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Remembering the Pogrom of Romania


Janaury 2001

President Ion Iliescu joined Romanian Jewish survivors of World War II on Sunday to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the killings of Jews by a Romanian fascists during a failed coup. The killings occurred Jan. 21-23, 1941, in Bucharest and other Romanian cities.

The Iron Guard, a Romanian fascist organization, robbed and tortured hundreds of Jews, of whom 120 perished. Some 25 synagogues and temples were ransacked in the campaign of terror. The Iron Guard was trying to create mayhem to destabilize and overthrow Romania's pro-Nazi military ruler Marshal Ion Antonescu. The rampage was crushed by Antonescu's troops. He then outlawed the Guard. In a memorial service in Bucharest, Iliescu condemned the "barbaric acts'' of the Iron Guard.

About half of the 800,000 Jews who lived in Romania before World War II were killed during the war. Hundreds of thousands of Romanian Jews left for Israel during the communist period. Just 12,000 mostly elderly Jews live in Romania today.

Iliescu, a 70-year-old former communist, recalled in a speech at the Jewish Coral Temple how his father's Jewish friend was killed. "I personally experienced those horrific moments,'' Iliescu told elderly Jews.

A Jewish survivor, Victor Barladeanu, 72, said: "My family and about 20 other people hid in the attic of my house.'' Barladeanu, a writer, said a Romanian barber in the neighborhood saved his family. "The man stayed outside (our house) with a club in his hand and told the mobs: 'There are no Jews here.' He was a big man ... and nobody argued with him.''

Still, Iliescu criticized as exaggerated Jewish claims of the number of victims in Romania during the Holocaust. "Inflating the number of Jewish victims in Romania, to stir compassion, stands in the way of better ties between Romania and Israel.

During World War II, northwestern Romanian territory was under Hungarian control. More than 150,000 Jews from this region died in Nazi death camps. Romanians like to distance themselves from these deaths. Antonescu is known to have deported more than 150,000 Romanian Jews to the Soviet Union; 80,000 of them died.

Pro-fascist groups were outlawed under communist rule, which collapsed in 1989. Since then, several groups claiming to be successors of the Guard have appeared. They claim the Guard was unfairly blamed for the Jewish killings. Serban Suru, a 41-year-old leader of one of today's pro-Guard movements, opposes a year-old school curriculum on the Holocaust. Suru's group has just 100 members. The ultranationalist Greater Romania Party is the country's second-largest party, holding one-fourth of parliamentary seats. It considers Antonescu a hero. Its leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, has often expressed anti-Jewish sentiment. He was defeated in a runoff presidential election in December by Iliescu.

Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press.