One in three Romanians are aware the Holocaust occurred in Romania, but fewer people know that hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported to their deaths from Romania to Nazi-controlled areas outside the country, such as Trans-Dniester in the Soviet Union, according to a study.
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Historians say Nazi-allied leader Marshal Ion Antonescu, who ruled Romania from 1940 to 1944, before he was removed in a coup, is considered responsible for the deaths of up to 300,000 Jews outside Romania. But some Romanians focus on Jews inside the country that he purposely did not transport to death camps.
Reflecting this, half the respondents say Antonescu should be rehabilitated and recognized for his efforts in reuniting Greater Romania, according to a study carried out by the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania and released Thursday.
Antonescu was sentenced by a Romanian communist people’s court and was executed as a war criminal in 1946 in Jilava, south of Bucharest.
A total of 76% said they had heard of the Holocaust, up from 68% in 2016. Most associate the Holocaust with “the extermination in of Jews during World War II’ (66%) and “Nazi concentration camps” (54%), the study found.
Other terms that are associated with the Holocaust are “gas chambers” and “mass deportations” by about 40% of respondents. Romanians interviewed say that Roma or Gypsies suffered during the Holocaust.
Romania made Holocaust denial illegal in 2015, making public denial of the systematic slaughter of Jews by Nazi Germany punishable by up to three years in prison. Public awareness about the Holocaust however remains low.
Most respondents said the Holocaust happened in Germany with just one in three aware it took place in Romania, three percentage points more than in 2017.
The Holocaust in Romania is mainly associated with the deportation of Roma to Trans-Dniester, while fewer respondents know that Jews were deported to Nazi-controlled camps during the Holocaust.
Nazi Germany is considered responsible for the Holocaust in Romania (71%), followed by Antonescu (17%). Antonescu was one of Hitler’s greatest allies.
Asked who in Romania supported the Holocaust, respondents said Antonescu followed by the Legionnaire movement, various wartime governments, and the anti-Semitic press and literature.
There was also a rise in respondents who don’t consider Antonescu a patriot, 42%, compared to 24% in 2017. But Romanians also think he should be rehabilitated for opposing Communists and his role in recreating Greater Romania is appreciated by 46% compared to de 29% in 2017.
British Professor Dennis Deletant wrote that Antonescu directly orchestrated through deliberate starvation and “horrific acts of mass butchery,” the deaths of up to 300,000 Jews in northern Bukovina, Bessarabia, and Tran-Dniester, areas to the east and north of Romania with large ethnic Romanian populations.
But in Romania proper — Moldavia, Wallachia, and southern Transylvania — Antonescu kept up to 375,000 Jews from local slaughter and transport to death camps in German-occupied Poland, he said. This was something that would likely not have happened had the fascist Iron Guard remained as part of his government in Bucharest; these Legionnaires comprised a paramilitary force that combined extreme anti-Semitism with a radicalized and overtly mystical version of Orthodox Christianity.
Although many Romanians have a positive impression of Antonescu, many consider him a weak leader who led Romania “to disaster.”
The study was carried out from Oct. 22 to 12 November, and 1,000 were questioned. Ut said there was a 3% margin of error.