History of the Jews in Romania

Romanian Jews - יהודים רומנים - Evrei români
Total population
Romanian, Hebrew, Yiddish
Judaism (including Jewish Christianity) and other religions and belief systems (including Atheism)
Related ethnic groups
Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, Moldovan Jews, Bessarabian Jews, Hungarian Jews

The history of the Jews in Romania concerns the Jews both of Romania and of Romanian origins, from their first mention on what is present-day Romanian territory. Minimal until the 18th century, the size of the Jewish population increased after around 1850, and more especially after the establishment of Greater Romania in the aftermath of World War I. A diverse community, albeit an overwhelmingly urban one, Jews were a target of religious persecution and racism in Romanian society – from the late-19th century debate over the "Jewish Question" and the Jewish residents' right to citizenship, to the genocide carried out in the lands of Romania as part of the Holocaust. The latter, coupled with successive waves of aliyah, has accounted for a dramatic decrease in the overall size of Romania's present-day Jewish community.

Today, the majority of Romanian Jews live in Israel, while modern-day Romania continues to host a modest Jewish population. In the 2011 census, 3,271 declared to be Jewish.

Jewish communities existed in Romanian territory in the 2nd century AD. During the reign of Peter the Lame (1574–1579) the Jews of Moldavia, mainly traders from Poland who were competing with locals, were taxed and ultimately expelled.[1] The authorities decided in 1650 and 1741 required Jews to wear clothing evidencing their status and ethnicity.[2] The first blood accusation in Moldavia (and, as such, in Romania) was made in 1710, when the Jews of Târgu Neamț were charged with having killed a Christian child for ritual purposes.[3] An anti-Jewish riot occurred in Bucharest in the 1760s.[4] During the Russo-Turkish War, 1768-1774 the Jews in the Danubian Principalities had to endure great hardships. Massacres and pillages were perpetrated in almost every town and village in the country. During the Greek War of Independence, which signalled the Wallachian uprising of 1821, Jews were victims of pogroms and persecutions. In the 1860s, there was another riot motivated by blood libel accusations.[5]

Antisemitism was officially enforced under the premierships of Ion Brătianu. During his first years in office (1875) Brătianu reinforced and applied old discrimination laws, insisting that Jews were not allowed to settle in the countryside (and relocating those that had done so), while declaring many Jewish urban inhabitants to be vagrants and expelling them from the country. The emigration of Romanian Jews on a larger scale commenced soon after 1878. By 1900 there were 250,000 Romanian Jews: 3.3% of the population, 14.6% of the city dwellers, 32% of the Moldavian urban population and 42% of Iași.[6]

Between the establishment of the National Legionary State and 1942, 80 anti-Jewish regulations were passed. Starting at the end of October, 1940, the Iron Guard began a massive antisemitic campaign, torturing and beating Jews and looting their shops (see Dorohoi Pogrom), culminating in the failed coup and a pogrom in Bucharest, in which 125 Jews were killed.[7] Antonescu eventually stopped the violence and chaos created by the Iron Guard by brutally suppressing the rebellion, but continued the policy of oppression and massacre of Jews, and, to a lesser extent, of Roma. After Romania entered the war at the start of Operation Barbarossa atrocities against the Jews became common, starting with the Iași pogrom. According to the Wiesel Commission report released by the Romanian government in 2004, Romania murdered in various forms, between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews in Romania and in the war zone of Bessarabia, Bukovina and in the Transnistria Governorate.[8][9]

Early history

The beginnings of Hebrew presence were placed by earlier historiography before the conquest of Dacia by Trajan, but this view was revised by current research, because it is not confirmed by archaeological evidence. The existence of Jews before the Roman conquest of Dacia is not supported by current historiography. Decebal calling Jews after the destruction of the Second Temple has been proved as to be only a legend. Some historians of the nineteenth century theories about the supposedly Hebrew etymology of place names as Tălmaciu, Beclean and Aiud or Hebrew contributions to the development of mining in Transylvania were also refuted. [^ a b c d en Gyémánt Ladislau: „The Romanian Jewry - Historical Destiny, Tolerance, Integration, Marginalisation”, în JSRI (Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies), No.3 /Winter 2002, pp. 85-98.]

The existence of the Crimean Karaites, an ethnic group adherent of Karaite Judaism, suggests that there was a steady Jewish presence around the Black Sea, including in parts of today's Romania, in the trading ports from the mouths of the Danube and the Dniester (see Cumania); they may have been present in some Moldavian fairs by the 16th century or earlier.[10] The earliest Jewish (most likely Sephardi) presence in what would become Moldavia was recorded in Cetatea Albă (1330); in Wallachia, they were first attested in the 1550s, living in Bucharest.[11] During the second half of the 14th century, the future territory of Romania became an important place of refuge for Jews expelled from the Kingdom of Hungary and Poland by King Louis I. In Transylvania, Hungarian Jews were recorded in Saxon citadels around 1492.[12]

Prince Roman I (1391-1394?) exempted the Jews from military service, in exchange for a tax of 3 löwenthaler per person. Also in Moldavia, Stephen the Great (1457–1504) treated Jews with consideration. Isaac ben Benjamin Shor of Iași (Isak Bey, originally employed by Uzun Hassan) was appointed stolnic, being subsequently advanced to the rank of logofăt; he continued to hold this office under Bogdan the Blind (1504–1517), the son and successor of Stephen.

At this time both Danubian Principalities came under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, and a number of Sephardim living in Istanbul migrated to Wallachia, while Jews from Poland and the Holy Roman Empire settled in Moldavia. Although they took an important part in Ottoman government and formed a large part of a community of foreign creditors and traders,[10] Jews were harassed by the hospodars of the two Principalities. Moldavia's Prince Ștefăniță (1522) deprived the Jewish merchants of almost all the rights given to them by his two predecessors; Petru Rareș confiscated Jewish wealth in 1541, after alleging that Jews in the cattle trade had engaged in tax evasion.[10] Alexandru Lăpușneanu (first rule: 1552-61) persecuted the community alongside other social categories, until he was dethroned by Jacob Heraclides, a Greek Lutheran, who was lenient to his Jewish subjects; Lăpușneanu did not renew his persecutions after his return on the throne in 1564. The role of Ottoman and local Jews in financing various princes increased as Ottoman economic demands were mounting after 1550 (in the 1570s, the influential Jewish Duke of the Archipelago, Joseph Nasi, backed both Heraclides and Lăpușneanu to the throne); several violent incidents throughout the period were instigated by princes unable to repay their debts.[13]

During the first short reign of Peter the Lame (1574–1579) the Jews of Moldavia, mainly traders from Poland who were competing with locals, were taxed and ultimately expelled.[1] In 1582, he succeeded in regaining his rule over the country with the help of the Jewish physician Benveniste, who was a friend of the influential Solomon Ashkenazi;[1] the latter then exerted his influence with the Prince in favor of his coreligionists.

In Wallachia, Prince Alexandru II Mircea (1567–1577) engaged as his private secretary and counselor Isaiah ben Joseph, who used his influence on behalf of the Jews. In 1573 Isaiah was dismissed, owing to court intrigues, but he was not harmed any further, and subsequently left for Moldavia (where he entered the service of Muscovy's Grand Prince Ivan the Terrible). Through the efforts of Solomon Ashkenazi, Aron Tiranul was placed on the throne of Moldavia; nevertheless, the new ruler persecuted and executed nineteen Jewish creditors in Iași, who were decapitated without process of law.[1] At around the same time, in Wallachia, the violent repression of creditors peaked under Michael the Brave, who, after killing Turkish creditors in Bucharest (1594), probably enagaged in violence against Jews settled south of the Danube during his campaign in Rumelia (while maintaining good relations with Transylvanian Jews).[14]

Early Modern Age

In 1623, the Jews in Transylvania were awarded certain privileges by Prince Gabriel Bethlen, who aimed to attract entrepreneurs from Ottoman lands into his country; the grants were curtailed during following decades, when Jews were only allowed to settle in Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia).[15] Among the privileges granted was one allowing Jews to wear traditional dress; eventually, the authorities in Gyulafehérvár decided (in 1650 and 1741), to allow Jews to wear only clothing evidencing their status and ethnicity.[2]

The status of Jews who had converted to Eastern Orthodoxy was established in Wallachia by Matei Basarab's Pravila de la Govora and in Moldavia by Vasile Lupu's Carte româneascǎ de învățătură.[16] The latter ruler (1634–1653) treated the Jews with consideration until the appearance of the Cossacks (1648), who marched against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and who, while crossing the region, killed many Jews; the violence, led many Ashkenazi Jews from Poland took refuge in Moldavia and Wallachia, establishing small but stable communities.[17] Massacres and forced conversions by the Cossacks occurred in 1652, when the latter came to Iași on the occasion of the Vasile Lupu's daughter marriage to Timush, the son of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, and during the rule of Gheorghe Ștefan.[18]

According to Anton Maria Del Chiaro, secretary of the Wallachian princes between 1710–1716, the Jewish population of Wallachia was required to respect a certain dresscode. Thus, they were prohibited from wearing clothes of other color than black or violet, or to wear yellow or red boots.[19] Nevertheless, the Romanian scholar Andrei Oișteanu argued that such ethnic and religious social stigma was uncommon in Moldavia and Wallachia, as well as throughout the Eastern Orthodox areas of Europe.[20]

The first blood accusation in Moldavia (and, as such, in Romania) was made April 5, 1710, when the Jews of Târgu Neamț were charged with having killed a Christian child for ritual purposes´.[3] The instigator was a baptized Jew who had helped to carry the body of a child, murdered by Christians, into the courtyard of the synagogue. On the next day five Jews were killed, others were maimed, and every Jewish house was pillaged, while the representatives of the community were imprisoned and tortured. Meanwhile, some influential Jews appealed to Prince Nicholas Mavrocordatos (the first Phanariote ruler) in Iași, who ordered an investigation resulting in the freeing of those arrested. This was the first time that the Orthodox clergy participated in attacks on Jews. It was due to the clergy's instigations that in 1714 a similar charge was brought against the Jews of the city of Roman - the murder by a group of Roman Catholics of a Christian girl-servant to Jewish family was immediately blamed on Jews; every Jewish house was plundered, and two prominent Jews were hanged, before the real criminals were discovered by the authorities.

The Great Synagogue (Iași), built c. 1670

Under Constantin Brâncoveanu, Wallachian Jews were recognized as a special guild in Bucharest, led by a starost.[21] Jews in both Wallachia and Moldavia were subject to the Hakham Bashi in Iași, but soon the Bucharest starost assumed several religious duties.[22] Overtaxed and persecuted under Ștefan Cantacuzino (1714–1716),[23] Wallachian Jews obtained valuable privileges during Nicholas Mavrocordatos' rule (1716–1730) in that country (the Prince notably employed the Jewish savant Daniel de Fonseca at his court).[24] Another anti-Jewish riot occurred in Bucharest in the 1760s, and was encouraged by the visit of Ephram II, Patriarch of Jerusalem.[4]

In 1726, in the Bessarabian borough of Onițcani, four Jews were accused of having kidnapped a five-year-old child, of killing him on Easter and of collecting his blood in a barrel. They were tried at Iași under the supervision of Moldavian Prince Mihai Racoviță, and eventually acquitted following diplomatic protests. The event was echoed in several contemporary chronicles and documents for example, the French ambassador to the Porte, Jean-Baptiste Louis Picon, remarked that such an accusation was no longer accepted in "civilized countries".[25] The most obvious effects on the condition of the Jewish inhabitants of Moldavia were witnessed during the reign of John Mavrocordatos (1744–1747): a Jewish farmer in the vicinity of Suceava reported the prince to the Porte for allegedly using his house to rape a number of kidnapped Jewish women; Mavrocordatos had his accuser hanged. This act aroused the anger of Mahmud I's kapucu in Moldavia, and the prince paid the penalty with the loss of his throne.[4]

Russo-Turkish Wars

During the Russo-Turkish War, 1768-1774 the Jews in the Danubian Principalities had to endure great hardships. Massacres and pillages were perpetrated in almost every town and village in the country. When peace was restored, both princes, Alexander Mavrocordatos of Moldavia and Nicholas Mavrogheni of Wallachia, pledged their special protection to the Jews, whose condition remained favorable until 1787, when both Janissaries and the Imperial Russian Army engaged in pogroms.

The community was also subject to persecutions by the locals. Jewish children were seized and forcibly baptized. The ritual-murder accusation became widespread; one made at Galați in 1797 led to exceptionally severe results - the Jews were attacked by a large mob, driven from their homes, robbed, waylaid on the streets, and many killed on the spot, while some were forced into the Danube and drowned; others who took refuge in the synagogue were burned to death in the building; a few escaped after being given protection and refuge by a priest. In 1803, shortly before his death, the Wallachian Metropolitan Iacob Stamati instigated attacks on the Bucharest community by publishing his Înfruntarea jidovilor ("Facing the Jews"), which pretended to be the confession of a former rabbi; however, Jews were offered refuge by Stamati's replacement, Veniamin Costachi.[26] A seminal event occurred in 1804, when ruler Constantine Ypsilanti dismissed accusations of ritual murder as "the unfounded opinion" of "stupid people", and ordered that their condemnation be read in churches throughout Wallachia; the allegations no longer surfaced during the following period.[27]

During the Russo-Turkish War of 1806-1812, the Russian invasion was again accompanied by massacres of the Jews. Kalmyk irregular soldiers in Ottoman service, who appeared in Bucharest at the close of the Russo-Turkish War of 1806-1812, exercised terror on the city's Jewish population. At around the same time, a conflict emerged in Wallachia between Jews under foreign protection (sudiți) and local ones (hrisovoliți), after the latter tried to impose a single administration for the community, a matter which was finally settled in favor of the hrisovoliți by Prince Jean Georges Caradja (1813).[22]

In Habsburg-ruled Transylvania, the reforms carried out by Joseph II allowed Jews to settle in towns directly subject to the Hungarian Crown. However, pressure placed on the community remained stringent for the following decades.

Early 19th century

Lithograph of a cosmopolitan fair in Iași (c. 1845); two Orthodox Jews are visible to the right

By 1825, Jewish population in Wallachia (almost completely Sephardi) was estimated at between 5,000 and 10,000 people - of these, the larger part resided in Bucharest (probably as much as 7,000 in 1839); around the same time, Moldavia was home to about 12,000 Jews.[28] In parallel, the Jewish population in Bukovina rose from 526 in 1774 to 11,600 in 1848.[29] In the early 19th century, Jews who sought refuge from Osman Pazvantoğlu's campaign in the Balkans established communities in Wallachian-ruled Oltenia.[24] In Moldavia, Scarlat Callimachi's Code (1817) allowed members of the community to purchase urban property, but prevented them from settling in the countryside (while purchasing town property became increasingly difficult due to popular prejudice).[24]

During the Greek War of Independence, which signalled the Wallachian uprising of 1821 and the Danubian Principalities' occupation by Filiki Eteria troops under Alexander Ypsilantis, Jews were victims of pogroms and persecutions in places such as Fălticeni, Hertsa, Piatra Neamț, the Secu Monastery, Târgoviște, and Târgu Frumos; Jews in Galați managed to escape over the Prut River with assistance from Austrian diplomats.[27] Weakened by the clash between Ypsilantis and Tudor Vladimirescu, the Eterists were massacred by the Ottoman intervention armies - during this episode, Jewish communities engaged in retaliations in Secu and Slatina.[27]

Following the 1829 Treaty of Adrianople (which allowed the two Principalities to freely engage in foreign trade), Moldavia, where commercial niches had been largely left unoccupied, became a target for migration of Ashkenazi Jews persecuted in Imperial Russia and the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria – by 1838, their number seems to have reached 80,000,[30] and over 195,000, or almost 12% of the country's population, in 1859 (with an additional 50,000 passing through to Wallachia between the two estimates).[31]

The Bucharest Synagogue (restored after World War II), originally built 1857  1867

Despite initial interdictions under the Russian occupation of 1829 (when it was first regulated that non-Christians were not to be regarded as citizens), many of the new immigrants became leaseholders of estates and tavern-keepers, serving to increase both the revenue and demands of boyars - leading in turn to an increase in economic pressures over those working the land or buying products[32] (usual prejudice against Jews accused tavern-keepers of encouraging alcoholism). At the same time, several Jews rose to prominence and high social status - most families involved in Moldavian banking around the 1850s were of Jewish origin.[33] After 1832, following adoption of the Organic Statute, Jewish children are accepted in schools in the two Principalities only if they wore the same clothing as others. In Moldavia, authorities forced the community to abandon its traditional dress code through the 1847 decree of Prince Mihail Sturdza.[34]

Before the Revolutions of 1848, which found their parallel in the Wallachian revolution, many restrictive laws against the Jews had been enacted; although they had some destructive effects, they were never strictly enforced. In various ways, Jews took part in the Wallachian revolt - Constantin Daniel Rosenthal, the painter, distinguished himself in the revolutionary cause, and paid for his activity with his life (being tortured to death by Austrian authorities in Budapest). The major document to be codified by the 1848 Wallachian revolutionaries, the Islaz Proclamation, called for "the emancipation of Israelites and political rights for all compatriots of different faiths".[35]

After the close of the Crimean War the struggle for the union of the two principalities began. The Jews were sought after by both parties, Unionists and anti-Unionists, each of which promised them full equality; and proclamations to this effect were issued (1857–1858). In 1857, the community began issuing its first magazine, Israelitul Român, edited by the Romanian radical Iuliu Barasch. This process of gradual integration resulted in the creation of an informal Romanian identity assumed by Jews, while conversion to Christianity, despite encouragement by the authorities,[24] remained confined to exceptional cases.[27]

Under Alexandru Ioan Cuza

An ornately decorated Jewish Cemetery building, Brasov, Romania

From the beginning of the reign of Alexandru Ioan Cuza (1859–1866), the first ruler (Domnitor) of the united principalities, the Jews became a prominent factor in the politics of the country. This period was, however, inaugurated by another riot motivated by blood libel accusations, begun during Easter 1859 in Galați.[5]

Regulations on clothing were confirmed inside Moldavia by two orders of Mihail Kogălniceanu, Minister of Internal Affairs (issues in 1859 and 1860 respectively).[34] Following adoption of the 1859 regulation, soldiers and civilians would walk the streets of Iași and some other Moldavian towns, assaulting Jews, using scissors to shred their clothing, but also to cut their beards or their sidelocks; drastic measures applied by the Army Headquarters put a stop to such turmoil.[34]

In 1864, Prince Cuza, owing to difficulties between his government and the general assembly, dissolved the latter and decided to submit a draft of a constitution granting universal suffrage. He proposed creating two chambers (of senators and deputies respectively), to extend the franchise to all citizens, and to emancipate the peasants from forced labor (expecting to nullify the remaining influence of the landowners - no longer boyars after the land reform). In the process, Cuza also expected financial support from both the Jews and the Armenians - it appears that he kept the latter demand reduced, asking for only 40,000 Austrian guilder (the standard gold coins; about US$ 90,000 at the exchange rate of the time) from the two groups. The Armenians discussed the matter with the Jews, but they were not able to come to a satisfactory agreement in the matter.

While Cuza was pressing in his demands, the Jewish community debated the method of assessment. The rich Jews, for unclear reasons, refused to advance the money, and the middle class argued that the sum would not lead to tangible enough results; Religious Jews insisted that such rights would only interfere with the exercise of their religion. Cuza, on being informed that the Jews hesitated to pay their share, inserted in his draft of a constitution a clause excluding from the right of suffrage all who did not profess Christianity.

1860s and 1870s

When Charles von Hohenzollern succeeded Cuza in 1866 as Carol I of Romania, the first event that confronted him in the capital was a riot against the Jews. A draft of a constitution was then submitted by the government, Article 6 of which declared that "religion is no obstacle to citizenship"; but, "with regard to the Jews, a special law will have to be framed in order to regulate their admission to naturalization and also to civil rights".[36] On June 30, 1866, the Bucharest Synagogue was desecrated and demolished (it was rebuilt in the same year, then restored in 1932 and 1945). Many Jews were beaten, maimed, and robbed. As a result, Article 6 was withdrawn and Article 7 was added to the 1866 Constitution; it read that "only such aliens as are of the Christian faith may obtain citizenship".

Nicolae Grigorescu: Jew with Goose (c. 1880) - a Romanian Jew holding a petition and a goose for bribery.

For the following decades, the issue of Jewish rights occupied the forefront of the Regat's political scene. With few notable exceptions (including some of Junimea affiliates[37] Petre P. Carp, George Panu, and Ion Luca Caragiale), most Romanian intellectuals began professing antisemitism; its most virulent form was the one present with advocates of Liberalism (in contradiction to their 1848 political roots), especially Moldavians, who argued that Jewish immigration had prevented the rise of an ethnic Romanian middle class. The first examples of modern prejudice were the Moldavian Fracțiunea liberă și independentă (later blended into the National Liberal Party, PNL) and the Bucharest group formed around Cezar Bolliac.[38] Their discourse saw Jews as non-assimilated and perpetually foreign - this claim was, however, challenged by some contemporary sources,[39] and by the eventual acceptance of all immigrants other than Jews.

Antisemitism was carried into the PNL’s mainstream, and was officially enforced under the premierships of Ion Brătianu. During his first years in office, Brătianu reinforced and applied old discrimination laws, insisting that Jews were not allowed to settle in the countryside (and relocating those that had done so), while declaring many Jewish urban inhabitants to be vagrants and expelling them from the country. According to the 1905 Jewish Encyclopedia: "A number of such Jews who proved their Romanian birth were forced across the Danube, and when [the Ottoman Empire] refused to receive them, were thrown into the river and drowned. Almost every country in Europe was shocked at these barbarities. The Romanian government was warned by the powers; and Brătianu was subsequently dismissed from office". Cabinets formed by the Conservative Party, although including Junimea's leaders, did not do much to improve the Jews' condition - mainly due to PNL opposition.

Nonetheless, during this same era, Romania was the cradle of Yiddish theatre. The Russian-born Abraham Goldfaden started the first professional Yiddish theatre company in Iași in 1876 and for several years, especially during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878 Romania was the home of Yiddish theatre. While its center of gravity would move first to Russia, then London, then New York City, both Bucharest and Iași would continue to figure prominently in its history over the next century.[40]

Treaty of Berlin and aftermath

A Greek pie-maker and his Jewish client in Bucharest, c. 1880

When Brătianu resumed leadership, Romania faced the emerging conflict in the Balkans, and saw its chance to declare independence from Ottoman suzerainty by dispatching its troops on the Russian side in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878. The war was concluded by the Treaty of Berlin (1878), which stipulated (Article 44) that the non-Christians in Romania (including both Jews and Muslims in the newly acquired region of Northern Dobruja) should receive full citizenship. After a prolonged debate at home and diplomatic negotiations abroad, the Romanian government ultimately agreed (1879) to abrogate Article 7 of its constitution. This was, however, reformulated to make procedures very difficult: "the naturalization of aliens not under foreign protection should in every individual case be decided by Parliament" (the action involved, among others, a ten-year term before the applicant was given an evaluation).[41] The gesture was doubled by a show of compliance - 883 Jews, participants in the war, were naturalized in a body by a vote of both chambers.

Fifty-seven persons voted upon as individuals were naturalized in 1880; 6, in 1881; 2, in 1882; 2, in 1883; and 18, from 1886 to 1900; in all, 85 Jews in twenty-one years, 27 of whom in the meantime died; c. 4,000 people had obtained citizenship by 1912.[42] Various laws were passed until the pursuit of virtually all careers was made dependent on the possession of political rights, which only Romanians could exercise; more than 40% of Jewish working men, including manual labourers, were forced into unemployment by such legislation. Similar laws were passed in regard to Jews exercising liberal professions.[43]

In 1893, a piece of legislation was voted to deprive Jewish children of the right to be educated in the public schools - they were to be received only if and where children of citizens had been provided for, and their parents were required to pay preferential tuition fees. In 1898, it was passed into law that Jews were to be excluded from secondary schools and the universities. Another notable measure was the expulsion of vocal Jewish activists as "objectionable aliens" (under the provisions of an 1881 law), including those of Moses Gaster and Elias Schwarzfeld.[44]

The courts exacted the Oath More Judaico in its most offensive form - it was only abolished in 1904, following criticism in the French press. In 1892, when the United States addressed a note to the signatory powers of the Berlin treaty on the matter, it was attacked by the Romanian press. The Lascăr Catargiu government was, however, concerned - the issue was debated among ministers, and, as a result, the Romanian government issued pamphlets in French, reiterating its accusations against the Jews and maintaining that persecutions were deserved in exchange for the community's alleged exploitation of the rural population.

20th century

Before and after World War I

The Synagogue of Brașov (built 1901)

The emigration of Romanian Jews on a larger scale commenced soon after 1878; numbers rose and fell, with a major wave of Bessarabian Jews after the Kishinev pogrom in Imperial Russia (1905). The Jewish Encyclopedia wrote in 1905, shortly before the pogrom, "It is admitted that at least 70 per cent would leave the country at any time if the necessary traveling expenses were furnished". There are no official statistics of emigration; but it is safe to place the minimum number of Jewish emigrants from 1898 to 1904 at 70,000. By 1900 there were 250,000 Romanian Jews: 3.3% of the population, 14.6% of the city dwellers, 32% of the Moldavian urban population and 42% of Iași.[6]

Land issues and predominantly Jewish presence among estate leaseholders accounted for the 1907 Romanian Peasants' Revolt, partly antisemitic in message.[45] During the same period, the anti-Jewish message first expanded beyond its National Liberal base (where it was soon an insignificant attitude),[46] to cover the succession of more radical and Moldavian-based organizations founded by A.C. Cuza (his Democratic Nationalist Party, created in 1910, had the first antisemitic program in Romanian political history).[47] No longer present in the PNL's ideology by the 1920s, antisemitism also tended to surface in on the left-wing of the political spectrum, in currents originating in Poporanism - which favoured the claim that peasants were being systematically exploited by Jews.[48]

World War I, during which 882 Jewish soldiers died defending Romania (825 were decorated), brought about the creation of Greater Romania after the 1919 Paris Peace Conference and subsequent treaties. The enlarged state had an increased Jewish population, corresponding with the addition of communities in Bessarabia, Bukovina, and Transylvania. On signing the treaties, Romania agreed to change its policy towards the Jews, promising to award them both citizenship and minority rights, the effective emancipation of Jews.[42] The 1923 Constitution of Romania sanctioned these requirements, meeting opposition from Cuza's National-Christian Defense League and rioting by far right students in Iași;[49] the land reform carried out by the Ion I. C. Brătianu cabinet also settled problems connected with land tenancy.

Political representation for the Jewish community in the inter-war period was divided between the Jewish Party and the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania[50] (the latter was re-established after 1989). During the same period, a division in ritual became apparent between Reform Jews in Transylvania and usually Orthodox ones in the rest of the country[51] (while Bessarabia was the most open to Zionism and especially the socialist Labor Zionism).

Jewish population per county in Greater Romania, according to the Wiesel Commission report, pp. 81, which counted 728,115 Jews by ethnicity and 756,930 Jews by religion

The popularity of anti-Jewish messages was, nevertheless, on the rise, and merged itself with the appeal of fascism in the late 1920s - both contributed to the creation and success of Corneliu Zelea Codreanu's Iron Guard and the appearance of new types of anti-Semitic discourses (Trăirism and Gândirism). The idea of a Jewish quota in higher education became highly popular among Romanian students and teachers.[52] According to Andrei Oișteanu's analysis, a relevant number of right-wing intellectuals refused to adopt overt anti-Semitism, which was ill-reputed through its association with A. C. Cuza's violent discourse; nevertheless, a few years later, such cautions were cast aside, and anti-Semitism became displayed as "spiritual health".[53]

The first motion to exclude Jews from professional associations came on May 16, 1937, when the Confederation of the Associations of Professional Intellectuals (Confederația Asociațiilor de Profesioniști Intelectuali din România) voted to exclude all Jewish members from its affiliated bodies, calling for the state to withdraw their licenses and reassess their citizenship.[54] Although illegal, the measure was popular and it was commented that, in its case, legality had been supplanted by a "heroic decision".[54] According to Oișteanu, the initiative had a direct influence on antisemitic regulations passed during the following year.[54]

The threat posed by the Iron Guard, the emergence of Nazi Germany as a European power, and his own fascist sympathies , made King Carol II, who was still largely identified as a philo-Semite,[55] adopt racial discrimination as the norm. In the recent election, over 25% of the electorate had voted for explicitly antisemitic groups (either the Goga-Cuza alliance (9%) or the Iron Guard's political mouthpiece, TPT(16.5%)), and as a result, Carol was forced to let one of the two into his cabinet- he instantly chose the Goga-Cuza alliance over the rabid fascism of the Iron Guard (according to modern historian of the Balkans, Misha Glenny, he also thought that this would "take the sting out of the Guard's tail"). On January 21, 1938, Carol's executive (led by Cuza and Octavian Goga) passed a law aimed at reviewing criteria for citizenship (after it cast allegations that previous cabinets had allowed Ukrainian Jews to obtain it illegally),[42] and requiring all Jews who had received citizenship in 1918-1919 to reapply for it (while providing a very short term in which this could be achieved - 20 days);[56]

However, Carol II himself was highly hostile to antisemitism. His lover, Elena Lupescu, was Jewish, as were a number of his friends in government, and he soon reverted to his original policies (that is, fiercely opposing the antisemites and fascists), but with a newly violent sting. On February 12, 1938, he used the rising violence between political groups as context to seize absolute power (a move which was tacitly supported by the liberals who had come to view him as a lesser evil in comparison to Codreanu's fascist movement). As an authentic Romanian nationalist (albeit, one who had a view of a Westernized, forcefully industrialized Romania at the expense of the peasants whom he viewed with disdain; making him completely the antithesis of the views of Codreanu), Carol was determined that Romania should not fall into the near-absolute economic and political control that many of its neighbors already had, and moved to theatrical resistance against Nazi ideology.

The King then arrested the entire leadership of the Iron Guard, on the grounds that they were in the pay of the Nazis, and began using the same accusation against various political opponents, both to solidify his absolute control of the country as well as negatively stigmatize Germany. In November, the fourteen most important fascist leaders (the first of which being Codreanu) were "rinsed" in acid.[57]

However, Carol's policy was doomed by the reluctance of France and Britain to engage the fascist powers of Germany, Italy and Russia (or rather, Stalinist communist, in the case of the latter) in war. Russia attacked Romania and declared annexation of Bukovina and Bessarabia (which was to be renamed Moldova), and when Carol turned to the only possible hope - that is, assistance from the former "eternal foe", Nazi Germany - he was angrily rejected by Hitler personally, who did not have to try hard to remember how Carol had previously humiliated the cause of his ideology. Carol was forced to acknowledge the annexation, leading directly to his overthrow in a coup led by Ion Antonescu.

In 1940, the Ion Gigurtu cabinet adopted Romania's equivalent to the Nuremberg Laws, forbidding Jewish-Christian intermarriage, and defining Jews after racial criteria (a person was Jewish if he or she had a Jewish grandparent on one side of the family).[58]

The Holocaust

The Iron Guard

Victims of the Iași pogrom
Memorial for the Jewish martyrs of Fălticeni

Between the establishment of the National Legionary State and 1942, 80 anti-Jewish regulations were passed. Starting at the end of October, 1940, the Iron Guard began a massive antisemitic campaign, torturing and beating Jews and looting their shops (see Dorohoi Pogrom), culminating in the failed coup and a pogrom in Bucharest, in which 120 Jews were killed.[7] Antonescu eventually stopped the violence and chaos created by the Iron Guard by brutally suppressing the rebellion, but continued the policy of oppression and massacre of Jews, and, to a lesser extent, of Roma.

Antonescu's régime

After Romania entered the war at the start of Operation Barbarossa atrocities against the Jews became common, starting with the Iași pogrom - on June 27, 1941, Romanian dictator Ion Antonescu telephoned Col. Constantin Lupu, commander of the Iași garrison, telling him formally to "cleanse Iași of its Jewish population", though plans for the pogrom had been laid even earlier - 13,266 Jews, according to Romanian authorities, were killed in July 1941.

In July–August 1941, the yellow badge was imposed by local initiatives in several cities (Iași, Bacău, Cernăuți). A similar measure imposed by the national government lasted only five days (between September 3 and September 8, 1941), before being annulled on Antonescu's order.[59] However, on local initiative, the badge was still worn especially in the towns of Moldavia, Bessarabia and Bukovina (Bacău, Iași, Câmpulung, Botoșani, Cernăuți, etc.).[60]

According to the Wiesel Commission report released by the Romanian government in 2004, in Romania were murdered in various forms, between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews on Romanian soil and in the war zone of Bessarabia, Bukovina and in the Transnistria Governorate.[8][9] Until 2004, when researchers made numerous documents publicly available, many in Romania denied knowledge that their country participated in the Holocaust.[61] In 1941, following the advancing Romanian Army during Operation Barbarossa, and, according to Antonescu propaganda, alleged attacks by Jews (Resistance groups of Soviet partisans - for Antonescu, all Jews were communists, see Odessa massacre), Antonescu ordered the deportation to Transnistria, of all Jews of Bessarabia and Bukovina (between 130,000 and 145,000), who were considered en masse "Communist agents" by the official propaganda. "Deportation" however was a euphemism, as part of the process involved mass killing of Jews before deporting the rest in the "trains of death" (in reality long exhausting marches on foot) to the East. Of those who escaped the initial ethnic cleansing in Bukovina and Bessarabia, only very few managed to survive "trains" and the concentration camps set up in the Transnistria Governorate. Further killings perpetrated by Antonescu's death squads (documents prove his direct orders) targeted the Jewish population that the Romanian Army managed to round up when occupying Transnistria. Over one hundred thousand of these were killed in massacres staged in such places as Odessa, Bogdanovka, Akmecetka in 1941 and 1942.

Antonescu did halt deportations despite German pressure starting with October 1942,[62] as he began to seek peace with the Allies, although at the same time he levied heavy taxes and forced labor on the remaining Jewish communities. Also, sometimes with the encouragement of Antonescu's regime, thirteen boats left Romania for the British Mandate of Palestine during the war, carrying 13,000 Jews (two of these ships were sunk by the Soviets (see Struma disaster), and the effort was discontinued after German pressure was applied).

Half of the estimated 270,000 to 320,000 Jews living in Bessarabia, Bukovina, and the former Dorohoi County in Romania were murdered between June 1941 and the spring of 1944. After a wave of random initial killings, Jews in Moldavia were subject to pogroms, while those in Bessarabia, Bukovina and Dorohoi were concentrated into ghettos from which they were deported to concentration camps in the Transnistria Governorate, including camps built and run by Romanians. Romanian soldiers also worked with the German Einsatzkommando to massacre Jews in conquered territories east of the Romania's 1940 border. The total number of deaths is not certain, but even the lowest respectable estimates run to about 250,000 Jews (plus 25,000 deported Romani, of which half perished). At the same time, 120,000 Northern Transylvanian Jews were deported to Auschwitz by Hungary and died in concentration and extermination camps. Also, Antonescu's government made plans for mass deportations from the Regat (Historic Moldo-Wallachia) to Belzec, but never carried them out.

A majority of the Romanian Jews living within the 1940 borders did survive the war, although they were subject to a wide range of harsh conditions, including forced labor, financial penalties, and discriminatory laws. The number of victims, however, makes Romania count as first, according to the Wiesel Commission, "Of all the allies of Nazi Germany, [responsible] for the deaths of more Jews than any country other than Germany itself".[9]


According to the Wiesel Commission, "... at least 290,000 Romanian Jews survived". According to Howard M. Sachar, 360,000 Romanian Jews were still alive at the end of World War II.

Mass emigration to Israel ensued (see Bricha and Aliyah). According to Sachar, for the first two post-war years, tens of thousands of Romanian Jews left for Israel; the Romanian government did not try to stop them, especially due to its desire to reduce its historically suspect and now impoverished Jewish minority. Afterwards, Jewish emigration began to encounter obstacles. In 1948, the year of Israeli independence, Zionism came under renewed suspicion, and the government began a campaign of liquidation against Zionist funds and training farms. However, emigration was not completely banned; Romanian Foreign Minister Ana Pauker, herself a Jew with a father and brother in Israel, negotiated an agreement with Israeli ambassador Reuven Rubin, a Romanian immigrant to Israel, under which the Romanian government would allow 4,000 Jews a month to emigrate to Israel; this decision was at least partially influenced by a large Jewish Agency bribe to the Romanian government. This agreement applied mainly to ruined businessmen and other economically "redundant" Jews. Around this time, Israel also secured another agreement with the Romanian government, under which Romania issued 100,000 exit visas for Jews and Israel supplied Romania with oil drills and pipes to aid the struggling Romanian oil industry.[63] By December 1951, about 115,000 Romanian Jews had emigrated to Israel.[64]

During the period of transition towards a communist regime in Romania, following Soviet occupation (see Soviet occupation of Romania), Jewish society and culture were subject to the same increasingly tight control by the authorities. The community leader Wilhelm Filderman has been arrested already in 1945 and had to flee the country in 1948.[65] On April 22, 1946, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej attended a meeting of Jewish organizations and called for the creation of a new body, the Jewish Democratic Committee, which was in reality a section of the Romanian Communist Party PCR.[66]

After the proclamation of the People's Republic of Romania on December 30, 1947, the government formed by the PCR outlawed all Jewish organizations at a meeting on June 10–June 11, 1948, stating that "the party must take a stand on every question concerning the Jews of Romania and fight vigorously against reactionary nationalist Jewish currents (that is, Zionism)". Between 1952 and 1953 the Stalinist antisemitic charges of "rootless cosmopolitanism" brought about the purging of the party's own leadership (including Jewish ex-premier and foreign minister Ana Pauker);[67] the charges were then inflicted upon the larger part of the Jewish community, beginning with a trial engineered by Iosif Chișinevschi.[68] Jews who were perceived as Zionists were given harsh labour sentences in communist prisons such as Pitești (where they were subject to torture and brainwashing experiments; a few of them died in detention).[65] The 1952 trial of the engineers made responsible for the failure of the Danube-Black Sea Canal project also involved allegations of Zionism (notably aimed at Aurel Rozei-Rozenberg, who was eventually executed).[69]

Throughout the period of Communist rule, Romania allowed limited numbers of Jews to emigrate to Israel, in exchange for much-needed Israeli economic aid. By 1965, Israel was funding agricultural and industrial projects throughout Romania, and in exchange, Romania allowed limited numbers of Jews to emigrate to Israel. When Nicolae Ceaușescu came to power in 1965, he initially ended the trade in deference to the Eastern bloc's Arab allies. However, by 1969, he decided to exchange Jews for cash from Israel. Ceaușescu wanted economic independence from the Soviet Union, which was content to keep Romania a backwater and as nothing more than a supplier of raw materials, but to fund economic projects, he needed hard cash. As a result, from then until the Ceaușescu regime fell in 1989, about 1,500 Jews a year were granted exit visas to Israel in exchange for a payment of cash for every Jew allowed to leave, in addition to other Israeli aid. The exact payments were determined by the age, education, profession, employment, and family status of the emigrant. Israel paid a minimum of $2,000 per head for every emigrant, and paid prices in the range of $25,000 for doctors or scientists. In addition to these payments, Israel also secured loans for Romania and paid off the interest itself, and supplied the Romanian Army with military equipment.[63][70]

As a result of aliyah, the Romanian-Jewish community was gradually depleted. By 1987, just 23,000 Jews were left in Romania, half of whom were over 65 years old.[71]

Jews in Romania (2002 census)

The Romanian government has recognized that a Holocaust took place on its territory and held its first Holocaust Day in 2004.[72]

Historical population

The historical Jewish population in Romania can be seen below.

The 1930 census was the only one to cover Greater Romania. Censuses in 1948, 1956, 1966, 1977, 1992, 2002 and 2011 covered Romania's present-day territory.[73] All but the 1948 census, which asked about mother tongue, had a question on ethnicity. Moldavia and Wallachia each held a census in 1859. The Romanian Old Kingdom conducted statistical estimates in 1884, 1889 and 1894, and held censuses in 1899 and 1912. Ion Antonescu's regime also held two: a general one in April 1941, and one for those with "Jewish blood" in May 1942.

Historical population
Census in 1930 with the regions acquired in 1918-1920, census in 1941 without the territories lost in 1940,[74] censuses in 1956,[75] 1966, 1977, 1992, 2002 and 2011 covered Romania's present-day territory
Source: Demographic history of Romania

Hasidic dynasties originating from today's Romania

Major groups

Other groups

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Rezachevici, September 1995, p.61
  2. 1 2 Oișteanu (1998), p. 239
  3. 1 2 Oișteanu (2003), p.2; Rezachevici, October 1995, p.66
  4. 1 2 3 Cernovodeanu, p. 27
  5. 1 2 Oișteanu (2003), p.2
  6. 1 2 A History of the Balkans 1804-1945, p.129
  7. 1 2 Veiga, p.301
  8. 1 2 Ilie Fugaru, Romania clears doubts about Holocaust past, UPI, November 11, 2004
  9. 1 2 3 International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania (2012-01-28). "Executive Summary: Historical Findings and Recommendations" (PDF). Final Report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania. Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority). Retrieved 2012-01-28.
  10. 1 2 3 Rezachevici, September 1995, p. 60
  11. Djuvara, p. 179; Giurescu, p. 271
  12. Rezachevici, September 1995, p. 59
  13. Rezachevici, September 1995, pp. 60–61
  14. Rezachevici, September 1995, pp. 61–62
  15. Rezachevici, October 1995, p.61-62; 64-65
  16. Rezachevici, October 1995, p.62
  17. Rezachevici, October 1995, p.62-63
  18. Rezachevici, October 1995, p. 63
  19. Del Chiaro; Oișteanu (1998), p.239-240
  20. Oișteanu (1998), pp. 242–244
  21. Cernovodeanu, p. 25; Giurescu, p. 271
  22. 1 2 Cernovodeanu, p.25
  23. Rezachevici, October 1995, p. 66
  24. 1 2 3 4 Cernovodeanu, p.26
  25. Oișteanu (1998), pp. 211–212
  26. Cernovodeanu, p. 27; Oișteanu (2003), p .3
  27. 1 2 3 4 Cernovodeanu, p. 28
  28. Djuvara, p.179; Giurescu, p.272
  29. Hitchins, p.226-227
  30. Cernovodeanu, p. 28; Djuvara, pp. 179–180
  31. Ornea, p. 387
  32. Djuvara, p.180-182
  33. Djuvara, p.182
  34. 1 2 3 Oișteanu (1998), p.241
  35. Islaz Proclamation, art.21
  36. Ornea, p.389; Veiga, p.58-59
  37. Panu, p.223-233
  38. Ornea, p.389; Panu, p.224
  39. For example, Panu (p.226) stated that "the issue of [the Jews'] assimilation or the mere possibility of their assimilation were never mentioned [by antisemites], being considered an impossible occurrence altogether [...]"; in the 1890s, Caragiale evidenced the paradox in his editorial Trădarea românismului! Triumful străinismului!! Consumatum est!!!, mimicking the tone of Liberals in opposition to the Petre P. Carp government: "Yesterday, February 5, '93, yesterday, fateful and cursed day! was voted that anti-social, anti-economical, anti-patriotic, anti-national, anti-Romanian law, that law through which poverty-stricken Jews may no longer be prevented from training in certain careers!"
  40. Israil Bercovici, O sută de ani de teatru evreiesc în România ("One hundred years of Yiddish/Jewish theater in Romania"), 2nd Romanian-language edition, revised and augmented by Constantin Măciucă. Editura Integral (an imprint of Editurile Universala), Bucharest (1998). ISBN 973-98272-2-5. passim; see the article on the author for further publication information.
  41. Ornea, p.390; Veiga, p.60
  42. 1 2 3 Ornea, p.391
  43. Ornea, p.396; Veiga, p.58-59
  44. Ornea, p.396
  45. Veiga, p.24-25
  46. Veiga, p.56
  47. Ornea, p.395
  48. The Jewish-Romanian Marxist Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea criticised Poporanist claims in his work on 1907 revolt, Neoiobăgia ("Neo-Serfdom"), arguing that, as favorite victims of prejudice (and most likely to be retaliated against), Jews were least likely to exploit: "[The Jewish tenant's] position is inferior to that of the exploited, for he is not a boyar, a gentleman, but a Yid, as well as to the administration, whose subordinate bodies he may well be able to satisfy, but whose upper bodies remain hostile towards him. His position is also rendered difficult by the antisemitic trend, strong as it gets, and by the hostile public opinion, and by the press, overwhelmingly antisemitic, but mostly by the régime itself - which, while awarding him all the advantages of neo-serfdom on one hand, uses, on the other, his position as a Yid to make of him a distraction and a scapegoat for the régime's sins."
  49. Veiga, p.62-64
  50. Veiga, p.61
  51. Veiga, p.61-62
  52. Ornea, p.396-397
  53. Oișteanu (1998), p.252-253; Nichifor Crainic declared in 1931 "We were not, are not and will not be anti-Semites"; nevertheless, only two years later, in 1933, he wrote "The new spirit is healthy because is anti-Semitic, anti-Semitic in doctrine and anti-Semitic in practice". Barbu Theodorescu, the secretary and bibliographer of historian Nicolae Iorga, wrote in 1938: "Romanian anti-Semitism is 100 years old. To fight against the Jew is to walk the straight line of the Romanian nation's normal development. Anti-Semitism animated the heart of the Romanian intellectual elite. Anti-Semitism is the most vital problem of Romanian prosperity." (Oișteanu (1998), p.253)
  54. 1 2 3 Oișteanu (1998), p.254
  55. Ornea, p.397; Veiga, p.246, 264
  56. Royal Decree, 1938, art.6
  57. Glenny, Misha. The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers 1804-1999. p.455-57
  58. Decree, 1940; Ornea, p.391-393
  59. Oișteanu (1998), p.230-231; Andrei Oișteanu suggested Wilhelm Filderman, the Jewish community's president, influenced Antonescu's decision
  60. Oișteanu (1998), p.231
  61. "Romania sparks Holocaust row". BBC News. June 17, 2003. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  62. Chapter 11 - Solidarity and Rescue, Wiesel Commission - "Final Report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania"
  63. 1 2 "The Cold War's Strangest Bedfellows: How Romania Sold its Jews to Israel and What it got in Return". Forward.com. 2005-02-11. Retrieved 2014-04-28.
  64. Sachar, Howard M.:Israel and Europe: An Appraisal in History
  65. 1 2 Wexler (2000)
  66. Gordon, p.299; Wexler (1996), p.83
  67. Gordon, p.300
  68. Gordon, p.300; Wexler (2000)
  69. Gordon, p.299
  70. "Romania Sold Jews to Israel". News.google.com. 1991-10-24. Retrieved 2014-04-28.
  71. "Tradition lives among few Jews left in Romania". News.google.com. 1987-06-20. Retrieved 2014-04-28.
  72. "Romania holds first Holocaust Day". BBC News. 12 October 2004. Retrieved 24 September 2013.
  73. "Lista recensămintelor populaţiei din România". Institutul Naţional de Statistică. 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-03.
  74. Institutul Central de Statistică : Recensământul General al României din 1941, April 6, in Publikationstelle, Die Bevölkerungzählung in Rumänien, 1941, Wien 1943
  75. Republica Populară Romînă, Ghid general, Ed. pentru răspîndirea științei și culturii, Bucharest 1960, p. 94.
  76. "The Golden Dynasty - Chapter 15". Nishmas.org. Retrieved 2014-04-28.


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