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Romania Virtual Jewish History Tour

Table of Contents: Romania

The territory of present-day Romania was known as Dacia in antiquity and Jewish tombstones dating from early times have been found there. The Jews may have come as merchants or in other capacities with the Roman legions that garrisoned the country from 101 C.E. and early missionary activity in Dacia may have been due to the existence of Jewish groups there. Today, Romania boasts a Jewish population of 8,700.

Early History
Communal Institutions
Independent Romania
Internal Organization
The Struggle for Naturalization
Increasing Anti-Semitism
Jewish Political Life
Jewish Social Structure
Jewish Cultural Life
Holocaust Period
Community During World War II
Jewish Resistance
Contemporary Period - 1960’s
1970 - 1981
1982 - 1992
1990s - Present
Israel-Romania Relations

Early History

The first real major wave of Jewish immigrants spread through Walachia (a Romanian principality founded around 1290) after they had been expelled from Hungary in 1367. In the 16th century, some refugees from the Spanish expulsion came to Walachia from the Balkan Peninsula. A few served as physicians and even diplomats at the court of the sovereigns of Walachia. Since it was on the trade routes between Poland-Lithuania and the Ottoman Empire many Jewish merchants traveled through Moldavia, the second Romanian principality (in the northeast), founded in the middle of the 14th century. Some settled there and were favorably received by the rulers of this underpopulated principality.

At the beginning of the 16th century, there were Jewish communities in several Moldavian towns, such as Jassy (Iasi), Botosani, Suceava, and Siret. More intensive waves of Jewish immigration resulted from the Chmielnicki massacres (1648–49). From the beginning of the 18th century, the Moldavian rulers granted special charters to attract Jews. While still in Poland they were told about the advantages offered (exemption from taxes, ground for prayer houses, ritual baths, and cemeteries). They were invited either to reestablish war-ravaged towns (1761, Suceava) or to enlarge others (1796, Focsani). The newcomers were encouraged by the landowners to found commercial centers, the so-called burgs. Among the privileges offered was the right to be represented on the local council. In some cases, they undertook to attract other Jews from over the borders. When two counties of Moldavia were annexed by their neighbors (Bukovina by Austria in 1775 and Bessarabia by Russia in 1812), the Jews from these countries preferred to move to Romanian Moldavia, where they were not harassed by the authorities and had both family and business connections. Jewish merchants exported leather, cattle, and corn. Many of the Jews were craftsmen, such as furriers, tailors, bootmakers, tinsmiths, and watchmakers.

From an early date, one of the main components of anti-Jewish hatred in Romania was commercial competition. In 1579, the sovereign of Moldavia, Petru Schiopul (Peter the Lame), ordered the banishment of the Jews on the grounds that they were ruining the merchants. In the Danube harbors, it was the Greek and Bulgarian merchants who incited riots against the Jews, especially during Easter. Anti-Jewish excesses that occurred in the neighboring countries often extended to Romania. In 1652 and 1653, Cossacks invaded Romania, murdering a great number of Jews in Jassy.

Greek Orthodox Christianity also preached intolerance toward Jews and shaped the first codes of law: the Church laws of Moldavia and Walachia in 1640. Both proclaimed the Jews as heretics and forbade all relations with them. With the exception of physicians, Jews were not accepted as witnesses in trials. In the codes of 1746 and 1780, the Jews are scarcely mentioned. On the other hand, the first books of anti-Jewish incitement of a religious character appeared around this time: the Golden Order (Jassy, 1771) and A Challenge to Jews (Jassy, 1803).

Communal Institutions

In 1719, a hakham bashi, Bezalel Cohen, was first appointed for Walachia and Moldavia by the suzerain, the sultan. He resided in Jassy and he had a representative for Walachia in Bucharest. The hakham bashi’s function was hereditary and included the right of collecting taxes on religious ceremonies and contributions from every head of a family — comprising 30,000 taxpayers altogether in the two principalities in 1803 — as well as conferring exemption from taxes and tolls. Yet his prestige was slight and learned rabbis were considered by the Jews as their real spiritual leaders.

A rendering of the Oradea synagogue in Romania, c. 1900.

The growing Russian and Galician element in the Romanian Jewish population at the beginning of the 19th century opposed the hakham bashi since such an institution was unknown to them and many of them were followers of Hasidism and led by zaddikim. As they were foreign subjects they asked their consuls to intercede and, in 1819, the prince of Moldavia decided that the hakham bashi should have jurisdiction only over "native" Jews. Because of strife among the diverse groups of Jews and their complaints to the authorities, the hakham bashi system was abolished in 1834.

The Jews also had a guild, one of 32 guilds set up according to nationality or profession, which took care of tax collection proportionately to the number of persons organized in it. For the Jews, the guild was really the legal body of the community. The collective tax was paid from the tax on kosher meat, and the expenses of the institutions (talmud torah, hekdesh, cemetery) were covered by the remainder.

The center of the guild was in Jassy, and its head was named staroste ("senior"; Heb. rosh medinah). In Bucharest, this function was carried out by the representative of the hakham bashi. When the hakham bashi system was abolished (1834), the Jews’ Guild disappeared as well; the result was the disintegration of the Jewish communities. The collective tax, formerly fixed by the guild, was now imposed by the government. The functions of the community devolved on the various prayer houses and the artisans’ guilds and sometimes on the hevra kaddisha or the Jewish hospital (in Jassy).

Independent Romania

Trouble for the Jews began in 1821, with the first stirrings of Romanian independence and unity. In the course of the rebellion against the Turks, Greek volunteers crossed Moldavia on their way to the Danube, plundering and slaying Jews as they went (in Jassy, Herta, (now Gertsa), Odobesti, Vaslui, Roman). Between 1819 and 1834, Moldavia and Walachia were occupied by Russia, which gave them a unifying constitution (the so-called Organic Law). From 1835 to 1856, the two principalities were protectorates of Russia, through whose influence anti-Semitism increased. From then on the prevailing attitude was that the Jews exploited the Christian population in order to enrich themselves and so their immigration must be stopped. Based on the Russian model, Jews were forbidden to settle in villages, lease lands, and establish factories in towns. Citizenship was denied to Jews. The corrupt Romanian administrators used this legislation to add to their income by persecuting the Jews. The completion of the Organic Law promulgated in 1839 and 1843 included special measures directed against the Jews. Its new provisions conferred on the authorities the right to determine which Jews were useful to the country, the others being declared vagrants and expelled.

Albaiulas Synagogue, built 1822

During the 1821 revolt against the Ottoman-appointed rulers, and the 1848 revolt against Russia, the revolutionaries appealed for the participation of the Jews and proclaimed their civic equality. Some Jews took part in the 1848 revolt, which was put down by the Russians. The peace treaty of Paris (1856), which concluded the Crimean War and granted the principalities a certain autonomy under Ottoman suzerainty, proclaimed inter alia that in the two Danubian principalities all the inhabitants, irrespective of religion, should enjoy religious and civil liberties (the right to own property and to trade) and might occupy political posts. Only those who had foreign citizenship were excluded from political rights. The leaders of the Moldavian and Walachian Jews addressed themselves both to the Romanian authorities and to the great powers, asking for the abolition of the discrimination against them. However, the opposition of Russia and of the Romanian political leaders hindered this. The two principalities united in 1859; Alexandru Ioan Cuza, who was a member of the 1848 revolutionaries’ group and not anti-Semitic, became their sovereign. The number of Jews was then 130,000 (3% of the total population). In 1864, native Jews were granted suffrage in the local councils (“little naturalization”), but Jews who were foreign subjects still could not acquire landed property. Political rights were granted to non-Christians but only parliament could vote on the naturalization of individual Jews—but not a single Jew was naturalized.

In 1866, Alexandru Ioan Cuza was ousted by anti-liberal forces. A new sovereign, Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, was elected and a new constitution was adopted. Under the pressure of demonstrations organized by the police (during which the Choir Temple in Bucharest was demolished and the Jewish quarter plundered), the seventh article of the constitution, restricting citizenship to the Christian population, was adopted. Even the visit to Bucharest of Adolphe Cremieux, president of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, who delivered a speech in the Romanian parliament, had no effect.

In the spring of 1867, the minister of interior, Ion Bratianu, started to expel Jews from the villages and banish noncitizens from the country. That summer, Sir Moses Montefiore arrived in Bucharest and demanded that Prince Carol put a stop to the persecutions. Despite pledges to do so, the discrimination continued. Hundreds of families, harassed by humiliating regulations (e.g., a prohibition on building sukkot), were forced to leave the villages. Local officials regarded such persecution as an effective method of extorting bribes. Neither the repeated interventions of Great Britain and France nor the condemnatory resolutions in the parliaments of Holland and Germany had any effect. The Romanian government reiterated that the Jewish problem was an internal one, and the great powers limited themselves to protests.

At the Congress of Berlin (1878), which finalized Romanian independence, the great powers made the grant of civil rights to the Jews a condition of that independence in spite of opposition by the Romanian and Russian delegates. The Romanian representatives threatened the delegates of the Jewish world organizations, as well as the representatives of the Jews of Romania, by hinting at a worsening of their situation. Indeed, after the Congress of Berlin, other anti-Semitic measures were introduced, and there was incitement in the press and public demonstrations organized by the authorities on the Russian model to prove to the great powers that the people were against Jewish emancipation. Their aim was also to create an anti-Semitic atmosphere on the eve of the session of parliament that was to decide on the modification of the article in the 1866 constitution concerning Jewish naturalization. Prince Carol, opening parliament, declared that the Jews had a harmful influence on economic life and especially on the peasants. After stormy debates, parliament modified the article of the constitution which made citizenship conditional on Christianity but stated that the naturalization of Jews would be carried out individually by vote of both chambers of parliament. During the following 38 years, 2,000 Jews in all were naturalized by this oppressive procedure; of those, 883 were voted in en bloc, having taken part in the 1877 war against Turkey.

This caused the great powers to refuse for a time to recognize independent Romania. However, they finally followed the example of Germany, which took the first step after having received pecuniary compensation from the Romanian government through the redemption of railway shares belonging to Silesian Junkers and members of the German imperial court—at six times their quoted value.

The situation of the Jews continued to grow worse. Jews had been considered Romanian subjects, but now they were declared to be foreigners. The Romanian government persuaded Austria and Germany to withdraw their citizenship from Jews living in Romania. The Jews were forbidden to be lawyers, teachers, chemists, stockbrokers, or to sell commodities that were a government monopoly (tobacco, salt, alcohol). They were not accepted as railway officials, in state hospitals, or as officers. Jewish pupils were later expelled from public schools (1893). Meanwhile, political intimidation continued. In 1885, some of the Jewish leaders and journalists who had participated in the struggle for emancipation, among them Moses Gaster and Elias Schwarzfeld, were expelled from Romania. Both major political parties in Romania — the Liberals and the Conservatives — were anti-Semitic, with only slight differences. In 1910, the first specifically anti-Semitic party, the National Democratic Party, was founded under the leadership of university professors A. C. Cuza and Nicolae Iorga.

Internal Organization

The first general Jewish representative body, after the dissolution of the Jews’ Guild and the internal strife in the communities, was the Brotherhood of Zion society, the forerunner of B’nai B’rith, created in 1872 under the influence of Benjamin Franklin Peixotto, the first American diplomat in Romania. He thus succeeded in shaping a cadre of leaders for the Jewish institutions but did not see any solution for the masses but emigration. For that purpose, he initiated a conference of world Jewish organizations that convened in Brussels (Oct. 29–30, 1872). Under the influence of assimilationist circles, emigration — considered to be unpatriotic — was rejected as a solution of the Jewish problem. The conference suggested to the Jews of Romania that they should fight to acquire political equality. After some years, however, a mass movement started for emigration to Eretz Israel.

The Great Synagogue of Targu-Mures
built in 1899

The political organization founded in 1890, under the name The General Association of Native Israelites, tended to assimilation and strident patriotism, claiming citizenship only for those Jews who had served in the army. Under pressure from a group of Jewish socialists, it extended its demands, claiming political rights for all Jews born in the country. In 1897, anti-Semitic students attacked members of the congress of the association and caused riots in Bucharest. The association ceased its activity and an attempt at reorganization in 1903 failed. Under the pressure of increasing persecution accompanied by an internal economic crisis, a mass emigration of Jews began in 1900; they traveled on foot as far as Hamburg and, from there, went to the United States, Canada, and Great Britain.

Up to World War I, about 70,000 Jews left Romania. From 266,652 (4.5% of the total population) in 1899, the Jewish population declined to 239,967 (3.3%) in 1912. The 1907 revolt of the peasants, who at first vented their wrath on the Jews, also contributed to this tendency to emigrate. Meanwhile, the persecution of the Jews increased. Their expulsion from the villages assumed such proportions that in some counties of Moldavia (Dorohoi, Jassy, Bacau), none remained except veterans of the 1877 war.

In 1910, the Union of Native Jews (U.E.P.) was founded to combat anti-Jewish measures and to seek emancipation. Its first head was Adolphe Stern, former secretary of B. F. Peixotto. The U.E.P. operated by intercession with politicians, through mass petitions to parliament, and by printed propaganda against anti-Semitism. In a single case, it was successful through direct intercession with King Carol I, who held up the passage of a bill discriminating against Jewish craftsmen (1912).

At the end of the 19th century, the organization of Jewish communities began, together with the creation of a Jewish school system prompted by the expulsion of Jews from public schools (1893). The certificates of Jewish schools were not recognized, and their pupils had to pass state examinations, paying a fee (which was a charge on community budgets as they covered this fee for the poor) until 1925, when the certificates of Jewish schools were recognized if the language of tuition was Romanian. All Jewish schools were maintained by the communities; in Bessarabia, Tarbut maintained Hebrew schools. The Ministry of Education contributed only a token subvention.

The impoverishment of the Jewish population also created a need for social assistance that could not be provided by the various existing associations. To achieve the legalization of the communities, several congresses of their representatives were organized (April 1896 in Galati, 1902 in Jassy, and 1905 in Focsani), but they could not agree on the proper nature of a community. Some claimed that it should have an exclusively religious character; others wanted a lay organization dealing only with social welfare, hospitals, and schools. The different Jewish institutions (synagogues, religious associations, hospitals) endeavored to preserve their autonomy. There was a struggle for the tax on meat, too, each demanding this income for itself.

Simultaneously, groups of assimilationist students and intellectuals launched a drive against the community, which they defined as an isolationist instrument. They were joined by anti-Semites who called the community a “state within a state,” a Jewish conspiracy aiming to establish supremacy over the Romanians. Some proposed putting the communities under the Ministry of the Interior. An attempt in 1897 to introduce into parliament a bill on the Jewish communities, its purpose being defined by its sponsor as “to defend the Jewish population against its ignorant religious fanatics,” failed because of the opposition of the liberal government of the day. Later, the principle of autonomy prevailed at Jewish community congresses, owing to the influence of the Zionists, especially Rabbis J. [Jacob] Nacht and J. Niemirover.

The Struggle for Naturalization

Following World War I, Romania enlarged its territory with the provinces of Bukovina, Bessarabia, and Transylvania. In each of these, the Jews were already citizens, either of long standing like those who had lived in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or more recent such as those from Bessarabia who achieved equality only in 1917. Indeed, the naturalization of the Jews of Romania was under way in accordance with the separate peace treaty concluded with Germany in the spring of 1918.

After the defeat of Germany, Prime Minister Ionel Bratianu realized that the naturalization of the Jews would be brought up again at the peace conference, so he tried to resolve the problem by issuing a decree of naturalization on December 28, 1918, proclaiming individual naturalization on the lines adopted after the Congress of Berlin. The decision had to be made by the law courts instead of parliament, on the basis of certain certificates that were very difficult to obtain. Though threatened by the government, the Jewish leaders rejected the law and Jews refrained from applying to the court. The Jews demanded that citizenship be granted en bloc after a declaration by every candidate at his municipality that he was born in the country and held no foreign citizenship.

Although the Romanian government continued to assert that the Jewish problem was an internal one, of national sovereignty, when the delegation led by Ionel Bratianu appeared at the peace conference in (May 1919), Georges Clemenceau reminded him that after the Congress of Berlin, Romania had not implemented the provisions concerning the political rights of the Jews. This time the great powers decided to include guarantees in the peace treaty. A Jewish delegation from Romania, composed of U.E.P. and Zionist representatives, arrived in. They joined the Jewish delegations participating in the peace conference and lobbied to have the peace treaty specify the laws Romania should adopt concerning naturalization.

To prevent the conference’s imposition of naturalization of Jews, Ionel Bratianu wired to Bucharest the text of a law (promulgated as a decree on May 22, 1919), according to which citizenship could now be obtained by a declaration of intent in writing to the law court, the latter being obliged to make out a certificate of confirmation that conferred the exercise of political rights. Those who did not possess foreign citizenship, those who satisfied the requirements of the enlistment law, and those who had served in the war were declared citizens, together with their families.

The peace conference did obligate Romania to legislate the political emancipation of the Jews. Bratianu resigned in protest and, only after an ultimatum sent by the peace conference, did the new Romanian government led by Alexandru Vaida-Voevod sign the peace treaty.

In Bukovina, 40,000 Jews were threatened with remaining stateless, on the pretext of their being refugees who had only recently entered the country. A professor of the faculty of law at Jassy published a study in 1921 asserting that this naturalization was anti-constitutional. In 1923, there began a new struggle for the enactment of naturalization in the new constitution. Adolphe Stern, the president of the U.E.P., was elected as a deputy to parliament and had to fight the law proposed by the Bratianu government which in effect canceled most of the naturalizations already acquired. After hard bargaining, not without renewed threats on the part of the government, the naturalization of the Jews was introduced into the constitution on March 29, 1923, thus also confirming the naturalization of those from the newly annexed territories who would otherwise have been threatened with expulsion. Still, there was a great difference between the laws and the way in which they were implemented. In a regulation published two months after the adoption of the constitution, many procedural restrictions on the Jews living in the new provinces were introduced. In practice, the civil service, the magistracy, university chairs, and officers’ corps remained closed to Jews.

Increasing Anti-Semitism

Growing social and political tensions in Romania in the 1920s and ’30s led to a constant increase in anti-Semitism and in the violence that accompanied it. Anti-Semitic excesses and demonstrations expressed both popular and student anti-Semitism and cruelty; they also served to divert social unrest to the Jews and show Western public opinion that intervention on their behalf was bound to miscarry.

In December 1922, Christian students at the four universities proclaimed numerus clausus as their program; riots followed at the universities and against the Jewish population. As was later revealed in parliament, the student movements were organized and financed by the Ministry of the Interior. The leader of the student movements was Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, the secretary of the League of National Christian Defense which was headed by A. C. Cuza. The students formed terrorist groups on the Fascist and Nazi models and committed several murders. In 1926, the Jewish student Falic was murdered at Chernovtsy. The assassin was acquitted. In 1927, Codreanu broke away from A. C. Cuza and founded the Archangel Michael League, which, in 1929, became the Iron Guard, a paramilitary organization with an extreme anti-Semitic program.

On December 9, 1927, the students of Codreanu’s League carried out a pogrom in Oradea Mare ( Transylvania), where they were holding a congress, for which they received a subsidy from the ministry of the interior: they were conveyed there in special trains put at their disposal free of charge by the government. Five synagogues were wrecked and the Torah scrolls burned in the public squares. After that the riots spread all over the country: in Cluj eight prayer houses were plundered, and on their way home the participants in the congress continued their excesses against the Jews in the cities of Huedin, Targu-Ocna, and Jassy.

At the end of 1933, the liberal prime minister Duca, one of the opponents of King Carol’s dictatorial tendencies, dissolved the Iron Guard and, after three weeks, was assassinated by its men at the king’s instigation. The guard was reformed under the slogan, "Everything for the Country." Codreanu’s ties with the Nazis in Germany dated from that time. Carol II later aided other political bodies with an anti-Semitic program in an attempt to curb the Iron Guard. From 1935, Vaida-Voevod led the Romanian Front and accused the Jews in his speeches of the blood libel, parasitism, defrauding the country, and the Judaization of the press and national literature.

After Hitler came to power in Germany (1933), the large Romanian parties also adopted anti-Semitic programs. In 1935, the National Peasants’ Party (which united with Cuza’s party to form the National Christian Party) announced that its program included “the Romanization of the staff of firms and the protection of national labor through preference for [our] ethnic element” —that is, the removal of Jews from private firms.

Gheorghe Bratianu, leading a dissident liberal party, demanded “nationalization of the cities, proportional representation in public and private posts, in schools and universities, and revocation of Jewish citizenship.”

In July 1934, the “Law for Employment of Romanian Workers in [Private] Firms” was enacted, and established a numerus clausus. The Ministry of Industry and Trade sent all firms special questionnaires which included a clause on "ethnic origin." In 1935, the board of the Christian Lawyers’ Association, founded that year by members of the bar from Ilfov ( Bucharest), gave an impetus to anti-Semitic professional associations. The movement spread all over the country. Its program was the numerus nullus, i.e., revoking the licenses of Jewish lawyers who were already members of the bar and not accepting new registrations.

At the universities, students of the Iron Guard forcibly prevented their Jewish colleagues from attending lectures. The academic authorities supported the numerus clausus program, introducing entrance examinations in 1935–36, which led to a decline in the number of Jewish students.

In other professional corporations, no Jews were elected to the board; they were prevented by force from participating in the elections. The great Romanian banks began to reject requests for credit from Jewish banks as well as from Jewish industrial and commercial firms, and the Jewish enterprises were burdened by heavy taxes, imposed with the aim of ruining them. Jewish firms were not granted import quotas for raw materials and goods. Meanwhile, Germany financed a series of publications and newspapers aimed at fastening an alliance between the two countries and removing Jews from all branches of the professions and the economy. Many a Jewish merchant and industrialist was compelled to sell his firm at a loss when it became unprofitable under these oppressive measures.

Jewish Political Life

In 1919, the Union of Romanian Jews, led by W. Filderman, recommended that the Jews vote for those Romanian parties that would be favorable to them. As none of the parties formulated an attitude toward the Jewish problem, the Union decided that the Jews should withhold their votes. In the 1920 elections, the Union joined the Zionists to form a list that conducted its election campaign under the symbol of the menorah. As the elections were rigged, not a single candidate succeeded in entering parliament. The Union managed to send Adolphe Stern to parliament in 1922 by joining with the Peasants’ Party. From 1923, the Zionists pressed for a policy of national minority status for the Jews. Their proposal was not accepted by the Union.

A 1925 picture of the synagogue of Oradea, Romania.

In 1926, the first National Jewish deputies and senators were elected from Bukovina, Transylvania, and Bessarabia. As a consequence of these successes the National Jewish Club, in which representatives of the Zionist parties also participated, was founded in Bucharest. Such clubs were established in all the cities of the Old Kingdom.

In 1928, four National Jewish deputies were returned to parliament (two from Transylvania, one from Bukovina, and one from Bessarabia). They formed a Jewish parliamentary club. In 1930, the Jewish Party (Partidul Evreesc) was established in the Old Kingdom, and, on May 4, 1931, it held its general congress. Adolphe Stern joined this party. In the parliamentary elections a month later, the Jewish Party gained five seats and, in the 1932 elections, it again obtained five. The situation of the Jewish parliamentarians was far from easy because they were not only interrupted during their speeches but were often physically attacked by the deputies of the anti-Semitic parties. After 1933, there were no more Jewish members of parliament, except for J. Niemirover, who in his capacity of chief rabbi was officially a senator.

The undefined legal status of the Jewish communities in Romania tempted local authorities to meddle more and more in their affairs. A rabbi from Bucharest, Hayyim Schor, proclaimed himself chief rabbi. He demanded recognition of a separate Orthodox community everywhere in Romania and was willing to be satisfied with the status of a private association for the Jewish community, thus abandoning the demand for its recognition as a public body. The Union and the Zionists opposed him. On May 19, 1921, the congress of Jews from the Old Kingdom met in Bucharest and elected J. Niemirover as chief rabbi.

Jewish Social Structure

In 1924, there were 796,056 Jews in enlarged Romania (5% of the total population): 230,000 in the Old Kingdom, 238,000 in Bessarabia, 128,056 in Bukovina, and 200,000 in Transylvania. In 1930 their number was 756,930 (4.2% of the total population): 263,192 in the Old Kingdom, 206,958 in Bessarabia, 92,988 in Bukovina, and 193,000 in Transylvania.

The Jewish population of Old Romania was for the most part an urban one. According to the 1899 census, 79.73% of the Jews lived in cities, forming 32.10% of the whole urban population of the country. Only 20.27% lived in villages, forming 1.1% of the whole rural population. This phenomenon was a result of the ban on Jews dwelling in rural areas.

In the Moldavia province, where the Jews were most heavily concentrated, they formed a majority in several towns. In Falticeni they were 57% of the total population; in Dorohoi, 53.6%; in Botosani, 51.8%; in Jassy, 50.8%. In several smaller towns of that region, their proportion was greater: in Gertsa, 66.2%; in Mihaileni, 65.6%; in Harlau, 59.6%; in Panciu, 52.4%.

The Romanian population was 84.06% farmers, the Jews constituting the middle class. According to 1904 statistics, 21.1% of the total number of merchants were Jews, but in some cities of Moldavia they were a definite majority, such as in Jassy, 75.3%; Botosani, 75.2%; Dorohoi, 72.9%; Tecuci, 65.9%, etc. Jews represented 20.07% of all artisans, and in several branches, they were a majority: 81.3% of engravers, 76% of tinsmiths; 75.9% of watchmakers; 74.6% of bookbinders; 64.9% of hatmakers and 64.3% of upholsterers.

Industry was not advanced in Romania before World War I. There were 625 industrial firms altogether, 19.5% of them owned by Jews. Jews were 5.3% of the officials and workers in these industrial enterprises. In several branches of industry, there were Jewish factory owners: 52.8% of the glass industry; 32.4% of the wood and furniture industry; 32.4% of the clothing industry; and 26.5% of the textile industry. Of the liberal professions only medicine was permitted to Jews. They constituted 38% of the total number of doctors. The occupational distribution of the Jews was as follows; agriculture, 2.5%; industry and crafts, 42.5%; trade and banking, 37.9%; liberal professions, 3.2%; various occupations, 13.7%.

There are no detailed statistics of the period between the two world wars. The provinces of Bessarabia, Transylvania, and Bukovina were annexed to Old Romania, increasing the Jewish population threefold. In every province, their occupational structure was different as a result of historical development. In the two annexed provinces, Transylvania and Bukovina, the Jews had enjoyed civil rights from the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and were also represented in the liberal professions. On the other hand, their situation in Bessarabia in czarist times was worse than in Old Romania—a fact which also influenced their occupational structure. The few known figures refer to Greater Romania, with all the annexed territories.

The only census taken in Bessarabia was in 1930 and, according to those figures, the occupational distribution of the Jewish population was as follows: industry and crafts, 24.8%; trade and banking, 51.5%; liberal professions, 2.9%; miscellaneous, 8.2%. It should be noted that Jewish bankers (such as the bank of "Marmorosh-Blank") invested money in the developing industry of Greater Romania. Some industrial enterprises, comprising several factories such as the sugar, metal, and textile works were owned by Jews. In the late 1930s, under the influence of the spread of the Nazi movement to Romania, the whole occupational structure of the Jews collapsed because of persecution on the economic level, which preceded political persecution and murder.

Jewish Cultural Life

Since most Romanian Jews were of Polish or Russian extraction, their religious and cultural traditions were similar to those of the Jews of Eastern Europe. Their rabbis and teachers, as well as their religious trends, came from there. Hasidism was particularly widespread in the Moldavia province, which borders on Galicia and Russia, and where Hassidic centers were established at the "courts" of the zaddikim of the Ruzhin dynasty in the towns of Stefanesti, Buhusi, Adjud, and Focsani.

The spoken language of the Jewish population was Yiddish; Romanian became more widely used among them only in the second half of the 19th century, at the time when the first Romanian universities were established (Jassy in 1860 and Bucharest in 1864). In that period, too, the development of modern Romanian literature began.

The Orthodox synagogue of Timisoara lies in the background of this portrait, dated 1925.

In the middle of the century Julius (Iuliu) Barasch, of Galician origin, brought Mendelssohnianhaskalah to Romanian Jewry. In 1857, he published the first newspaper in Romanian and French—Israelitul Roman—whose function was to fight for equal civil rights for Romanian Jewry. In 1854 another two newspapers—Timpul (Di Tsayt; Bucharest) and Gazeta Roma (Jassy)—appeared in Romanian and Yiddish, but all three papers ceased publication before the end of a year. Other such attempts met the same fate. Only in 1879 did the weekly Fraternitatea begin to appear, lasting until 1885, when it ceased publication upon the expulsion from Romania of its chief editors, Isaac Auerbach and E. Schwarzfeld, for their stand against persecutions. This paper, which represented the assimilationist trend, was opposed to the incipient pre-Zionist movement that sponsored the establishment of the colonies of Zikhron Ya’akov and Rosh Pinnah in Eretz Israel. Then two papers in Romanian also appeared, supporting aliyah: Aparatorul, which was published in Bucharest from 1881 to 1884, with E. S. Gold as editor, and the weekly Stindardul, which was published in Focsani from 1882 to 1883. The Yiddish paper Ha-Yo’ez, which appeared in Bucharest from 1874 to 1896, also supported aliyah. Eleazar Rokeah, an emissary from Erez Israel, published as special organs of the pre-Zionist movement the Hebrew paper Emek Yizre’el in Jassy (1882), the Yiddish Di Hofnung in Piatra-Neamt (1882), and Der Emigrant in Galati (1882). Of the Jewish press in Romania, the weekly Egalitatea, edited by M. Schwarzfeld, survived for half a century. The weekly Curierul Israelit, edited by M. Schweig, began to appear in 1906, and continued up to 1948, becoming the mouthpiece of the Uniunea Evreilor Romani ("Union of Romanian Jews") after World War I.

In the time of Herzl, several Zionist papers appeared in Romania but did not last long. In 1913, the monthly Hatikva in Romanian was issued in Galati under the editorship of L. Gold, who gathered round him the outstanding Jewish authors in Romanian. Apart from original articles they also published translations of a high literary standard from modern Hebrew poetry and classical Yiddish literature. After World War I, from 1919 to 1923, there was published in Bucharest a daily newspaper in Romanian with a Zionist national tendency, Mantuirea edited by A. L. Zissu with Abraham Feller as chief editor. This paper stood for the idea of a Jewish political party and sharply attacked the tendencies of assimilationist circles. The weekly Renasterea Noastra (1923–42, 1944–48), edited by Samuel I. Stern, continued in this direction. The Zionist Federation published the weekly Citiri din Lumea Evreeasca, edited first by I. Ludo, and later by Theoder Loewenstein.

Between the two world wars, the Zionist students’ association published the monthly Hasmonaea. The number of Jewish journalists grew between the two wars, some of them even becoming chief editors of the great democratic papers. They included Constantin Graur, B. Branisteanu, Em. Fagure, G. Milian ( Bucharest); A. Hefter (Jassy), and S. Schaferman-Pastoresu ( Braila). After they had acquired a knowledge of Romanian, several Jewish scholars at the end of the 19th century became distinguished in the field of philology and folklore: Lazar Saineanu (SainMan), compiler of the first practical dictionary of Romanian (1896); M. Gaster, who did research on early Romanian folklore; Heinrich Tiktin, author of a scientific grammar of Romanian in two volumes (1893–94). This tradition continued down to later times. I. A. Candrea also compiled a Romanian dictionary (1931), as did J. Byk and A. L. Graur after World War II. A number of these scholars also devoted time to researching the history of Romanian Jewry. The pioneer in this field was the historian J. Psantir, whose two Yiddish volumes contained Hebrew headings: Divrei ha-Yamim le-Arzot Rumanyah (Jassy, 1871) and Korot ha-Yehudim be-Rumanyah (Lemberg, 1877).

A society for research into the history of Romanian Jewry was established in 1886 and named for Julius Barasch. Among its active members were J. Psantir, M. Gaster, Lazar Caineanu, Elias Schwarzfeld, and M. Schwarzfeld. In the three editions of their bulletin, they published source material, memoirs, and bibliographical notes, as well as some combined research and monographs of Jewish communities. Although the society ceased activities after four years, the scholars continued their research. Part of their work appeared in the 19 volumes of the annual Anuarul pentru Israeliti, and in a weekly published by M. Schwarzfeld. Between the two world wars, Meir A. Halevy published several monographs on the history of the Jews of Romania. The Templul Coral ("Choir Synagogue") then erected in Bucharest a museum, library, and archives for the history of Romanian Jewry. In some bulletins of these institutions and in the annual Sinai (1926–32), edited by Meir A. Halevy, there also appeared research on the history of Romanian Jewry.

The Jews of annexed Transylvania used the Hungarian language in the Zionist press, even under Romanian rule, those of Bukovina German, while in Bessarabia the language of the Jewish press was Yiddish. Each province kept its traditions, autonomous structure, and cultural life, within the framework of the all-Romanian Federation of Jewish Communities. Culturally, the deeply rooted Jewish life of Bessarabia, with its Hebrew teachers, writers, and journalists, had a great influence, especially in the Old Kingdom.

Holocaust Period

German penetration into the Romanian economy increased as the Nazis moved eastward with the Anschluss of Austria (1938), the annexation of Czechoslovakia (1939), and the occupation of western Poland at the outbreak of World War II. A considerable number of Romanian politicians agreed to serve German interests in exchange for directorships in German-Romanian enterprises, and German trade agreements with Romania always demanded the removal of Jews in the branch involved. In this way, Jews were expelled from commerce and industry.

In the summer of 1940, Romania succumbed to German pressure and transferred Bessarabia and part of Bukovina to the Soviet Union, northern Transylvania to Hungary, and southern Dobrudja to Bulgaria (the territory that remained called Old Romania). When the Romanian army retreated from these areas, its soldiers murdered many Jews, particularly in northern Bukovina and Moldavia; they also threw Jewish travelers, both civilian and military, from moving trains. On June 30, 1940, 52 Jews were murdered in Dorohoi by a retreating Romanian regiment.

Hoping to ensure its borders after the concessions, Romania, which had not been invaded by the German army, became a satellite of Nazi Germany. The first result of this move was the cancellation of Romanian citizenship for Jews, a measure taken by the government, which included members of the Iron Guard, under German pressure in August 1940.

On September 6, when King Carol abdicated, Ion Antonescu, who had been minister of defense in the Goga government, came to power. His government included ministers from the ranks of the Iron Guard, and Romania was declared a Nationalist-Legionary State (the members of the Iron Guard styled themselves "legionnaires"). The "legionary police" was organized on Nazi lines with the help of the S.S. and the S.D. There followed a period of anti-Semitic terrorism that lasted for five months. It began with the confiscation of Jewish-owned shops, together with the posting of signs marked "Jewish shop" and picketing by the green-shirted "legionary police."

Romanian gendarmes and local collaborators deport Jews from Bricevas
in 1941, with rabbi Dov Beri Yechiel at the head (public domain)

The reign of terror reached its height when Jewish industrial and commercial enterprises were handed over to the members of the "Legion" under pressure from the Iron Guard. The owners of the enterprises were arrested and tortured by the "legionary police" until they agreed to sign certificates of transfer. Bands of "legionnaires" entered Jewish homes and "confiscated" any sums of money they found. This resulted in a mortal blow to the Romanian economy and chaos that frightened even the German diplomats. Antonescu tried on several occasions to arrest the wave of terrorism, during which a number of Romanian statesmen opposed to the Iron Guard were killed.

On January 21, 1941, the Iron Guard revolted against Antonescu and attempted to seize power and carry out its anti-Semitic program in full. While part of the "Legion" was fighting the Romanian army for control of government offices and strategic points in the city, the rest carried out a pogrom on Bucharest Jews, aided by local hooligans. Jewish homes were looted, shops burned, and many synagogues desecrated, including two that were razed to the ground (the Great Sephardi Synagogue and the old bet ha-midrash). Some of the leaders of the Bucharest community were imprisoned in the community council building, worshipers were ejected from synagogues, the Palestine Office of the Zionist Organization was attacked and its director murdered, and wealthy Bucharest Jews were arrested, according to a previously prepared list. Those arrested were taken to centers of the Iron Guard movement: some were then taken into the forests near Bucharest and shot; others were murdered and their bodies hung on meat hooks in the municipal slaughterhouse, bearing the legend "kosher meat." The pogrom claimed 120 Jewish lives. There were no acts of violence in the provinces because the army was in firm control and fully supported Antonescu. This was also Hitler’s reason for supporting Antonescu. Romania held an important role in the war contemplated against the Soviet Union, not only as a supply and jumping-off base but as an active partner in the invasion of the country.

A period of relative calm followed the Bucharest pogrom and permitted Romanian Jews to gather strength after the shock of the violence. Antonescu, however, was under constant German pressure, for when their revolt failed, members of the Iron Guard found refuge in Germany, where they constituted a permanent threat to his position, as he now lacked his own party to serve as a counterbalance.

In January 1941, Manfred von Killinger, a veteran Nazi known for his anti-Semitic activities, was appointed German ambassador to Romania. In April he was joined by Gustav Richter, an adviser on Jewish affairs who was attached to Adolf Eichmann’s department. Richter’s special task was to bring Romanian anti-Jewish legislation into line with its counterpart in Germany.

Community During World War II

On June 22, 1941, when war broke out with the Soviet Union, the Romanian and German armies were scattered along the banks of the Prut River to penetrate into Bukovina and Bessarabia. As this branch of the front became active only on July 3, the Romanian and German soldiers occupied themselves with slaughtering the Jewish population of Jassy on June 29, 1941. When the soldiers finally went into action, they were joined by units of Einsatzgruppe D, under the command of Otto Ohlendorf. Their combined advance through Bessarabia, Bukovina, and the Dorohoi district was accompanied by massacres of the local Jewish population. At the beginning of August 1941, the Romanians began to send deportees from Bukovina and Bessarabia over the Dniester River into a German-occupied area of the U.S.S.R. (later to be known as Transnistria). The Germans refused to accept the deportees, shooting some and returning the rest. Some of these Jews drowned in the river and others were shot by the Romanian gendarmerie on the western bank; of the 25,000 persons who crossed the Dniester near Sampol, only 16,500 were returned by the Germans. Some of these survivors were killed by the Romanians, and some died of weakness and starvation on the way to camps in Bukovina and Bessarabia. Half of the 320,000 Jews living in Bessarabia, Bukovina, and the Dorohoi district (which was in Old Romania) were murdered during the first few months of Romania’s involvement in the war in 1941.

After this period the Jews were concentrated in ghettos (if they lived in cities), in special camps (if they lived in the countryside, or in townlets such as Secureni, Yedintsy, or Vertyuzhani). German killing squads and Romanian gendarmes, copying the Germans, habitually entered the ghettos and camps, removing Jews and murdering them. Jews living in villages and townlets in Old Romania (Moldavia, Walachia, and southern Transylvania) were concentrated in the nearest large town. The Jews of northern Moldavia, which bordered on the battle area, were sent to the west of Romania: men under 60 were sent to the Targu-Jiu camp and the women, children, and aged were sent to towns where the local Jewish population was ordered to care for the deportees (who owned nothing more than the clothing on their backs). The homes and property of these deportees were looted by the local population immediately after they were deported.

On September 16, 1941, those in camps in Bessarabia began to be deported to the region between the Dniester and the Bug rivers called Transnistria, from which the Germans had withdrawn, handing control over to the Romanians under the Tighina agreement (August 30, 1941). The deportations included 118,847 Jews from Bessarabia, Bukovina, and the Dorohoi district. At the intervention of the Union of Jewish Communities in Romania, an order was given on October 14 to stop the deportations. They continued, however, until November 15, leaving all the Jews of Bessarabia and Bukovina [with the exception of 20,000 from Cernauti (Chernovtsy)] concentrated in Transnistria. Of the 14,847 Jews from the Dorohoi district, 2,316 were also deported and brought to Transnistria.

Within two months of deportation, 22,000 Jews died. Some died because they could walk no further, and some died from disease, but the majority of Jews were murdered by the gendarmerie that accompanied them on their journey. All the money and valuables were confiscated by representatives of the Romanian National Bank. The Jews then remaining in Old Romania and in southern Transylvania were compelled into forced labor and were subjected to various special taxes. The prohibition against Jews working in certain professions and the “Rumanization of the economy” continued and caused the worsening of the economic situation of the Jewish population.

According to the statistical table on the potential victims of the "Final Solution" introduced at the Wannsee Conference, 342,000 Romanian Jews were destined for this end. The German embassy in Bucharest conducted an intensive propaganda campaign through its journal, Bukarester Tageblatt, which announced "an overall European solution to the Jewish problem" and the deportation of Jews from Romania. On July 22, 1942, Richter obtained Vice-Premier Mihai Antonescu’s agreement to begin the deportation of Jews to Poland in September. However, as a result of the efforts of the clandestine Jewish leadership, foreign diplomatic pressure, and pressure by the papal nuncio, A. Cassulo, Ion Antonescu canceled the agreement. He could afford a measure of independence since Hitler was then seeking the mobilization of additional divisions of the Romanian army against the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, Eichmann’s Bucharest office, working through the local authorities, succeeded in contriving the deportation of 7,000 Jews from Cernauti (Chernovtsy), Dorohoi, and groups from other parts of Romania. These 7,000 were "suspected of Communism" (they were of Bessarabian origin and had asked to return to the Soviet Union in 1940), and had "broken forced-labor laws.”

At the beginning of December 1942, the Romanian government informed the Jewish leadership of a change in its policy toward Jews. It would henceforth grant Jews deported to Transnistria the right to emigrate to Palestine. Defeat at Stalingrad (where the Romanians had lost 18 divisions) was already anticipated. In 1942–43 the Romanian government began to consider signing a separate peace treaty with the Allies. Although the plan for large-scale emigration failed because of German opposition and lack of facilities, both small and large boats left Romania carrying "illegal" immigrants to Palestine, some of whom were refugees from Bukovina, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia. Between 1939 and August 1944 (when Romania withdrew from the war) 13 boats left Romania, carrying 13,000 refugees. As a result of German pressure exerted through diplomatic missions in Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, the emigration of refugees was discontinued. Two of the boats sank on their way to Palestine: the Struma (on February 23, 1944, with 769 passengers) and the Mefkure (on August 5, 1944, with 394 passengers).

Despite German efforts, the Romanian government refused to deport its Jews to the "east." At the beginning of 1943, however, there was a return to the traditional economic pressures against the Jews in order to reduce the Jewish population. This was achieved by forbidding Jews to work in the civilian economy and by the most severe measure of all – forced labor. In addition, various taxes were imposed on the Jewish population for cash, clothing, shoes, and hospital equipment. These measures, particularly the taxes to be remitted in cash—of which the largest was a levy of 4 billion lei (about $27,000,000) imposed in March 1943—severely pressed Romanian Jewry. The taxes were collected by the "Jewish center." W. Filderman, chairman of the Council of the Union of Jewish Communities openly opposed the tax. He was deported to Transnistria for two months.

At the end of 1943, as the Red Army drew nearer to Romania, the local Jewish leadership succeeded in obtaining the gradual return of those deported to Transnistria. The Germans tried several times to stop the return and even succeeded in bringing about the arrest of the leadership of the clandestine Zionist pioneering movements in January and February 1944. The leaders were released through the intervention of the International Red Cross and the Swiss ambassador in Bucharest; who contended that they were indispensable for organizing the emigration of those returning from Transnistria and other refugees in Romania. In March 1944 contacts were made in Ankara between Ira Hirschmann, representative of the U.S. War Refugee Board, and the Romanian ambassador, A. Cretzianu. Hirschmann demanded the return of all those deported to Transnistria and the cessation of the persecution of Jews. At the time, the Red Army was defeating the Germans in Transnistria, and there was a danger that the retreating Germans might slaughter the remaining Jews. Salvation came at the last moment when Antonescu warned the Germans to avoid killing Jews while retreating. Concurrently, negotiations over Romania’s withdrawal from the war were being held in Cairo and Stockholm, and thus Antonescu was eager to show goodwill toward the Jews for the sake of his own future.

In the spring, Soviet forces also conquered part of Old Romania (Moldavia), and they made an all-out attack on August 20. On August 23, King Michael arrested Antonescu and his chief ministers and declared a cease-fire. The Germans could no longer control Romania, for they were dependent on the support of the Romanian army, which had been withdrawn. Eichmann, who had been sent to western Romania to organize the liquidation of Jews in the region, did not reach his destination.

Fifty-seven percent of the Jewish population under Romanian rule during the war (including the Jews of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina) survived the Holocaust. The following statistics give the death toll. Out of the prewar Jewish population, 264,900 (43%) were murdered. Of this number, 166,597 perished during the first period of the war, 151,513 from Bessarabia and Bukovina, and 15,064 from part of Old Romania. The rest died during the deportations to Transnistria or in the camps and ghettos of this region: some were murdered; others died in epidemics, famine, or exposure. In areas from which Jews were not deported, 78.2% of the Jewish population was left without a livelihood. The demographic effect was that the ratio of births to deaths fell to 34.1% in 1942 from the 1934 figures of 116.5%.

In July 2019, the German government agreed to recognize some 8,000 Romanian citizens now living in Israel as Holocaust survivors. Survivors and heirs from 20 cities, and those who were incarcerated in ghettoes, will be eligible for a monthly stipend and retroactive compensation from Germany in addition to payments of roughly $565 per month from Israel’s Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority.

Jewish Resistance

Preparatory Steps

As soon as Hitler assumed power in Germany (1933), Jewish leaders in Bucharest, mostly Zionists, decided not to remain passive. In November, the congress of the Jewish Party in Romania decided to join the anti-Nazi boycott movement, disregarding the protest raised by the Romanian press and anti-Semitic groups, but the Union of the Romanian Jews (U.E.R.) did not participate in the campaign. The necessity for a united political, as well as economic, struggle soon became obvious.

On January 29, 1936, the Central Council of Jews in Romania, composed of representatives of both Jewish trends—the U.E.R. and the Jewish Party—was established for "the defense of all Jewish rights and liberties against the organizations and newspapers that openly proclaimed the introduction of the racial regime." At the end of the year, the Council succeeded in averting a bill proposed in the parliament by the anti-Semitic circles suggesting that citizenship be revoked from the Jews. During the same period, the Romanian government attempted to suppress the state subvention for Jewish religious needs, as well as the exemption from taxes accorded to Jewish community institutions. The Council could not obtain the maintenance of the subvention, and it was finally reduced to one-sixth of its allotment.

When Goga’s anti-Semitic government came to power, the Council began a struggle against it, gaining support and attention outside Romania. Filderman, president of the Council, left at once for Paris, where he mobilized the world Jewish organizations with headquarters in France and England. He informed local political circles and the League of Nations of events in Romania. At the same time, the Jews in Romania began an expanded economic boycott, refraining from commercial transactions, withdrawing their deposits from the banks, and delaying tax payments. The outcome was a "large-scale paralysis of the economic life," as the German minister of foreign affairs stated in his circular of March 9, 1938. Thus the dismissal of the Goga government after only 40 days was motivated not only by external pressure but also by the effects of the Jewish economic boycott.

The Union of the Jewish Communities

Following the downfall of the Goga government, King Carol’s royal dictatorship abolished all the political parties in Romania, including the Jewish Party and the Union of Romanian Jews. The single body of the Jews in Romania was the Union of the Jewish Communities, whose board was composed of the leaders of both Jewish currents. The Union assumed the task of fighting against the increasing number of anti-Jewish measures promulgated by the Romanian authorities under pressure from local anti-Semitic circles and the German government. In some cases its interventions were successful; for example, it achieved the nullification of the prohibition against collecting contributions to Zionist funds, and, as a result of its protests, the restrictions against the Jewish physicians and the Jewish industrial schools were abrogated. In the summer of 1940, after Romania ceded Bukovina and Bessarabia to the Soviet Union, the Romanian police tried to eject Jewish refugees from those two provinces. The Union’s board succeeded in convincing the Ministry of the Interior to annul the measure. When the interdiction of ritual slaughter was decreed, the board obtained authorization for the ritual slaughtering of poultry. The cancellation of the prohibition against Jews peddling in certain cities was also achieved. When the anti-Semitic newspapers incited against the leaders of the Union, the police began to search their homes.

Ion Antonescu’s government, with the participation of the Iron Guard, closed several synagogues (those with less than 400 worshipers in cities and 200 in villages) and transferred the property to Christian churches. The disposition was canceled after three days, however, as a result of an audience between the Union’s president, Filderman, and Antonescu; simultaneously the minister of religion, who ordered the measure, was forced to resign. These acts took place during the first period of the new regime, dominated by the Iron Guard when trespasses were committed against the Jews daily. The Union’s board constantly informed Antonescu and the diverse ministries of these acts, pointing out their illegality and arbitrariness. The argument that constantly recurred in the memoranda presented by the Union’s board was that the confiscation of Jewish shops and industrial companies caused the disorganization of the country’s economic life. Antonescu used the information provided by the board to support his stand against the trespasses. The Iron Guard responded with a terror campaign against the Jewish leaders; some were arrested and tortured by the “legionary police,” others were murdered during the revolt against Antonescu.

Great Synagogue, Suceava,
Built 1870

The Zionist leadership negotiated with Antonescu to organize the emigration of Romanian Jews. The minister of finance proposed that the emigration be funded by Romanian assets; which had been frozen in the United States because Romania had joined the Axis. The transaction had to be accomplished through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), whose representative in Romania was also the president of the Union. In every city, the Jewish community had to register those who wanted to emigrate and were able to pay the amount demanded by the government. The Union’s board utilized this agreement as leverage for achieving certain concessions, especially after Romania joined Germany in the war against the Soviet Union (June 1941). For example, when the evacuation of Jews from villages and towns began, the Union secured the government’s agreement not to send these Jews to concentration camps (as had previously been ordered), but rather to lodge them in the big cities, where they were to be cared for by the local Jewish communities. Another achievement (on August 14, 1941) was the liberation of the rabbis, leaders of communities, and teachers employed in Jewish schools, who had been arrested after the outbreak of war with the U.S.S.R., from the Targu-Jiu concentration camp. The Union raised the argument that the plans concerning the release of the Romanian properties in the United States were dependent upon those local leaders. On August 2, 1941, the board achieved the cancellation of the order that Jews wear the yellow badge and other measures, including the creation of ghettos in the cities and mobilizing women to join men in forced labor.

Richter insisted on the reintroduction of repressive measures, and on September 3 the order to wear the yellow badge was reendorsed. This time, in addition to intervention by the Union’s leaders, Chief Rabbi Alexander Safran went into action. He appealed to the head of the Christian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Nicodem and, on September 8, Antonescu annulled the order. Nevertheless, the yellow badge was maintained in a number of Moldavian cities, as well as in Chernovtsy (Cernauti), the capital of Bukovina, where the German influence was strong.

During this period, when Romania suffered great losses on the front and Germany called for an increase in Romanian participation, the Union’s board employed the argument that Romania, being an ally of the Third Reich, and thus a sovereign state, did not have to accept anti-Jewish laws that were applied only to German satellite countries. Hungary and Italy, allies that did not apply such measures at that time, were presented as examples.

After Jews began to be deported from Bessarabia and Bukovina to Transnistria, the board delegated Chief Rabbi Safran to intervene with the queen mother, Patriarch Nicodem, and the archbishop of Bukovina and induce them to intercede with Antonescu to halt the deportations and permit aid to those who had already been transported over the Dniester. Until a decision could be achieved through their intervention, and against the opposition of von Killinger, the 17,000 Jews who remained in Chernovtsy were not deported. However, the steps taken, with permission to provide assistance to those who had already been deported to Transnistria, were sabotaged by difficulties raised by lower authorities. The Union also endeavored to gain the support of the U.S. ambassador, who interceded with the Romanian government. Nevertheless, when the ambassadors of Brazil, Switzerland, and Portugal proposed to the U.S. ambassador the initiation of an international protest against the Romanian anti-Jewish excesses, the latter reported to Washington that he did not possess enough exact information. Later on, however, in another report (November 4, 1941), he described in detail the massacres committed in Bessarabia and in Bukovina and the cruelties that were committed during the deportations to Transnistria. The description was based on the information received from the Union. (It was only at the end of 1941 that Romania broke off relations with the United States, under German pressure.) The anti-Semitic press—financed and inspired by the German embassy—including the German-language Bukarester Tageblatt, then intensified the incitement against the Jewish leaders and their constant interventions against anti-Jewish measures.

The Underground Jewish Council

At the end of 1941, the Union of the Communities was dissolved under pressure from Richter, and the Centrala evreilor (Central Board of the Jews) was set up at his suggestion in January 1942. Its leaders were appointed by Radu Lecca, who was responsible for Jewish affairs in the Romanian government, but they were actually subordinate to Richter. Nearly all of the new leaders were unknown to the Jewish public, with the exception of A. Willman, who shortly before his appointment had published a number of pamphlets proposing a kind of neo-territorialist plan to be accomplished with the aid of Nazi Germany. From the outset, the Jewish population expressed its distrust of the new organ. The former leaders of the Jewish institutions formed a clandestine Jewish Council with Chief Rabbi Alexander Safran as its president. The Council leaders handed memoranda personally to, or interceded individually with, Antonescu or his ministers, who went on to deal with them because the government did not trust the Central Board either.

In the spring of 1942, changes were made in the framework of the Central Board. Willman and some of his followers were removed and replaced by others appointed from among the leadership of the Zionist movement and the Union of the Romanian Jews (U.E.R.). Thus the Central Board was prevented from taking any harmful initiatives against the Jewish population. In the summer, the Zionist Organization was dissolved at the request of the Germans, and this was a sign that the Germans disagreed with the Romanian policy, which aided Jewish emigration.

On July 22, when Richter obtained Mihai Antonescu’s assent to the deportation of the Jews to the extermination camps in Poland, the clandestine Jewish Council immediately learned of the details of the deportation program and used personal contacts to achieve the repeal of the agreement. Safran invited the archbishop of Transylvania, Nicholas Balan, to Bucharest, since the transports were to be initiated from there. The queen mother was also convinced by Safran to intercede and, together with the archbishop and Ion Antonescu, she did so. Others were also asked to intercede on behalf of the Jews. The papal nuncio, Andreas Cassulo; the Swiss ambassador, Rene de Weck; and even Antonescu’s personal physician helped repeal the decision.

Eichmann persevered in demanding the deportation of Romanian Jews. In October 1942 the deportation was issued again, this time from Transylvania. The Council immediately went into action: the most important figure to intercede was Safran with the papal nuncio, who applied to the Romanian minister of foreign affairs to cancel the deportation order. The nuncio’s efforts were supported by the Swedish and Turkish ambassadors, and by the delegates of the International Red Cross. At the same time, the Jewish Council achieved the annulment of the order to deport to Transnistria 12,000 Jews accused of having committed crimes or breaches of discipline.

The Struggle to Repatriate Deported Jews

After overcoming the danger of deportation to the extermination camps in Poland, the Jewish Council began to request the return of those who had survived the deportations to Transnistria. The dealings with the Romanian government began in November 1942 over the question of a ransom to be paid by Zionist groups outside Romania. Eichmann’s unceasing interventions prevented a clear-cut decision until, on April 23, Antonescu—under German pressure—issued the order that not a single deportee should return. The Jewish leaders then initiated the struggle for a step-by-step resolution to the problem, asserting that a series of categories had been deported arbitrarily, without previous investigation. The Romanian government ordered a detailed registration of categories. At the beginning of 1943, an official commission was appointed to classify the deportees. In July, Antonescu authorized the return of certain cases (aged persons, widows, World War I invalids, and former officers of the Romanian army). Implementation of the order, however, encountered difficulties. The governor of Transnistria was under the heavy influence of German advisers. Only at the beginning of December did the deportees begin to return. It was, however, a struggle against time, as the front had reached Transnistria.

The Jewish Council took advantage of the opportunity offered by the conflicts between the Romanians and the Germans, which became more and more stressed, especially after the Nazis discovered the peace feelers sent out by the Romanians to the Allies. The Romanian government now felt that alleviating the condition of the Jews and protecting them from the Germans would create more favorable conditions for Romania upon the conclusion of the peace treaty. From the beginning of 1944, the clandestine Zionist Executive dealt separately with Antonescu on the question of emigration. Its efforts had an influence on the general situation, as the Romanian authorities made the return of the deportees conditional upon their immediate emigration.

The Committee of Assistance

Much of Romanian Jewry fell into poverty because of anti-Jewish economic measures. The former committee of the JDC was able to continue its activity under the control of the Union of the Jewish Communities and the Jewish Council. In October 1943, it was officially recognized within the framework of the "Jewish Central Board" as the Autonomous Committee of Assistance. Assistance was thus provided to the Jews evacuated from towns and villages that could not be maintained by the local communities. The most important accomplishment, however, was the aid in the form of money, medicines, utensils for craftsmen, coal, oil heaters, window glass, clothing, etc. transmitted to Transnistria. In order to cover the budget, money, and clothing were collected in the regions not affected by deportations. These means, however, were far from adequate. Because of donations from the JDC, the Jewish Agency, and other world Jewish organizations was the Autonomous Committee of Assistance able to continue its activity.

In addition to all the official difficulties raised by the Romanian central authorities (the compulsory transfer of money through the National Bank at an unfavorable exchange rate, and the obligation of paying customs for the objects sent), the transports were frequently plundered on the way or confiscated by the local authorities in Transnistria. The assistance, however, was in itself an element of resistance. The mere fact that the deportees knew that they had not been abandoned, at least by their fellow Jews, contributed to the maintenance of their morale. The aid in its various forms saved thousands of lives. Through clandestine correspondence, carried by non-Jewish messengers, reports were received concerning the situation of the refugees. This means of providing information, however, was insufficient, according to the Autonomous Committee of Assistance.

As early as January 1942 authorization was obtained from the Ministry of the Interior for a delegation to go to Transnistria. Due to the opposition of the governor of Transnistria, however, the representatives could not get there until Dec. 31, 1942. The governor received them in an audience at Odessa but threatened them, saying they would be unable to return to Romania. He gave them permission to visit only three of the camps in which deported Jews were concentrated. The delegates of the committee responded by requesting a regional conference with representatives of all the camps. During the railway journey to Mogilev, the delegates visited the Zhmerinka camp and received information about the surrounding camps. Upon their arrival at Mogilev (Jan. 8–9, 1943), a regional conference took place with the participation of about 70 delegates. Before the conference opened, the prefect and the commander of the gendarmes warned the delegates not to complain about their situation, adding the threat that complaints might endanger the further receipt of aid. However, the delegates clandestinely submitted a written report concerning the real situation to the representatives of the committee. From Mogilev, the delegation left for Balta, where it did not receive a license for a regional conference, but each delegate from the ghettos or camps of the area was authorized to report individually about the situation. Back in Bucharest, after this two-week tour in Transnistria, the delegates presented their report, which was also sent to Jewish organizations abroad.

In December 1943, representatives of the Autonomous Committee of Assistance again left for Transnistria to organize the return of the deportees, taking with them wagons of clothing. One group of representatives left for the north, to Mogilev and its surroundings; another for the south, to Tiraspol. The central administration of Transnistria did not display any goodwill, but the local authorities provided wagons for the transport. On February 15, 1944, two delegations started out to aid in the return of the orphans. On March 17, 1944, another two delegations set out for Transnistria, but they could not reach their destination as the area had already become a front area, the northern part occupied by the Red Army.

The delegates installed themselves in Tighina (Bessarabia), whence they made contact with Tiraspol on the eastern bank of the Dniester River and succeeded in saving almost all those concentrated there. The Germans still had the time to organize a last massacre, murdering 1,000 Jews who were in detention in the Tiraspol jail. When Transnistria and Bessarabia were reconquered by the Soviets, the deportees who followed the armies were the last to succeed in returning to Romania, for afterward, at the end of June 1944, the Soviets closed the frontier. It was reopened only in May 1945 for a last group of 7,000 deportees, after prolonged negotiations in Bucharest between the Jewish leaders and General Vinogradov, the head of the Soviet armistice commission.

Contemporary Period Through the 1960s

By the time Romania broke with Nazi Germany and entered the war on the side of the Allies (August 23, 1944), Romanian Jewry had considerably decreased. Emigration from the country would decrease the population even further. The struggle for Jewish independence in Palestine influenced Romanian Jews, and the goal of aliyah, which had been deep-seated in the community in the past, became a powerful force. After World War II, the political regime in Romania exercised its authority over the community life of Romanian Jewry. The government was able to place restrictions on Jewish activities. Government control was prevalent during the first period—from August 23, 1944, until the abolition of the monarchy (December 30, 1947)—and even more so in succeeding periods, through all the internal changes that altered the regime in Romania.

For a few years after the abolition of the monarchy, Romania closely followed the line dictated by Moscow. This situation continued until the end of the 1950s when the first signs of an independent Romanian policy began to appear. Until 1965, the pattern of this policy gradually solidified and Romania was able to have an independent policy. All the changes in government and policy also left their mark on Jewish community life.

The situation of Romanian Jewry always had a special character. Even in the days of complete dependence on Moscow, when the tools and institutions of national Jewish identity were destroyed and expression of Jewish aspirations was repressed, Romanian Jewry was not compelled to be as alienated from its national and religious identity as were the Jews of the Soviet Union. At the end of the 1960s, the Jewish community in Romania found itself in an intermediate position. Its activities displayed indications of free community life as well as the limitations imposed by the government. Variations in the government’s policy also reflected the confusion between the status of Romanian Jewry and Israel. Most questionable was the central issue of the right to leave the country and settle in Israel.


The Romanian Jewish community was characterized by its decreasing size during this period. The only source on the size of the Romanian Jewish community at the end of World War II is a registration (the results of which were published in 1947) that was carried out on the initiative of the World Jewish Congress. According to the registration, there were 428,312 Jews in Romania at the time. This number was the balance after the losses caused by the Holocaust, the annexation of Bessarabia and North Bukovina by the U.S.S.R., and the migration to Palestine during the war. The professional composition of the community at that time (1945) was as follows: 49,000 artisans, 35,000 employees, 34,000 merchants and industrialists, and 9,500 in the free professions. Ten years later the Jewish population had been reduced to about a third. According to the census taken on February 21, 1956, there were 144,236 Jews in Romania, of whom 34,263 spoke Yiddish.

The drastic reduction in the size of the Romanian Jewish community was largely a result of mass emigration, especially during the years 1944–47. The means of emigration were dictated by the conditions of the war and its aftermath. At the end of the war thousands of Jews, terrified by the Holocaust, fled Romania through its western border, which was still open, and reached the West. In addition to this spontaneous migration, 14 refugee boats left Romanian ports carrying 24,000 "illegal" immigrants to Palestine. A portion of Romanian Jewry, including thousands who left Romania of their own volition immediately after the war, was also among those who boarded refugee boats to Palestine in other European ports. From the establishment of the State of Israel (1948) until the end of the 1960s, more than 200,000 Romanian Jews settled in the new state. In addition, it should be noted that not all the Jews who emigrated from Romania went to Israel; about 80,000 others were scattered throughout other countries.

At the end of the 1960s, the Romanian Jewish community numbered no more than 100,000.

The Liquidation of Jewish Organizations

On August 23, 1944, when Romania joined the Allies, the Zionist movement came up from its underground operation. The same was true of the Jewish Party, which was reorganized as the representative body of Romanian Jewry and headed by the Zionist leader A. L. Zissu. In 1945, an extension of the Communist Party was established among the Jewish population under the name the Jewish Democratic Committee (Comitetul Democrat Evreesc). For about four years the Zionist movement maintained regular activities in the fields of organization, education, training farms, and Zionist funds. In 1948 there were 100,000 members in the movement and 4,000 in He-Halutz, with 95 branches and 12 training farms. The Zionist Organization in Romania participated in the World Zionist Congress in Basle in 1946. A general representation of Romanian Jewry (including delegates from the Jewish Democratic Committee) was present at the Montreux conference (1948) of the World Jewish Congress. These were the last regular contacts of Romanian Jewry with Jewish organizations abroad; afterward, the ties were severed for an extended period.

The more the Communist Party strengthened its power, the more Zionist activity in Romania turned from "permitted" to "tolerated," until it was finally outlawed completely. The instrument of this process was the Jewish Democratic Committee, which never succeeded in striking roots among the Jewish population, in spite of the support it received from the authorities. The cue to abolish Zionist activities was given in the decision of the central committee of the Communist Party on June 10–11, 1948, in the midst of Israel’s War of Independence. The decision stated that "the party must take a stand on every question concerning the Jews of Romania and fight vigorously against reactionary nationalist Jewish currents."

As early as the summer of 1948, the liquidation of Zionist training farms was begun, and the process was completed in the spring of 1949. In November 1948 the activities of the Zionist funds were forbidden. On November 29, 1948, a violent attack on the branch of the Zionist Organization in Bucharest was organized by the Jewish Communists. On December 12, 1948, the party decision was again publicized, including a clear denunciation of Zionism, "which, in all its manifestations, is a reactionary nationalist movement of the Jewish bourgeoisie, supported by American imperialism, that attempts to isolate the masses of Jewish workers from the people among whom they live." This statement was published in the wake of a bitter press campaign against Zionism during November and December 1948.

The persecution of the Zionist movement was also expressed by the imprisonment of shelihim from Erez Israel. On December 23, 1948, a general consultation of Zionists was held and resulted in the decision to dissolve "voluntarily" the Zionist organizations. Following this decision, the Zionist parties halted their activities, with the exception of Mapam, the youth movements, and He-Halutz. The World Jewish Congress also ceased to operate in Romania. Those organizations that did not close down at the time continued to operate formally until the spring of the following year. On March 3, 1949, however, the Ministry of Interior issued an order to liquidate all remnants of the Zionist movement, including youth movements and training farms. With this order, the Jewish community in Romania was given over completely to the dominance of the government alone—at first by means of the Jewish Democratic Committee until it too was gradually dissolved. In April 1949 the youth movement of the Jewish Democratic Committee was disbanded just as the Communist Party Youth (UTM) was organized, and the committee itself was disbanded in March 1953, together with all other national minority organizations in Romania. In 1949–50, the activity of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Romania was discontinued by order of the government. The hostile attitude toward the Zionist movement was also expressed in Romania’s attitude toward Israel, which gradually hardened and led to the frequent imprisonment of previously active Zionists. The situation did not begin to improve until 1967.

Community Life

With the liquidation of the Zionist movement and the dissolution of the Jewish Democratic Committee, the religious communities (kehillot) were the only organized bodies left in Romanian Jewry. The legal foundations for their activities were laid down even before other Jewish frameworks were destroyed. In 1945, the "Regulations on Nationalities" were passed and declared the formal equality of members of all national minority groups before the law. Regulations of the activities of the recognized religions, including Judaism, were set down in the August 4, 1948 order of the presidium of the Grand National Assembly (which also served as the presidency of the state). The regulations of the Federation of Communities of the Mosaic Religion, which were approved by the Assembly’s presidium on June 1, 1949, were based upon this order. The Federation’s scope of activity was limited to the area of religious worship alone. In the first years of the Communist regime, Jewish Communists infiltrated the Federation, but afterward, their participation in Jewish religious bodies decreased, although it did not cease altogether. The Federation of Communities was responsible for maintaining synagogues and cemeteries and supplying religious objects, unleavened bread for Passover, kosher food, and the like. It was not authorized to deal in matters of Jewish education, however, although it did have the right (according to a decision of the Department of Religions on Nov. 13, 1948) to set up seminaries for training rabbis, and for a few years, it maintained a yeshivah in Arad (Transylvania). According to the registration of 1960, there were 153 communities throughout Romania that maintained 841 synagogues and battei midrash (56 of which were no longer in use), 67 ritual baths, 86 slaughterhouses, and one factory for unleavened bread (in Cluj). From 1956 the Federation also published a Romanian, Yiddish, and Hebrew newspaper entitled Revista Cultului Mozaic Din R.P.R. ("Journal of (Romanian) Religious Jewry"). Since 1964, the chief rabbi officiated as the chairman of the Federation and was also a member of the National Assembly. Thus the Federation became the general Jewish representative in the country.


With the renewal of Jewish life after the war, Jewish education also became more popular. In 1946, the total number of Jewish schools was 190 with 41,000 students. In 1948, five yeshivot, 50 talmud torah schools, 10 Bet Jacob schools, one elementary school of Tarbut, five dormitories for students, 14 dormitories for apprentices, the agricultural training institute (Cultura Agricola), three vocational schools in Bucharest, and three vocational schools in provincial cities (Husi, Sibiu, Radauti) were supported by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. A substantial number of educational institutions were maintained by the various Jewish communities without outside support. The network of Jewish education was destroyed in the autumn of 1948 when all schools in Romania were nationalized. At that time a small number of schools in which the language of instruction was Yiddish were established (in Bucharest and in Jassy) and remained open until the 1960/61 school year. After the nationalization, Jewish education remained in the hands of melammedim, whose activities were tolerated by the authorities. In 1960, there were 54 talmud torah schools, in addition to the yeshivah that was established in Arad in 1956. By the end of the 1960s, the number of educational institutions had decreased considerably.


During the first years after World War II the most important newspaper was Mantuirea, which began to reappear after Romania joined the Allies, and continued to be published until the Zionist movement ceased to exist. In 1945 the press of the Jewish Democratic Committee began to appear, and its major newspaper was Unirea, in Bucharest, which lasted until 1953. As long as Zionist activity was permitted, the Zionist publishing house Bikkurim and the He-Halutz publishing house continued to operate. In Jewish contributions to Romanian literature, art, and music, the influence of the memories of the Jewish milieu was sometimes felt. The writers and poets A. Toma, Maria Banus, Veronica Porumbacu, Barbu Lazareanu, and others belonged to this group. Among the writers who wrote in Yiddish were Jacob Groper, Alfred Margul Sperber, and Ludovic Brukstein. The most outstanding Jewish artists were Josif Iser, M. H. Maxy, and Jules Perachim. Well-known Jewish musicians were Matei Socor, Alfred Mendelsohn, and Max Eisikovits. The only Jewish cultural institution was the Jewish theater in Bucharest. It was established as a state institution in 1948. The Jewish theater in Jassy, which was established at the same time, closed down in 1968. During the 20 years of its existence, the theater produced 107 plays including works by Abraham Goldfaden, Shalom Aleichem, Moliere, and Gogol. In 1968, the Bucharest Jewish theater performed on tour in Israel.

Israel-Romania Relations to the End of the 1960s

In September 1948, the first Israel representative to Romania, the artist Reuven Rubin, arrived in Bucharest, but neither he nor his successors succeeded in substantially developing relations between the two countries. Until 1965, the relations between them were cold; especially because of the attitude of the Soviet Union toward Israel, which was strictly followed by Romanian foreign policy. Cultural ties were not developed during the period, and trade also remained static at a modest level (the mutual trade balance between Israel and Romania reached $4.5 million).

Relations improved considerably, however, as Romania grew more independent of the U.S.S.R. in international affairs. From February 1966, a Romanian minister again headed the Romanian mission in Israel. In March 1967, a high-level Romanian economic delegation visited Israel for the first time, and afterward, an Israel economic delegation, headed by the finance minister, went to Bucharest; full trade agreements were signed. In 1968 the trade balance between the two countries reached $20,000,000, and subsequently, trade increased. Cultural relations also expanded (Israeli musicians, choirs, etc. visited Romania and the countries exchanged art exhibitions), as did tourism.

The Six-Day War (1967) served as a decisive test in the relations between Israel and Romania. On June 10, 1967, a consultation of all East European nations, including Yugoslavia, was held in Moscow and resulted in a denunciation of Israel’s "aggression." The participating states also decided to sever diplomatic relations with the State of Israel. Romania, however, refused to sign the denunciation and also refused to carry out the conference’s decisions. She did not sever diplomatic relations with Israel and refrained from taking part in the anti-Israel Soviet propaganda campaign. Romania repeatedly expressed her stand that the Arab-Israel dispute must be settled by political means, taking into consideration the just rights of both sides. In August 1969, Romania and Israel elevated their diplomatic missions to the rank of embassies.

1970 - 1981

A 1928 picture of Timisoara’s Orthodox synagogue

The official census published in June 1977 gave the Jewish population as only 25,600. According to the statistics given by the Federation of Jewish Communities, which based itself on a registry of those in need of the community’s services, the number was approximately 45,000, and its files did not include those Jews who have no connection with the communities. If these Jews were included, it would bring the total Jewish population to approximately 70,000. The Jewish community of Romania is an aging one; 25.51% of all Jews in Romania belong to the age category 41–60 and 46.2% to the age category 60–80. The majority of the Jews of Romania are professionals.

In an earthquake that struck Bucharest on March 4, 1977, the Choral and Malbim synagogues were damaged. During his official visit to Romania on August 1, 1977, Prime Minister Menahem Begin participated in the Sabbath services in the Choral Synagogue and addressed the large congregation.

Religion and Culture

Synagogues throughout the country (about 150) continued to function. In addition to the Chief Rabbi, there were two other rabbis, Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Marilus in Bucharest and Dr. Ernest Neumann in Timisoara. Kosher meat was provided by ritual slaughterers who visited the various communities weekly.

In the latter part of December 1977, the Museum for the History of the Jews in Romania was opened in Bucharest. In August 1977, the centenary of the founding of the Jewish theater in Romania was celebrated by a gala performance at which Tevye der Milchiger by Shalom Aleichem, The Dybbuk by An-ski, and Lessing’s Nathan the Wise were presented.

In September 1981 Romania was the site of the convention of the European Rabbinical Conference, marking the first time a major Jewish gathering has been held in an East European country since World War II. The chief rabbis of England, France, Italy, and Holland were among the participants.

The 25th anniversary of the publication of Revista Cultului Mozaic was celebrated in September 1981. The state publishing house has published a bibliographical work on the Jewish press in Romania, Yiddishe Presse in Roomenie by Wolf Tambor.

Relations With Israel

Political relations between Israel and Romania were strengthened with statesmen exchanging visits. Romania has consistently campaigned for a political settlement of the Near East conflict and for a solution that will guarantee the territorial integrity and independence of all states in the region and lead to the withdrawal of Israeli forces from territories occupied after the Six-Day War. Romania has also underscored the need to solve the problem of the Palestinian Arabs in conformity with their national interests. The fact that the Romanian government adopted a policy quite different from that of the U.S.S.R. and the other East European governments and did not brand Israel as an "aggressor" has permitted Romania and Israel to maintain normal relations.

In August 1977, Prime Minister Begin paid an official visit to Romania. He held wide-ranging talks with his counterpart Manea Manescu, with Foreign Minister Macovescu, and held two lengthy political talks with the President of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu. The Begin-Caeausescu meeting played an important role in the decision of the president of Egypt to visit Jerusalem in November 1977, and Romania was the only East European country that expressed open support for the Israeli-Egyptian peace initiative.

1982 - 1992


In the decade 1983–1992, the central development in Romanian life, and especially in the life of the ever-dwindling Jewish community was the overthrow of the Communist regime and the attempts at introducing democracy into the country along Western lines. The change of rule did not bring in its wake any real changes in the life of the few Jews left in the country.

During this decade, Jewish life throughout Romania continued to revolve around the synagogues and kosher restaurants, operated by the Federation of Romanian Jewish Communities and funded by the Joint Distribution Committee. The dominating figure in Jewish life continued to be Chief Rabbi Moses Rosen.

Demography and Aliyah

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, some 300,000 Romanian Jews have immigrated there. 

After the death in 1986 of Rabbi I. M. Marilus, the dayyan of Bucharest, only two rabbis remained in Romania: Chief Rabbi Dr. Rosen, who is also the president of the Federation of Communities, and Dr. Ernest Neuman of Timisoara. The aging of the leadership as well as the migration of a few of the leaders to Israel has thinned out their ranks, and Rabbi Rosen had to fill some positions with people who in the past were active in the communist regime and even in the Ministry of Religion, whose function was to oppress religions rather than encourage them.

Anti-Semitism and Zionism

The remnants of the Romanian Jewish community welcomed the overthrow of Ceausescu and the community journal published a special issue expressing joy at the change. In the new spirit of freedom, Rabbi Rosen was the object of personal attacks by anti-Semitic groups, which accused him of close cooperation with the communist regime. Two anti-Semitic newspapers waged this campaign, which the chief rabbi saw as an attack on the entire community. Romania Mare ("Great Romania") and Europa, are weeklies publishing virulent anti-Semitic material, aiming their barbs personally at Rabbi Rosen. In 1992 Paul Everac, director of public television, published a book that also contained anti-Semitic material. He claimed, among other things, that the Jews of Romania control everything and that they number more than 30,000 (more than double the real figure). Complaints lodged by Rabbi Rosen were rejected on the grounds that they were not of public interest. Rabbi Rosen managed to secure the dismissal of the anti-Semitic attorney general, Cherecheanu.

Some observers have felt that the chief rabbi has exaggerated his cries against anti-Semitism; there have been no physical attacks on Jews, aside from an attempted break-in and robbery at the Ploiesti synagogue in June 1992 in which windows were broken and a parokhet torn (police in the district claimed that churches in the area had been similarly broken into), and incitement against Jews has not gone beyond the bounds accepted under Ceausescu. They claim that the outcry by Rabbi Rosen has itself fanned the flame of anti-Semitism.

There is no Zionism in Romania in the commonly accepted meaning. In the early 1990s attempts were made to organize a branch of the Maccabi sports organization and after the overthrow of Ceausescu, a Romania-Israel Friendship League was established, led by the writer Victor Barladeanu. The Jewish Agency emissary in Romania, Tova Ben-Nun, deals with arrangements for aliyah; there are no Zionist youth organizations and Romania is the only country in Eastern Europe—at least in the past few years—which sends no representative to participate in the International Bible Contest for Jewish Youth, held on Independence Day in Jerusalem. However, all this is about to change in the mid-90s, as youth work is encouraged by the Joint.

The President in the Great Synagogue

To quash the harsh complaints about active anti-Semitism, President Iliescu has invested effort, internally and externally, to placate Chief Rabbi Rosen. In 1993, he took the rabbi with him to the opening of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and before that participated in a memorial service for Holocaust victims held in the Bucharest Choral Synagogue, where Iliescu spoke and condemned anti-Semitism.

The Joint’s Rearguard Action

Upon the emigration to Israel of Rabbi Wasserman of Dorohoi, the home for the aged and the kosher restaurant there were closed. Otherwise, all the institutions, restaurants, and homes for the aged are still in operation—10 restaurants and 4 homes (2 in Bucharest, and 2 smaller ones in Arad and Timisoara). Needy Jews receive packages of food and clothing. All this activity is financed by the JDC, fighting a rearguard action to maintain the few remaining Romanian Jews. The situation of the elderly has worsened considerably as their pension’s value has eroded to nothing because of inflation, and without the Joint’s help, they would be starving. The biweekly paper Revista, edited by Chaim Riemer, still appears in four languages. A selection of sermons by Rabbi Rosen has appeared and work is progressing on a book of testimonies that will document the Holocaust of Romanian Jewry.

In an attempt to bring a fresh spirit to the leadership of the communities, Osy Lazar was appointed head of the Bucharest community, while elderly Theodore (Tuvia) Blumenfeld continues to serve as the general secretary of the Federation of Communities. The Federation is actually directed by Rabbi Rosen’s adviser and confidant, Iulian Sorin. Sorin was previously a senior official in the communist Ministry of Religions.

Since Ceasescu’s overthrow, a few communities in the provinces—and especially in Transylvania—have tried "to declare independence." to establish links with other countries and mainly with emigres from those communities now living in Israel, and even to sell property, without the Federation’s approval, an act that was unthinkable during the centralized communist regime. This has created tension between the communities and the chief rabbi, with repercussions even reaching Israel.

Jewish education is almost non-existent. A third of the Jews, whose very number is indeterminate, are involved in mixed marriages, and the majority of the community consists of elderly people whose children and grandchildren live in Israel. Choirs and talmudei Torah outside of Bucharest are dwindling along with the Jewish population. Bucharest has been able to maintain its successful choir and a Talmud Torah, which dozens of children attend on Sundays.

Romania lost its special status regarding relations with Israel since it is no longer the only Eastern bloc country to have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. Relations continued to be normal and friendly, with efforts to increase bilateral trade. Israeli tourism to Romania dropped off.

1990s - Present

The death of Rabbi Moses Rosen in May 1994 significantly affected the remaining Jews of Romania. The passing at age 83 of the man who for over 40 years had served as chief rabbi and head of the federation of Romanian Jewish communities signified the end of an era.

New Chief Rabbi

The feeling of stagnation that followed the death of Rabbi Rosen prompted the representatives in Romania of the AJDC, which essentially administers Jewish life there, to find a new chief rabbi quickly. Among the five candidates, all from Israel, they chose in May 1995 the Romanian-born professor Yehezkel Mark, a lecturer in literature at Bar-Ilan University who had never served in the rabbinate. Rabbi Dr. Mark energetically assumed the role of chief rabbi and, as the High Holidays approached in his first year in office visited the Jewish communities of Moldova and Transylvania. Rabbi Mark also turned to the Israel Ministry of Religious Affairs asking for individuals to assist with Jewish education, and also to train adults to function as gabbaim, conduct prayer services, chant the weekly Torah portion, and so on.

Community Life

Rabbi Rosen’s death also put an end to the concentrated centrality of the Federation of Communities and allowed for greater freedom for the individual communities. The Federation was no longer headed by the rabbi but by Prof. Nicolae Cajal; Theodor Blumenfeld was the secretary general, and Iulian Sorin, the vice secretary general and prime mover who, together with the Joint representative, Dr. Zvi Feine, is trying to fill the gap left by the rabbi’s demise. The head of the Bucharest community, the largest in Romania, was Osy Lazar, and Israeli Alex Sivan was in charge of economic affairs (estates) for the Federation.

One of the most difficult issues is the number of Jews remaining in Romania. In 1995, it became known in Israel that the Jewish Agency had been asked—and refused—to bring 3,000 elderly Romanian Jews, those living in Jewish old age homes, to Israel. At the same time it was noted that besides those older people, there were still some 4,000 Jews in the country. A census taken after the fall of Ceausescu indicated that 9,000 remained, while the Federation and Joint speak of 14,000. It seems that 7,000–9,000 Jews live in Bucharest and that the countrywide total is about 12,000, most of them members of mixed marriages. A few dozen requests for conversion are received every year, but Rabbi Mark’s reply has been that he “does not do conversions as yet.” Even though the total number of Jews is small, immigration to Israel continues.

Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Community

Despite the declining number of Jews, the communities run smoothly and without assistance from the Federation, whose central place has been taken under the prevailing circumstances by the Joint. In addition to the Bucharest community, there are organized communities in the Transylvania region in Cluj, Oradea, Arad, Timisoara and in eastern Romania in Piatra-Neamt, Botosani, Jassy, Braila, Galati, Constanta, Ploiesti, Brasov, Sighet, Satu-Mare, and a number of small communities. Ten kosher canteens are still operated by the communities and kosher meat is provided by three ritual slaughterers.

The community biweekly was recently revamped and changed its name to Jewish Reality (Realitatea Evreiasca). Yiddish is no longer used, and the paper now appears in Romanian, English, and one page in Hebrew, for a total of 12 pages presenting information on the Jewish world with emphasis on Jewish culture and many quotations from Israeli newspapers translated into Romanian. The editor is Dorel Dorian, while the veteran editor, Chaim Riemer, who immigrated to Israel some years ago and then returned to Romania as an emissary of the Joint, was appointed “Honorary Director” and writes the Hebrew page.

In recent years anti-Semitism in Romania has been on a back burner, mainly in intellectual circles, and is not accompanied by violent acts. Its most prominent spokesman is Vadim Tudor, editor of the daily newspaper Romania Mare. The newspaper and the political party of the same name incited against the Jews, against Israel, and also against the democratic forces in post-Ceausescu Romania. Iliescu tries to block any rising anti-Semitism, especially when considering America’s decision regarding the granting of economic concessions as a most favored nation. The Jewish community’s attitude, as expressed by Cajal, differs from that held in the past by Rabbi Rosen. Cajal does not declare a general, vocal war on anti-Semitism, but focuses on providing information to convince the Romanians of the great contribution the Jews made to the Romanian people and to the country. It may be that by the time the efficacy of this approach is proven, there will be no Jews left in Romania.

On October 12, 2004, Romania celebrated its first Holocaust Remembrance Day. President Ion Iliescu told a joint session of Parliament, “We must never forget or minimize the darkest chapter of Romania’s recent history when Jews were the victims of the Holocaust.” Romania established Memorial Day after a government statement denying that the Holocaust took place on Romanian territory provoked an uproar.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis signed legislation into law on July 22, 2015, that punishes Holocaust denial with up to three years in prison. The law also bans the promotion of fascist movements and symbols.

In 2021, Romania made the Holocaust and Jewish history part of the school curriculum.

The Revival of the Jewish Youth

The Joint representatives continued to struggle for the continuity of the Jewish community in Romania and, together with the leaders of the community, launched a Jewish Education program aimed at revigorating the youth activity. The Joint recruited Jewish Service Corps (JSC) volunteers to develop informal programming for Jewish youth in Romania. Young active Jews from the United States would travel to Romania for a year, live, and work closely with the emerging youth, educating them and supporting local initiatives in Jewish education. FEDROM (the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania) has prioritized Jewish outreach, community development, and education and hired local staff to work with the JSC volunteers on the following programs:

  • An annual two-week jam-packed Summer Education Seminar, which attracts Jewish youth from around the country.  For many, this seminar is their first opportunity to explore Jewish issues in depth.
  • Regional and national Seminars on Jewish Identity, Religious Practices, Leadership Development, and more, which are providing more advanced learning for young activists and important follow-up for many Summer Seminar participants.
  • Fun-filled Jewish programming at Jewish Camps for children and pre-teens aged 5-13. 
  • The Jewish Education Network and Jewish Education through the Mail (JEM), reach over 400 families around the country.
  • OTER – the Organization for Young Jews in Romania, which already has over 10 branches countrywide.

The JDC is also supporting the participation of Romanian Jewish youth in international programs such as the Machol Hungaria annual Israel dance festival in Hungary, the March of the Living, the International Bible Contest, and the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation/JDC International Jewish Summer Camp in Szarvas, Hungary.

The Jewish Agency sets up the “Tnuat Aliyah” youth club, where young Jews who are entitled to make aliyah have a chance to study basic Hebrew, learn about Israel, and make new friends. The youth club also has an Israeli dancing group called “Hora”. The group has been touring Romania and Israel and is also performing at various local Jewish and social events.

The Pedagogical Center was created in Bucharest as a response to the increasing demand for Jewish activities and education. The staff is made of young people trained in various leadership and education programs organized by the EUJS (the European Union of Jewish Students) and by the WUJS (the World Union of Jewish Students).

The Pedagogical Center has organized numerous programs and seminars: the annual Judaism Seminar in the summer, regional seminars, journalism and web-design seminars, family programs, the children’s camps, Jewish identity programs, women’s seminars, training seminars for Jewish educators and Talmud Torah teachers and many more. Young and middle-aged Jews attend these programs in increasingly great numbers and there is growing interest in becoming involved in community life.

The FEDROM has edited and published a Siddur Kabbalat Shabbat created for those who are not familiar with the services. The publication includes the Hebrew text with Romanian transliteration and translation. Later on, the FEDROM also published a Birkon Shabbat, a collection of blessings and songs that accompany the Shabbat traditions, from the time when the family returns after services until Havdalah. Both publications have been distributed to all the Jewish communities around the country and people use them either in their congregations or at home, with their families.

Cemetery Fire

On September 30, 2014, a fire broke out at one of Romania’s oldest Jewish cemeteries, damaging much of the land and multiple headstones. There are more than 80,000 individuals buried at the Iasi cemetery, a historic Jewish cemetery that has been serving Romania’s Jewish community since the 18th century. The cemetery is also home to a monument for victims of the Holocaust. Officials believe that the fire was a brush-clearing fire set by local individuals that simply got out of hand. The fire easily spread through the Iasi cemetery due to the overgrowth of dry vegetation from lack of maintenance. for those individuals. A previous fire in 2012 damaged several headstones in the nearby Romanian Jewish cemetery of Pacurari.

Israel-Romania Relations

Israel-Romania relations over the past few years have proceeded on a fairly even keel. Many Romanian laborers work in Israel, while Israeli students, particularly of medicine, study in Romania. Some 400 Romanians immigrate annually to Israel, the majority of them partners in mixed marriages. In 2014, Israel and Romania signed a Joint Declaration for Intergovernmental Consultations, which included statements reaffirming their shared values of democracy, freedom, and the rule of law.

During a visit to Romania in July 2015, officials from the Israeli and Romanian Chambers of Commerce announced that they had signed an agreement for business cooperation, to promote economic relations between the two countries. The Chambers of Commerce of Israel and Romania agreed to work together to encourage foreign investment in each other’s countries and continue to develop increasing trade between them. According to Matan Safran, Israel’s Foreign Trade Administration representative who was present at the signing of the agreement, “There is a fruitful system of trade and investments between the two countries. The volume of trade stood at $400 million in 2014 and is on the rise.”

Romanian Foreign Minister Lazar Comanescu paid an official visit to Israel in November 2016, during which he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the two discussed areas to expand cooperation between their countries.

Israeli defense contractor Rafael Advanced Systems signed an agreement to sell Iron Dome missile defense technology to Romanian defense firm Romaero in May 2018.  In 2023, Elbit Systems said that its Romanian subsidiary Elmet International was awarded a $120 million deal to supply the Romanian land forces with equipment for the Piranha V armored personnel carrier. Elbit subsequently signed a $180 million deal to provide the Romanian Army with surveillance drones.

Sources: Heritage Films.
Anda Dumitru.
Razvan Timpescu, Elbit to deliver $120 mln combat systems to Romanian army, SeeNews, (March 3, 2023).
“Fire rips through 18th century Romanian Jewish Cemetary,” Forward, (October 2, 2014).
“Israel and Romania Sign Business Cooperation Agreement,” IMRA, (June 29, 2015).
“PM Netanyahu Meets with the Foreign Ministers of Romania and New Zealand,” IMRA, (November 17, 2016).
Israel sells sea-borne version of Iron Dome defense system to Romanian contractor, JNS, (May 16, 2018).
Alex Winston, “Germany To Compensate 8,000 Romanian Holocaust Survivors,” Jerusalem Post, (July 21, 2019).
“Israel’s Elbit to provide Romanian army with AI surveillance drones,” Xinhua, (June 22, 2023).
“Romania marks decision to teach Jewish history, Holocaust in schools,” Reuters, (October 3, 2023).

Postcard Photo Credits: Judaica Philatelic Resources.
Other Synagogue Photos: “Synagogues in Romania.”