Bucharest, Romania December 21, 1937

On this date in 1937 Romania’s last free elections (until 1990) ended in the ouster of the middle-of-the road Na­tion­al Libe­ral govern­ment. The Liberals, who remained the largest party in parlia­ment, were unable to form a coali­tion govern­ment with the next two runner-up par­ties. A week later King Carol II named the leader of the far-right National Chris­tian Party—the anti-Semi­tic politi­cian, poet, and play­wright Octa­vian Goga—to head a new govern­ment, despite Goga’s party coming in fourth with 9.3 percent of the popular vote. (In his diary Carol prayed for Goga’s govern­ment to collapse so that he could seize power for himself.)

Prime Minister Goga immediately embarked on a pro­gram to estab­lish a per­sonal dicta­tor­ship. Goga’s regime insti­tuted a para­military wing of fas­cist char­ac­ter, the Lancieri (Lance-bearers). The Lancieri borrowed heavily from a popu­lar ultra­nationalist, anti-com­munist, anti-Semi­tic com­peting group, the Iron Guard, also known as the Legion­naire move­ment (1930–1941), which Goga attempted to out­flank and which was also involved in vio­lence against Roma­nia’s 800,000 Jews who lived mostly in the north of the coun­try, where they formed the third largest community of Jews in Europe.

During his brief period in power (Decem­ber 28, 1937, to Febru­ary 10, 1938), Goga gained notoriety for passing Roma­nia’s first anti-Semi­tic laws. Begin­ning on Janu­ary 12, 1938, his govern­ment stripped Roma­nian Jews of their short-held citizen­ship, which had been granted them in 1919–1923; barred Jews from the civil ser­vice and the army; and for­bade them to buy pro­perty and prac­tice cer­tain profes­sions. Goga was quoted in TIME Magazine at the end of Janu­ary 1938 as saying, “The Jewish prob­lem is an old one here, and it is a Rumanian tragedy. Briefly, we have far too many Jews.”

The week before Goga proposed collecting all Jews and relo­cating them to an “unin­hab­ited” region, the further away the better, where they could found their own nation. (A long-cherished terri­torial scheme for pushing Euro­pean Jews onto a dis­tant reser­va­tion found its most hair­brained expres­sion in the Nazis’ 1940 “Mada­gas­car Plan,” which predict­ably col­lapsed because the sea routes from German-occu­pied Europe to the large Vichy French island in the Indian Ocean could never be secured.) Many of Goga’s coun­try­men felt the same way—rid the coun­try of its Jewish popu­la­tion—for in the same year Goga floated his forced emi­gra­tion pro­posal, early 1938, anti-Jewish riots swept across Roma­nia. When Goga suffered a stroke and died in early May 1938, his body lay in state in Bucha­rest’s Palace Athe­naeum. Those mourning his passing included Nazi Germany’s head of state, Adolf Hitler, who sent a floral tribute to adorn Goga’s glass-top cas­ket. Within 2½ years Roma­nia was firmly in Hitler’s orbit. Of all his allies, Roma­nia was responsible for the deaths of more Jews than any country other than Germany itself.

Romanian Holocaust: Romania’s Iron Guard Revolt and Jewish Pogrom, January 21–23, 1941

Romanian Holocaust: Destroyed Sephardic Temple, Bucharest, Romania, January 23, 1941Romanian Holocaust: Interior a ruined synagogue, Bucharest, Romania, January 23, 1941

Left: Sephardic Temple in Bucharest after it was robbed and set on fire during a revolt of the para­mili­tary Iron Guard between Janu­ary 21 and 23, 1941. Prime Minis­ter Gen. Ion Anto­nescu had invited the Iron Guard, as a power­ful poli­tical, long-perse­cuted move­ment that aligned itself with the Roma­nian Ortho­dox Church, to join his cabi­net the pre­vious Septem­ber even as he worked to curb their influ­ence. It was an uneasy alli­ance for that rea­son and because many Iron Guard followers were venge­ful toward any­one associated with the regime. On Janu­ary 21, 1941, the Iron Guard launched a rebel­lion (Legionary Rebel­lion) to over­throw Anto­nescu and seize con­trol of the coun­try. After three days of brutal street fighting, the Roma­nian Army was able to crush the putschists, but only after their rebel­lion had erupted into a vicious pogrom against Jews, whom many Roma­nians blamed for the terri­torial losses and ensuring polit­i­cal crises of the pre­vious year. Anto­nescu banned the Iron Cross movement and imprisoned 9,000 of its members.

Right: Interior of a ruined synagogue, Bucharest, Roma­nia, Janu­ary 23, 1941. Legion­naires, as mem­bers of the Iron Guard were called, con­sisted of anti-Semi­tic Roma­nian Ortho­dox priests, uni­ver­sity gradu­ates and stu­dents, intel­lectuals, young and old, men, women, and chil­dren. Legionary gangs armed with knives and crow­bars swooped down on Bucha­rest’s Jewish dis­tricts to grab what­ever they could carry away before van­dalizing and setting fire to twenty-five syna­gogues, demol­ishing Jewish-owned stores, and plun­dering the homes of Jews. Signs posted on Jewish homes read “Kikes live here!” Homes of Chris­tians dis­played religious symbols, icons, or signs reading “Christians live here.”

Romanian Holocaust: Destroyed Jewish shops, Bucharest, Romania, January 23, 1941Romanian Holocaust: Destroyed doctor’s office, Bucharest, Romania, January 23, 1941

Left: Jewish stores destroyed, Bucharest, Romania, Janu­ary 23, 1941. For three and a half days, the capi­tal’s Jewish dis­tricts were at the mercy of mobs en­couraged by state media con­trolled by the Legion­naires. Even sol­diers were attacked. During this time several thou­sand Jews were dragged out of their homes and arrested on the streets or in syna­gogues where they had sought refuge. Among them were lay leaders of the Jewish com­munity, rabbis, person­nel from syna­gogues and Jewish com­munity offices, as well as Jewish jour­nalists, writers, doc­tors, and engi­neers. They were taken to pre­viously estab­lished desti­na­tions such as the Legionary Head­quarters, police pre­cincts, and even to desig­nated syna­gogues, where they were sub­jected to tor­ture or murder or both. Many were driven to the Jilava forest and shot.

Right: A Jewish doctor’s office wrecked in the Bucharest pogrom, Janu­ary 23, 1941.

Romanian Holocaust: Makeshift Jewish morgue, Bucharest, Romania, January 23, 1941Romanian Holocaust: Collapsed wounded on Bucharest street, Romania, January 23, 1941

Left: Bodies of Jewish people are laid out at the Jewish Legal Insti­tute, Bucha­rest, Roma­nia. After the pogrom, by Janu­ary 27, 1941, workers of the Jewish com­munity offices had identified 121 of the dead; how­ever, 400 were still missing. In many instances, Legion­naires had mutil­ated the victims and stripped them of their clothes.

Right: People wounded in the pogrom lie in a Bucha­rest street, Janu­ary 23, 1941. At dawn that day a truck from the Podsudeck sau­sage fac­tory was loaded with 15 Jews who had been held under police arrest. They were driven to the munici­pal slaughter­house at Baneasa and, with 100 other Jews who were cap­tive there, skinned alive and dismembered (based on the quantity of blood at the murder scene) as they dangled on meat hooks used for carcasses. Some had the words “kosher meat” marked on their remains. One of the victims was a five-year-old girl. While this car­nage took place inside the slaughter­house, a large num­ber of Legion­naires were out­side singing and mocking Jewish psalms and prayers. Another group of Jews was taken to a farm in Bucharest’s Straulesti district, where they were shot.

Scenes of Bucharest, Romania’s Capital, Between the World Wars