The fall of Greater Romania started in the summer of 1940, under two ultimatums addressed by the Soviet Government to the Romanian one
The Soviet Union called on Romania to give up Bessarabia, saying it was its own territory, seized by Romania in 1918, and also asked for the northern part of Bukovina as compensation. The requests were by all means absurd, as Bessarabia had united with Romania benefiting from the right of self-determination granted by the Bolshevik revolution to the peoples in tsarist Russia and in full compliance with the will of the Romanians there.
The Soviets allowed only two days for the withdrawal of the Romanian military and civil authorities from Bessarabia, and that created tension and confusion among Romanians. That confusion also led to a massacre in Galati, committed against a group of people, many of whom were Jews. Historians say that the episode was yet another manifestation of the hatred and violence that Europe was struggling with in the late 1930s. Historian Adrian Cioflanca, the Director of the Center for the Research on Romanian Jewry, placed the massacre of June 30th, 1940, against the background of the loss of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina.
Adrian Cioflanca: “The loss of the territories in 1940 was a consequence of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact and what is interesting is that the two ultimatums given by the Soviets also triggered an interesting episode, which also played a role during the pogrom in Dorohoi, a day after the massacre in Galati. The Romanian Minister to Moscow Gheorghe Davidescu did not want to accept the map with the delimitations made by the Soviets. That refusal created an even bigger confusion in the northern part of Romania, because the Dorohoi officials did not know whether the Soviets would stop before entering the city or would enter the city. Panic did play a role in creating the tension that led to the pogrom of July 1st. The same happened in Galati, as the reports written by the intelligence services show. According to rumors carried by the Bessarabian refugees, the Galati was about to be occupied by Soviets. That panic occurred because no clear information was disseminated as to where the Soviets would stop.”
The reports drawn up by the Interior Ministry mention the chaos created during the withdrawal, when burglaries were committed, Jews were thrown from trains and people were executed without trial. Archives also mention the humiliation that the Romanian army was subjected to during the withdrawal. Officers were demoted, soldiers spit at and hit; some of them were even killed. Against that background, the massacre in Galati was reported in a very dry tone. The report was that there had been a communist attack organized in the railway station area and therefore the military intervention was justified. Besides the anti-Semitic feelings back then, Adrian Cioflanca mentioned as one of the causes of the massacre the panic crated by the quick movement of the Soviet army and the hate displayed by some of the locals.
Adrian Cioflanca: “Another thing that would explain the panic was the Soviets’ advance which was faster than provided in the military offensive plan for northern Bukovina and Bessarabia. The Romanian troops were poorly equipped and used mainly horses and carriages or even walked, and so they were quickly caught up by the Soviet mechanized units or by paratroopers. On June 29th, the Soviets had already occupied Reni and Bolhrad, when the Romanian troops were still in the central parts of Bessarabia. That added to the panic among the refuges, because the entire convoy of refugees was caught in the Bolhrad station, and several ships had been intercepted in the port of Reni. Seeing the newly instated authorities, some of the locals engaged in robberies and started criticizing the Romanian authorities. The Soviets stopped the train and that enhanced the panic. All fears, rumors, false information carried by word of mouth reached Galati and hence the tension escalated.”
Back then Galati was a place where refugees from Bessarabia were crossing to Romania over the River Prut, while from the other side some were trying to get to the Soviet-occupied Bessarabia. The groups of refugees would gather in the railway station area and the local authorities managed in a very short period of time to set up a border-crossing point. Once established, the authorities decided to set up a border checkpoint for those who wanted to leave Romania. A sort of a camp was built in the field, to gather those who wanted to cross the border into the USSR, guarded by a navy squad. Following a conflict between a family and a navy soldier, the latter fired a warning fire, and the camp’s security thought it was an attack. So an order was issued to start fire against the people in the camp; the outcome was hundreds of dead, including many Jews. The Galati massacre was the tragic outcome of a mix of hate, rumors and accident. (Translated by M. Ignarescu, edited by D. Vijeu)