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Iasi Pogrom

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The Iasi pogrom - The  pogrom which took place in Iasi (Iaşi in the extended alphabet) (Pronounced "yahsh") Romania, at the end of June of 1941 was a notable massacre of Jews in World War II, a part of the Holocaust that was carried out by Romania as Germany's ally. However, it was only a small part of the murders committed by the Romanian regime of Ion Antonescu, which murdered as many as  380,000  Ukrainian, Moldovan, Bessarabian and Romanian Jews in all, including massacres in Odessa after its capture by Romania, Kishinev (spelled Chişnau in Romanian, pronounced "Kishinev" as it was under Russian rule) and elsewhere. At least 13,266 Jews were killed according to official Romanian figures. (Report of SSI Iasi, July 23, 1943, Consiliul Securitatii Statului, Fond documentar, file 3041, p. 327; Cristian Trancota, Eugen Cristescu, asul serviciilor secrete romanesti. Memorii (Bucharest: Roza vanturilor, 1997), p. 119.) The Jewish community counted 14,850 dead.  (Jean Ancel, ed., Documents Concerning the Fate of Romanian Jewry during the Holocaust (New York: Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, 1986), vol. 6: no. 4, p. 49).  

Iasi is located in north eastern Romania south of the Bukovina distrina, near the border with Moldova and therefore was a forward mobilization area for the attack on the USSR, during the period in which the pogrom took place.

The Iasi pogrom was the beginning of the mass transports of Jews that took place throughout eastern Romania, especially in conquered areas, often preceded by the peculiar combination of organized army and police action and mob chaos initiated by the Romanian secret police and army. In areas of the south and west, close to the Danube and near the capital, the Jews often fared relatively better.

Background to the Iasi Pogrom

The intentions of the Romanian regime were explained by deputy Prime Minister Mihai Antonescu (no relation to Ion) in a cabinet speech soon after the Iasi pogrom:

At the risk of not being understood by traditionalists…I am all for the forced migration of the entire Jewish element of Bessarabia and Bukovina, which must be dumped across the border….You must be merciless to them….I don’t know how many centuries will pass before the Romanian people meet again with such total liberty of action, such opportunity for ethnic cleansing and national revision….This is a time when we are masters of our land. Let us use it. If necessary, shoot your machine guns. I couldn’t care less if history will recall us as barbarians….I take formal responsibility and tell you there is no law….So, no formalities, complete freedom. (Jean Ancel, ed., Documents Concerning the Fate of Romanian Jewry during the Holocaust (New York: Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, 1986), vol. 6: no. 15, pp. 199-201.) 

Iasi had a population of 100,000, of whom about 45,000 were Jews. The pogrom took place in the framework of an evacuation of Jews from Iasi. In turn, this was part of  a plan to eliminate the Jewish presence in Bessarabia, Bukovina, and Moldavia, and that was part of a general plan for the Jews of Romania. Many of the Jews who were not transported or killed outright were conscripted to forced labor detachments. Overall, according to one estimate, of the 850,000 Jews of Romania, only 335,000 remained after the war, implying that 515,000 Jews were "missing" and presumed dead.  (see Holocaust)  According to another estimate, "the total number of Romanian and Ukrainian Jews who perished in territories under Romanian administration is between 280,000 and 380,000." ref  A third estimate, that of Raoul Hilberg and Meron Benvenisti, is around 270,000. ref

There is no away to provide a more exact total. The estimate of 850,000 Jews in Romania prior to the war may be too high, and of those who were missing, there is no record of how many escaped to USSR, how many survived or were killed in USSR, how many escaped to Palestine or elsewhere.  The latter estimates are based on Rumanian records of Jews who were killed, but the numbers of those who perished during transports, or from disease or other causes that may have not been recorded is not known. The shifting borders and jurisdictions also added confusion to the records. Note that the figure of 280,000 - 380,000 dead includes those who were killed in the Ukraine, which was not part of Romania and not part of the 850,000 Jews counted in pre-war Romania. On the other hand the 850,000 figure includes  81,503 Transylvanian Jews. Northern Transylvania was annexed to Hungary during the war and any Jews found there were murdered. But again, many of those Jews escaped into Romanian territory with the aid of Romanians in Transylvania and so were saved.  

Matatias Carp views the Iasi pogrom as a natural culmination of decades of state and popular Anti-Semitism  Romania had a history of anti-Semitism as did the Ukraine, but as anti-Semitism was endemic to the region, and pogroms had taken place there before, it does not suffice to explain the Iasi pogrom. The policy of deporting Jews and removing them from different areas of Romania had begun under the "Legionary" regime. Antonescu had met with Hitler several times and discussed the settlement of the "Jewish problem." The deportation policy continued after the legionaries revolted and the legionary regime was dismantled, the ultimate goal of this policy being the extermination of the Jews following the anticipated Axis victory in the war. 

Preparation for the Pogrom

The pogrom took place against the background of the Nazi invasion of the USSR, aided by Romanian forces, which began on June 22, 1941 (Operation Barbarossa). However, the  background for the action against the Jews of Iasi was evidently prepared before the start of Operation Barbarossa, and in cooperation with the German forces in Romania. The Romanian Special Intelligence Service (SSI) established a group of 160 picked operatives, Esalonul I Operativ (Operational Echelon 1) on June 11, 1941. These we sent sent to Moldavia June 18 along with a Romanian speaking German Abwehr (Wehrmacht Intelligence) officer, Major Hermann Stransky as liaison to the Abwehr and presumably to the Wehrmacht headquartered in Iasi. Along with "Section Two" of the General Headquarters of the Romanian Army, Echelon II began to spread rumors that Jews were shooting at Romanian and German troops, and likewise that downed pilots of Soviet aircraft, also "Jews" were joining them. There were evidently some ominous preparations.  Young Jews were forced to dig huge ditches in the Jewish cemetery about a week before the pogrom,  and houses of Christians were marked with crucifixes.  Some shooting incidents were staged as well. Two Soviet air-raids, on June 24 and 26, provided a convenient excuse, since it could be claimed that downed pilots were shooting soldiers. Likewise, rumors were spread that the Jews were signaling to the Soviet air force to point out targets, and that Jews from Iasi had been found among the crews of the downed aircraft. 

On June 26, the leaders of the Jewish community were brought to the Central Police Headquarters, and “the Jews of Iasi” were accused of having collaborated with Soviet Jewish aviators. Police Superintendent Chirilovici ordered that within the next forty-eight hours Jews had to hand over to the police all binoculars, flashlights, and photographic equipment

The Iasi Pogrom

Iasi: rounding up Jews before pogrom

Iasi: Rounding up Jews

On June 27, 1941, Ion Antonescu  himself  issued the formal order to evacuate Jews from the city via telephone directly to Col. Constantin Lupu, commander of the Iasi garrison. Lupu was instructed to take steps to “cleanse Iasi of its Jewish population.”On the night of June 28/29, as army, police, and gendarmerie units were launching the arrests and executions, Antonescu telephoned again to reiterate the evacuation order. Lupu made careful note of his mission: (FINAL REPORT of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, Nov 11, 2004,  pp 121-122)

1. Issue a notice signed by you in your capacity as military commander of the city of Iasi, based on the existing government orders, adding: “In light of the state of war...if anyone opens fire from a building, the house is to be surrounded by soldiers and all its inhabitants arrested, with the exception of children. Following a brief interrogation, the guilty parties are to be executed. A similar punishment is to be implemented against those who hide individuals who have committed the above offenses.”

2. The evacuation of the Jewish population from Iasi is essential, and shall be carried out in full, including women and children. The evacuation shall be implemented pachete pachete [batch by batch], first to Roman and later to Targu-Jiu. For this reason, you are to arrange the matter with the Ministry of Interior and the county prefecture. Suitable preparations must be made.

Iasi was headquarters of the 198th division of the Wehrmacht 30th Army Corps and they apparently participated in the ensuing violence along with SS, Romanian army, Iasi police, Bessarabian police as well as armed civilians. Evidently however, the Jews were in fact evacuated for the most part to nearby Podul Iloaiei or to Calarasi, rather than to Targu-Jiu as stated in the original orders.

On the 28th at 9 AM several German aircraft flew over the city and released flares. Incidents of false shootings were staged, and the pogrom began. The organizers, including General Savrescu, reported that shots were fired from certain buildings. The buildings were surrounded and the inhabitants were removed. Some were apparently arrested and others were shot. The systematic looting, rape and murder began on the night of the 28th and continued into the 29th. About 5,000 Jews were gathered at the police station and eventually massacred, and there were massacres at the water works and electrical station. Jews were shot in the streets as well. Some were killed even after they had been given a pass clearing them.  The pogrom continued in Iasi into the 30th. Estimates of killed and injured in the city itself range from  900 to about 4,000.

Rescue of Jews During the Iasi Pogrom

Some Jews managed to escape death with the help of Romanians. Two Romanian officers persuaded the guards of  one group to let their people go. Others slated for the police station roundup managed to escape by bribing their Romanian guards. A  convoy of eight hundred to one thousand men was forced to lie facedown along several large trenches near the bank of the Bahlui River . There many were beaten by some laborers, clerical employees, and shopkeepers. But the mob violence was limited to drowning a rabbi from Buhusi. Police Chief Chirilovici ordered a sergeant who was about to shoot some of the Jews to release them.

The director of the Dacia Mill, Grigore Porfir saved about one hundred Jews working in his business, despite the fact that soldiers threatened to kill him. A pharmacist named Beceanu risked his life to save dozens of Jews. Commissar Suvei of the Second Police Precinct freed a group of 350 being herded toward Central Police Headquarters, and Commissar Mircescu and Police Officer Sava saved many Jews by advising them to leave their homes or taking them into protective custody.

Not surprisingly, this semi-controlled mayhem got out of control. The chief worry of the government was that the loot would be stolen by private people and would not become property of the state.  Col. Lupu was tried and relieved of his command in 1942. The same mixture of incited riots and robbery and semi-orderly transport was used a year later in Dorhoi and a similar pogrom took place at Chisinau as well. 

Transports following the Iasi Pogrom

On the 29th the Jews  were marched to the train station, beaten up and thrown into freight cars, about 80-200 persons per car in windowless cars, hot in the summer, that might accommodate 40 people. The cars stank from carbide. The trains were sent to various destinations, and due to bureaucratic bungling at least one train, for Calarasi, shuffled back and forth between stations for quite a while, without allowing opening of the doors. People went mad and died or killed themselves. The train destined for Calarasi, in southern Romania,  had as many as 5,000 Jews when it started. Only 1,011 reached their destination alive after seven days. The  train to Podul Iloaiei, only 15 kilometers from Iasi, had up to 2,700 Jews when it left, of whom only 700 were alive at the destination when it arrived 8 hours later. These trains made several trips.

Iasi pogrom - removing bodies from trains

Above and below - trains to Calarasi or  Podul Iloaiei
are halted to remove dead bodies.
Photo Credits: Stadt Archiv, Koln & US Holocaust Museum

In the town of Roman, Viorica Agarici, chairman of the local Red Cross, overheard people moaning from a train transporting Jewish survivors of the Iaşi pogrom on the night of July 2, 1941. Taking advantage of her position, she asked and received permission to give food and water to the unfortunate passengers. Her actions were strongly condemned by the community of Roman. She was forced to move to Bucharest. Agarici was one of the 54 Romanian Righteous Among the Nations commemorated by the Israeli people at Yad Vashem.  However, most Romanians were less kind to Jews and often assisted in the killings or mocked the unfortunates on the trains.

Strangely, the surviving Jews of Iasi were apparently allowed to return in August of 1941, though of course, their possessions were never returned. The Iasi pogrom was followed by worse and more systematic atrocities in Bessarabia, Bukovina, Moldova, Ukraine and Transnistria.

American Complicity in the Romanian Genocide

The United States government was well aware of the nature of Romanian treatment of Jews but did very little to intervene. U.S. ambassador Franklin Mott Gunther did raise the matter on November 4, 1941 wih Antonescu, and then reported to Washington: 

I have constantly and persistently drawn the attention of the highest Romanian authorities to the inevitable reaction of my government and of the American people to such an inhuman treatment, including the unlawful killing of innocent and defenseless people, by describing in detail the atrocities perpetrated against theJews of Romania. My observations triggered expressions of regret from Marshal Antonescu and the ad-interim PM, Mihai Antonescu, for the excesses committed “by mistake” or “by irresponsible elements” and [promises] of future temperance….The systematic extermination program continues, though, and I don’t see any hope for Romanian Jews as long as the current regime controlled by the Germans stays in place. (Jean Ancel, ed., Documents Concerning the Fate of Romanian Jewry during the Holocaust (New York: Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, 1986), vol. 3: no. 221, p. 339)

This report, like many others, was apparently deliberately buried by the United States State Department.

War Crimes Trials for Iasi Pogroms

Postwar justice was of a somewhat limited and conditional nature owing to "exigencies. For example, Major Iorgu Popescu, who had killed a Jewish student while investigating him under the previous regime, was now a loyal servant of "Peoples' Romania" and as such was named public prosecutor in the trial of the Iasi pogrom perpetrators.

Of those actually tried and convicted, many had their sentences commuted to "time served" in 1950 if they joined the Communist party, and others were freed when Romania began pursuing a more independent line in the 1960s. Communist politics did not permit discussing the issue of racism and therefore the trials were mostly about killing of "communists" and "workers" though Romania had practically no Communist party. Because the USSR did not release captured documents, the extent of Romanian war crimes was not known until after 1989. Regarding Iasi, it was asserted that at least 10,000 Jews had been killed.

General Nicolae Stavrescu escaped punishment for his part in the Iasi massacres for a long time, but eventually was prosecuted.

The Romanian People's Tribunals relevant to Iasi were conducted in 1946 and a total of fifty-seven people were tried for the Iaşi pogroms: 8 from the higher military echelons, the prefect of Iaşi county and the mayor of Iaşi, 4 military figures, 21 civilians and 22 gendarmes. One hundred sixty-five witnesses, mostly survivors of the pogrom, were called to the stand.

Most of those sentenced under war crimes and crimes against peace (article 2 of Law no. 291/1947), 23 people (including General Georghe Stavrescu (not to be confused with Nicolae) , other generals and colonels), received life sentences with hard labor and 100 million lei in damages. Colonel Lupu received a life sentence in harsh conditions and 100 million lei in damages. Twelve accused were sentenced to 20 years hard labor each. Sentences of 25 years hard labor were received by 7 accused. Smaller groups received a 20 year harsh sentence and 15 years hard labor, and one accused was sentenced to 5 years hard labor. As noted, not all of these sentences may have been served.  Several accused were acquitted. ref

Ami Isseroff

April 8, 2009

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information: Pogrom blood libel Anti-Semitism

External Sources:

FINAL REPORT of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania

Dov Shmuel on The Iasi Pogrom

The Massacres at the Beginning of the War  (Adapted from Ioanid, Radu, "The Holocaust in Romania: The Destruction of Jews and Gypsies Under the Antonescu Regime, 1940-1944"

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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