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The Iași pogrom or Jassy pogrom of June 27, 1941 was one of the most violent pogroms in Jewish history, launched by governmental forces in the Romanian city of Iaşi (Jassy) against its Jewish population, resulting in the murder of at least 13,266 Jews, according to Romanian authorities.
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During World War II, from 1940 to 1944, Romania was an ally of Nazi Germany, and echoed its anti-Semitic policies. During 1941 and 1942, thirty-two laws, thirty-one decree-laws, and seventeen government resolutions, all sharply anti-Semitic, were published in the Official Gazette (Monitorul Oficial). Romania also joined Germany in the invasion of the Soviet Union, initially with the purpose of regaining Bessarabia, taken by Soviets in 1940, after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
On June 27, 1941, Romanian dictator Ion Antonescu telephoned Col. Constantin Lupu, commander of the Iaşi garrison, telling him formally to "cleanse Iaşi of its Jewish population" , though plans for the pogrom had been laid even earlier.
Rumors had already been circulating, backed up by the state-run press, that stated that Soviet parachutists had landed outside of Iaşi, and that the Jews were working with them. In the week before the pogrom, the signs grew more ominous: houses were marked with crosses if the residents were Christian, Jewish men were forced to dig large ditches in the Jewish cemetery, and soldiers started to break into Jewish homes "searching for evidence." On June 27, the authorities officially accused the Jewish community of sabotage, and assembled the soldiers and police who would spearhead the pogrom, where they were falsely told that Jews had attacked soldiers in the streets.
Marcel, a Jewish survivor from Iași recounted,
"I remember that the real danger for the Jews started on June 29, 1941. It was a big surprise for all the Jews. We were forced to wear the yellow stars of David on our clothes. We could not buy or sell food anymore. For certain hours, we didn’t have access to some public places. At that time there were cellars where Jews hid. It was difficult for the police to search the cellars. So, in order to make us come to the commissariat, they distributed a sort of ticket with the word "Free" written on it in a Jewish district. The Jews thought that if they showed up at the commissariat they could be set free, could again buy commodities. But it was a trap --'Instead of receiving freedom, we met death.'"
Pogrom and death train
According to a report commissioned by, and accepted by the Romanian government, the participation in the pogrom that followed was widespread:
- "Those participating in the manhunt launched on the night of June 28/29 were, first and foremost, the Iasi police, backed by the Bessarabia police and gendarmerie units. Other participants were army soldiers, young people armed by SSI agents, and mobs who robbed and killed, knowing they would not have to account for their actions....In addition to informing on Jews, directing soldiers to Jewish homes and refuges, and even breaking into homes themselves, some Romanian residents of Iaşi also took part in the arrests and humiliation forced upon the convoys of Jews on their way to the Chestura. The perpetrators included neighbors of Jews, known and lesser-known supporters of antisemitic movements, students, poorly-paid, low-level officials, railway workers, craftsmen frustrated by Jewish competition, “white-collar” workers, retirees and military veterans."
Soon, Romanian soldiers, police, and mobs started massacring Jews, at least 8,000 were killed in the initial pogrom. The Romanian authorities also arrested more than 5,000 Jews, forcing them to the train station, and shooting those who did not move quickly, and robbing them of all of their possessions. Over 100 people were stuffed into each car, and many Jews died of thirst, starvation, and suffocation aboard two trains that for eight days travelled back and forth across the countryside. According to the official report:
In the death train that left Iaşi for Călăraşi, southern Romania, which carried perhaps as many as 5,000 Jews, only 1,011 reached their destination alive after seven days. (The Romanian police counted 1,258 bodies, yet hundreds of dead were thrown out of the train on the way at Mirceşti, Roman, Săbăoani, and Inoteşti.) The death train to Podu Iloaiei (15 kilometers from Iaşi) had up to 2,700 Jews upon departure, of which only 700 disembarked alive. In the official account, Romanian authorities reported that 1,900 Jews boarded the train and “only” 1,194 died."
Others were deported by train to Podu Iloaei, southwest of Iași. The total number of victims of the Iaşi pogrom is unknown, but the figure is calculated to be over 13,266 identified victims by the Romanian government, and nearly 15,000 by the Jewish community of Iaşi.
In the midst of brutality, there were also notable exceptions. In the town of Roman, there was Viorica Agarici, chairman of the local Red Cross during World War II and one of the 54 Romanian Righteous Among the Nations commemorated by the Israeli people at Yad Vashem. On the night of 2 July 1941, after caring for the Romanian Army wounded coming from the Russian front, she overheard people moaning from a train transporting Jewish survivors of the Iaşi pogrom. Taking advantage of her position, she asked and received permission to give food and water to those unfortunate passengers. Her actions were strongly condemned by the community of Roman and she had to move to Bucharest.
Unlike the Nazi German evacuations and exterminations, which involved black-ops, secrecy and deceit, this pogrom was perpetrated in the open day light by Romanian authorities and the Romanian Army on Romanian citizens of Jewish origin in Romania proper.
In contrast to the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup in the zone occupée of France, where those arrested were transported to extermination camps in Nazi-occupied Poland, those arrested in the Iași pogrom were not transported outside of the country.
War crimes trials
The Romanian People's Tribunals were conducted in 1946 and a total of 57 people were tried for the Iaşi pogroms: eight from the higher military echelons, the prefect of Iaşi county and the mayor of Iaşi, four military figures, 21 civilians and 22 gendarmes. One hundred sixty-five witnesses, mostly survivors of the pogrom, were called to the stand.
The majority of those sentenced under war crimes and crimes against peace (article 2 of Law no. 291/1947), 23 people (including generals and colonels), received life sentences with hard labor and 100 million lei in damages. One colonel received a life sentence in harsh conditions and 100 million lei in damages. The next-largest group, twelve accused, were sentenced to 20 years hard labor each. Sentences of 25 years hard labor were received by seven accused. Smaller groups received a 20-year harsh sentence and 15 years hard labor, and one accused was sentenced to five years hard labor. Several accused were acquitted.
- History of the Jews in Romania
- Wiesel Commission
- Legionnaires' Rebellion and Bucharest Pogrom
- Gruber's Journey
- RICHR, Ch. 5, p. 22
- "Execution Sites of Jewish Victims Investigated by Yahad-In Unum". Yahad Map.
- "The Holocaust in Romania" (PDF). Bucharest, Romania: International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania. 11 November 2004. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
- "Romania". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 11 May 2012. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
- RICHR: Ch.12 - Trials of War Criminals, Page 21
- RICHR: Ch.12 - Trials of War Criminals, Pages 22,23
- Report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania (RICHR) submitted to President Ion Iliescu in Bucharest on November 11, 2004.
- Ch.12 - Trials of War Criminals (PDF)
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- US Holocaust Museum
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- The trains of the Holocaust, by Hedi Enghelberg, digital book edition, www.amazon.com, The ENG Publishing, 2010-2012
- "Elie Wiesel" National Institute for the Study of Holocaust in Romania