Romanian Jewish hero Iancu Tucarman who survived Nazi pogroms during World War II and then defied the communists by speaking about the Holocaust at a time when it was forbidden, has died. He was 98.
Iancu Tucarman who died on Friday after catching the coronavirus, was one of a handful of survivors of the Iasi „death trains” when thousands of Jews were herded on to goods trains which ran on the tracks until almost everyone perished of heat or thirst.
He was 18 when he was forced onto a train in 1941 under the regime of pro-Hitler leader Marshal Ion Antonescu, simply because as he was Jewish.
He was one of 148 Jews crammed into a train carriage meant for 40 people _ and one of just eight that survived.
“As time passed, the situation became hellish and hallucinating. Some began to drink their own urine. Others simply went mad, hurling themselves around in despair and delirium hoping for a drop of water or a breath of air,” Iancu Tucarman wrote.
“For 80 years after this tragedy, Iancu Tucarman was chosen to live and bear witness, it was a sharp arrow in him and it never gave him peace, but it increased his resistance,” historian and presidential adviser Andrei Muraru wrote.
“He could never forget the air thick with fear, the ‘benches’ of human bodies…. The screams and the terrible smell of rotting flesh,” Muraru wrote.
Mr. Muraru, who is an adviser to President Klaus Iohannis, added: “Until he was taken from us by the coronavirus, Mr. Tucarman spoke to the world, in the same calm and trembling voice about ‘that Sunday’ when aged 18 he was ‘unmasked,’ arrested and thrown into a carriage on a goods train, along with thousands of others at Iasi station to be deported.”
The trains simply ran on the tracks, with the prisoners crammed inside them in stifling heat, gasping for air.
“Most didn’t make it: they lost their minds or were overwhelmed by thirst and heat,” Mr. Muraru wrote.
Some 1,194 corpses were taken off the train after a 10-hour journey. Another train that left Iasi resulted in 1,400 dead, Mr. Muraru wrote on Facebook.
The operation was planned in great detail and executed between June 28-30, 1941 by the regime of Marshal Ion Antonescu with the support of Romanian police, the Romanian Army and the Nazis aided by the Romanian secret police. In four days, 13,000 Jews were killed.
“We can’t simply not observe the involvement of numerous ordinary people in the collective crimes,” Mr. Muraru wrote.
Apart from those who died on the ‘death trains,’ thousands were simply hunted down or shot on the streets, their bodies dumped into mass graves.
Most of the victims were men, but during the pogroms, women, children and elderly people were also killed.
It was the biggest massacre of the beginning of the war against the Soviet Union, Mr. Muraru noted.
An international commission headed by the late Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel concluded in 2004 that between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews were killed in Romania and areas it controlled during the war, as an ally of Nazi Germany.
Romania has only recently started to come to terms with its role in the extermination of Jews, admitting for the first time in 2003 that it had taken part.
”Normally, we celebrate our birthdays once year. I celebrate my twice: the day I was born and a second time on June 30 when I consider I was born again as a survivor of the ‘death trains,” Mr Tucarman said.
He described the journey: “We were shut in the carriage and we began to undress because of the heat, some of us were naked.”
“Without water and air, the most sensitive ones, such as the ones who had been the most agitated, crying for water and air, became the first victims.”
In his account, he wrote that a 20-kilometer journey which should have taken half an hour lasted for nine hours. “People died of asphyxiation and dehydration.”
When he got home, he didn’t recognize himself in the mirror. “I was disfigured by dehydration with shriveled lips; my face was skin and bone.”
President Iohannis decorated Iancu Tucarman in June 2016 for “loyal service” for “his contribution to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive.”
U.S. Ambassador to Romania, Adrian Zuckerman, whose parents lived in Iasi at the time of the Holocaust, also remembered Iancu Tucarman for his courage after the communists came to to power.
” Under the communist regime, anti-Semitism remained rampant. You were not allowed to talk about the Holocaust,” he said in a speech on Nov. 9.
„Life would have been far easier for Iancu had he joined the Communist party, but he refused. …. He saw how morally corrupt and murderous the communist system was.”
The ambassador, who shares the same family name as Iancu Tucarman (the Romanian spelling), said Jews were „pilloried for attempting to emigrate to Israel and lost their jobs and endured terrible hardship.”
„My parents suffered the same fate. Alongside many of their Romanian countrymen, they were stripped of their livelihoods for seeking to emigrate.”
” Iancu chose to speak about the Holocaust when it was forbidden, he chose the side of right and justice. In his own words, he was motivated by a fear that it can all happen again, if we do not talk about it and if we ever allow ourselves the privilege of forgetting. „
“Mr. Tucarman was a man of incredible generosity to a world that sent him to the gates of Hell when he was still just a teenager….. he looked inside everyone and looked for goodness and kindness,” Mr. Muraru wrote on Friday.
“Today we lost a witness, but through his accounts, we gained a voice which will mobilize people’s consciences. “
After communism ended, he published several books about the Holocaust including “the Iasi Pogrom.”