In October 1941, the Romanian army rounded up and executed the Jewish population in Odessa
The events that took place over October 22nd and 25th 1941, when the Romanian army rounded up and executed the Jewish population in Odessa are known as the Odessa Massacre. The operation was carried out in retaliation for a bomb attack on the Romanian Command headquarters allegedly masterminded by the Jews on October 22nd. The attack killed 16 Romanian officers, including the city’s military commander, general Ion Glogojanu. 46 troops and NCOs, several civilians and 4 German navy officers also died in the attack.
Because the perpetrators had not been captured, the Romanian troops launched an operation against the Jewish civilians in the city, which were perceived at that time as supporters of the Soviets and the partisans. General Iosif Iacobici, who was in charge of the retaliatory measures, reported that many Jews had been hanged on lamp posts in the city squares, some had been shot dead on the spot while others rounded up outside the city for execution. The number of victims ranges between 22,000 and 40,000.
Archivist Florin Stan from the Diplomatic Archives of the Romanian Foreign Ministry has written a volume of WWll Jewish History in which he explains that the Massacre in Odessa must be understood in the greater context of the war’s early days.
Florin Stan: “In order to better understand what happened in that October 1941, we must go a little back in time and have a look at some events that had taken place on the frontline after the liberation of Bessarabia and North Bukovina in late June 1941. On August 6th 1941, in Berdicev, a town located in present-day Ukraine, the head of the Romanian state, gen. Ion Antonescu had met Hitler to confirm the intentions of the Romanian government to carry on military operations in the East alongside the Wehrmacht forces. A historian specialized in WWll history explains that out of all Germany’s allies only two could be considered effective participants in the anti-Soviet campaign, namely Romania and Finland, which operated at the extremities of the Eastern front at the same time enjoying substantial autonomy from Germany. Antonescu’s ambition to prove the potential of Romanian troops in the battles of liberating and conquering Odessa - a major strategic point on the Eastern front - was well known.”
Anti-Semitism had reached its peak in the early 1940s. An ideology of hatred, intolerance and racism, fascism pervaded not only the politics, a certain regime or state, but also people’s daily life. So clichés used by the propaganda machine were seen as undeniable truth. Florin Stan believes that anti-Semitism was an attitude that preceded the massacre in Odessa, a logical effect of the entire climate of hatred instated in Europe, particularly in order to justify failures of one sort or another.
Florin Stan: “The protracted campaign to seize Odessa forced the Romanian government of the time to come up with explanations. One such stupid explanation was provided by gen. Ion Antonescu himself, who described the Jews as the devil incarnate. Another slogan circulated back then was that ‘without Jewish commissioners we would have long been in Odessa’ and a counter-intelligence bulletin released in September concluded that all Jews were actually waging war against the Romanian troops. That kind of propaganda led to oversimplification, blaming civilians as well as the servicemen who were fighting on the eastern front. Romanian troops entered Odessa on October 16th, after the city had been abandoned by the Soviets. Shortly after the invasion, patrols started to mark the Jewish houses and a ghetto was set up on the premises of the local prison on October 18th. All the Jews who had been rounded up in this ghetto were awaiting deportation and the seizure of all their belongings shortly before the bomb attack on the Romanian Command headquarters was seen as a carefully planned move.”
However there were people who took a stand against these atrocities, and even the authorities reached the conclusion that the Jews were used as scapegoats.
Florin Stan: “An example is the attitude of Odessa’s mayor Gherman Pantea, who in the morning of October 23rd was horrified by what he saw at the crossroads. An angry city mayor had told the Romanian officers that the atrocities committed in the city are a blood stain on the Romanian military uniform, which nobody could ever wash away, as those executed had not been proved guilty of any crime. An inquiry into the massacre was launched shortly and in November that year, gendarme general Constantin Vasiliu briefed Ion Antonescu on its conclusions; it was clear that the victims of the massacre had not been among the masterminds of the attack on the Romanian Command headquarters.”
The Odessa Massacre was one of the counts gen. Antonescu and three of his collaborators were charged on. The four were executed in June 1946 and the Court of Appeal in Bucharest in 2016 reconfirmed the death sentence in response to an appeal made by the son of one of those executed.
(translated by: Daniel Bilt)