Chapter 4: The Butcher’s Store

(Mahler, “Symphony #5, 1st Movement”)

On November 11, 2004, the final report from the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, chaired by Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Elie Wiesel, with members from the Romanian government, Jewish organizations and Holocaust survivors, was presented to President Ion Iliescu of Romania. “The Commission’s aim was to research the facts and determine the truth about the Holocaust in Romania during World War II.” (1)

An important point made by the Commission is that Marshal Ion Antonescu, Romania’s military dictator during the Holocaust, from September 1940-44, did not need to follow Hitler’s practice of anti-Semitism. Rather, a strong anti-Semitic culture in Romania had preceded the Nazi era. Fascism in Romania only allowed anti-Semitism to come out in the open and flourish. The Commission report states, “The anti-Semitism that manifested itself in Romania between the two world wars grew directly from seeds sewn at the major turning points of the country’s development starting in the
mid-19th century.”(2)

More than 250,000 Romanians of a population of 756,930 Jews in 1930, were killed during the Holocaust from areas of Bessarabia, Bukovina, Transylvania and territories under Romanian rule, for the only reason that they were born Jewish. (3)

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Romanian writers and politicians condemned the Jews in their country. (4) The two leading political parties, the Liberal Party and the National Peasant Party, were unsympathetic to citizenship rights for Jews, a policy that was forced on the Romanian government as a condition for international recognition of their post-World War I borders that included Bessarabia, Bukovina, and northern Transylvania. In the 1930’s, the government in power under the National Liberal Party and then with the National Christian Party, passed laws that systematically stripped away the rights of the Jewish people. (5) The Romanian government used “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” to formalize their propaganda in Romanian villages. (6) This came to a height as early as 1927 under the leadership of Corneliu Codreanu, leader of the Iron Guard. (7) In 1938 Codreanu was murdered. Some say by General Antonescu; others say by King Carol II.

King Carol II tried to impart his power and enforced a Royal Dictatorship. (8)
At the end of the 1930’s, the King’s Prime Minister, Gigartu, made it clear to von Ribbentrop and Hitler, that Romania was willing to follow Germany’s “Nuremberg Laws.” (9)

Under the leadership of General Antonescu as of September 1940, the Jews tragically suffered because of Anti-Semitic pogroms and deportation to the Romanian-occupied detention/labor camp, Transnistria, in the Ukraine. A reign of terror was instilled throughout Romania. Lands owned by Jews were confiscated and Fascism was officially installed with secret police, army and inhuman intelligence service. Their policies consisted of mass tortures, deportations and murders of thousands of Jews.

In January 1941, Antonescu met Hitler in Obersalzberg and agreed to disband the Iron Guard and the Romanian Legionnaires. (10) But that did not mean that Antonescu would get rid of his anti-Semitic practices. He was obsessed to rid Romania of its Jews.

During the winter of 1941, Antonescu committed Romanian troops to occupy Odessa and to join the Germans all the way to Stalingrad in the Eastern Front.

In the capital, on January 20, 1941, there was the Bucharest Pogrom. 2,000 Jews, men and women, were detained and taken to 14 torture centers controlled by the Legionnaires. The Bucharest slaughterhouse was where 15 Jews were tortured and shot to death. “The bodies of the dead were hanged on the hooks used by slaughterers. Some of the victims were hooked up while still alive. Within one month, 125 Jews were killed and 1,274 buildings in Bucharest were destroyed.” (11)

The Pogrom of Iasi illustrates the barbaric treatment of the Jews in Bessarabia under the rule of Antonescu. On June 27, 1941, General Antonescu telephoned Col. Lupu, commander of the Romanian Army garrison in Iasi to tell him to “cleanse Iasi of its Jewish population.” A manhunt was launched. Houses were marked by crosses if the residents were Christian. The next day, Romanian soldiers, police and mobs massacred thousands of Jews. Then, Romanian authorities arrested thousands of Jews and forced them on trains. Over 100 people were stuffed into each car without water or food or air. For seven days they traveled in the summer heat without stopping until most of them had died inside. The total number of victims is unknown, but the amount is calculated to be between 13,000 and 15,000.

Despite criticism to Antonescu from Eichmann, who was the German Senior Nazi officer in charge of mass deportations of Jews in Eastern Europe, that Romanians were too sloppy with the Jews, Antonescu defended himself, “Romania needs to escape from that plague (of Jews) that cannot be discussed.” (12)

Before World War II, Romania had the third largest Jewish population after Russia and Poland. After the war, 400,000 Jews survived.

Antonescu was the uncontested ruler and he, not the Germans, gave orders that Jews in Bessarabia, Bukovina, Ukraine, and Moldova should be eliminated, either by torture, deportation or murder. Yet, under his regime, 400,000 Jews survived the War, mostly from Bucharest. In addition, Antonescu opposed Hitler twice to implement mass deportation of Bucharest Jews and did not oblige them to wear yellow stars or live in ghettos.

The question is why this lenient policy toward the Bucharest Jews? Was it because Antonescu realized that Germany would eventually lose the War? He did experience defeat at the Eastern Front when he allied Romanian troops with the German Army to invade Russia. His troops marched from the Ukraine to Stalingrad with the German Army. He saw the tides of war change. Is this why he “protected” the Bucharest Jews?

To use them as future collateral? As a bargaining chip? To have them bare witness so he would receive leniency in a post-War trial? Was he playing the game of War from both sides?

On the other hand, he willingly allied himself with Hitler, sharing many anti-Semitic beliefs. Did he do this because he wanted to get back territories that Russia had annexed? Was he a Nationalist, a military hero who had entered the War because he was a rabid anti-Communist? Was Germany his “calling card” to protect his country from future Soviet control? Did he ally his country with Germany because he was afraid that Germany with thousands of troops at his front door, would conquer Romania as they did with his neighbors?

Antonescu was not only a General but also a businessman. Did he keep the Bucharest Jews safe because he was waiting to receive money from President Roosevelt and the Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau? Is it possible that Antonescu was negotiating a price for each Romanian Jew that would be alive at the end of the War? If so, President Roosevelt stalled to pay Romania for their Jews. Morgenthau promised that the money would come. And yet, Roosevelt continued to procrastinate to set up an independent Agency to allocate the funds. It was not until January 1944 that Roosevelt created the War Refugee Board. At this point, the Allies were winning, King Mihai of Romania had taken power with Russia’s help, and it was too late for Antonescu to collect money for the Bucharest Jews he had protected.

In 1944, King Mihai summoned Antonescu to meet him. The King had switched Romania’s allegiance to the Allies and was fortified by Russian support. Despite Hitler’s warning to Antonescu several months prior, “Don’t go to the Royal Palace,” (13) Antonescu went to see the King. Hitler had remembered how Mussolini had been arrested by the same ruse. Antonescu was also arrested and executed several years later in 1947.

Rumors and myths abound that Antonescu kept waiting “to sell” the Bucharest Jews. Opponents question, to whom?  The British, who controlled Palestine pre-Israeli Statehood, did not want to allot more visas than the regulated quota per year allowed. The Americans were using stalling tactics. And who besides the American government and Israel would have bought the Jews? The wealthy International Jewry who supported Raul Wallenberg in Hungary? The United Jewish Agency?

After the war, with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, we do see an open-market of selling Jews to leave Romania and emigrate. The Romanian communist government made millions of dollars in cash from this human trade as well as acquisitions of thousands of apartments and coveted jobs.

As we analyze the historical period of Fascism in Romania, we see clear evidence that the Holocaust in Romania had its seeds from much earlier periods of their history than Germany’s Third Reich. Romania had their own anti-Semitic pogroms and murders, independent of German rule.

I include the scene of the Butcher Shop in “The Gift of Diamonds” as an example of such barbaric times. The scene also has personal resonance:

My husband relates how his Nanny, Teresa, an ethnic German from Romania’s Sibiu Transylvania section, went to see the Butcher Shop with a friend on her day-off. He remembers how outraged his parents were at her curiosity, but Teresa was an honest woman, devoted to their son, and during those times, no Jewish family was allowed to employ anyone, be it a Nanny or housekeeper or worker. Teresa stayed until surveillance restricting Jews in Bucharest became tighter, and the story of the Butcher Shop remained carved in my husband’s psyche.

1.Final Report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, presented to Romanian President, Ion Iliescu, November 11, 2004, Bucharest, Romania. (
2. Final Report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, “Background and Precursors to the Holocaust,” p.1, presented to Romanian President, Ion Iliescu, November 11, 2004, Bucharest, Romania. (
3. Ibid., p.2
4. Ibid., p.41
5. Ibid., p.31
6. Ibid., p.38
7. Ibid., p.35
8. Ibid., p.33
9. Ibid., pp.46-48
10. Final Report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, “The Holocaust in Romania,” p. 5, presented to Romanian President, Ion Iliescu,
November 11, 2004, Bucharest, Romania. (
11. Ibid., pp. 5-8.
12. Constantiniu, Florin, “O Istorie Sincera a Poporului Roman,”p. 376, Bucharest, Univers Enciclopedici, 1999.
13. Ibid., p. 405.