federation of Unions of Jewish Communities and set up a Jewish Council.

In the summer of 1942, SS officer Gustav Richter planned a deportation of the surviving Romanian Jews to Lublin, Poland.  The Romanian government reversed its earlier position and refused to cooperate in the deportation. 

International Committee of the Red Cross delegates Charles Kolb and Vladimir de Steiger, the Papal Nuncio to Romania, Monsignor Andrea Cassulo, and Swiss Minister to Romania Rene de Weck, all were active in pressuring Romanian leaders to halt proposed deportations.  These courageous diplomats pursued major avenues to stop the deportations and provide relief to the Jewish community.

Dr. Wilhelm Fildermann, a Jewish community leader, and Alexander Safran, the Chief Rabbi of Romania, along with other Jewish leaders were instrumental in reversing the decision.  Safran, Filderman and the diplomats asked King Mihai and his mother, Queen Ellen, to intercede with Romanian officials on behalf of the beleaguered Jewish community.  By the end of 1942, Romanian leader Antonescu announced that he would allow Jews to ransom themselves and emigrate to Palestine.  This plan failed to materialize, but Jewish organizations were able to provide significant relief and aid to the survivors in Transnistria.  In December 1943, Jews began to return from Transnistria to Romania. 

Under pressure from the Allies and local communities, and seeing how the war was going badly for Germany, Romanian officials stopped the deportations.

No country except Germany has been as directly involved in the murder of its Jews as had been Romania.  Yet, more than half of the Jewish community in Romania did survive—375,000 in all.  The community that did survive was due to the influence of the courageous diplomats, Jewish community leaders and others.

At the time of the Russian liberation of Romania in April 1944, only 50,000 Bessarabian and Bucovinian Jews survived.  In all, 300,000 Jews survived in Romania.


Updated October 29, 2017