Tag Archives: Romania

Mark Collins – A Great Book From a Romanian Jew, Mihail Sebastian: “Journal 1935–1944: The Fascist Years”

Further to this post,

What’s an Intellectual Romanian Jew to do Before WW II?

I am finishing his journal:

It is an accumulation of events, thoughts and emotions that is one of the most powerful books I have read. I would add that his amateur appreciation of military developments is quite acute (it would appear that Romanians had access to quite a variety of information from non-Axis sources).

More here on Mihail Sebastian from a Romanian. He survived the war and then “Mihail Sebastian was killed by a truck as he crossed a busy Bucharest street in May 1945…”

The fate of Jews in Romania during the war depended critically on where they lived; many of those in the old Regat survived but still were subject to harsh persecution:


Romania, as Germany’s ally, joined the war against the Soviet Union. The country’s declared reason for doing so was to recover the territories of Bucovina and Bessarabia. Individual Jews’ fates in Romania critically depended on the region in which they lived at the beginning of the war. In Antonescu’s plan for “cleaning up the land,” the Jewish population of Bessarabia and Bucovina was considered hostile and was destined for “elimination.” Intense antisemitic propaganda was spread especially within the army, but also at all levels of the state hierarchy. This particular population, and by extension all Jews, was depicted as the embodiment of the “Bolshevik threat.”

Under Antonescu’s rule, Jews were subjected to discriminatory regulations, but there were quite a few fluctuations in their status, depending on the war front situation and on the political interests of the regime. Jewish real estate was nationalized on 28 March 1941, except for a few categories (exemptions included decorated Jewish war veterans; war orphans who had been baptized as Christians 20 years earlier; Jews married to Romanian nationals; Jews baptized as Christians at least 30 years before). Jewish men aged 18 to 50 had to perform forced labor.

One week after the beginning of the war, on 29–30 June 1941, the Jewish community of Iaşi was the victim of a pogrom in which more than 14,000 Jews were killed in massacres supervised by the army and the local police, with the support of Nazi troops. With the German–Romanian invasion, on Antonescu’s order 45,000–60,000 Jews in Bessarabia and Bucovina were massacred. The remaining 157,079 Jews were deported to Transnistria: 91,845 from Bucovina, 55,867 from Bessarabia, and 9,367 from Dorohoi. Between 105,000 and 120,000 of the deported Romanian Jews died. More than 21,000 Jews from southern Bucovina (the counties of Dorohoi, Câmpulung Moldovenesc, Suceava, and Rădăuți), which was still a part of the Old Kingdom, were also deported before 1942.

From the very beginning of the war, in Bucharest, community leaders (namely Filderman, leader of the Federal Union of Jewish Communities [FUCE]; with the assistance of Alexandru Şafran, the chief rabbi), succeeded in organizing an institutional network to provide religious services, education, and social support. In December 1941, FUCE was dissolved and replaced by the Jewish Central, following the model of the Judenrat. Remaining the true leader of the community, Filderman led the fight against resuming deportations and other anti-Jewish measures. In some communities, permission was granted to set up schools for Jewish children who had been excluded from the Romanian education system. Ways were found to send aid, financed substantially by international Jewish organizations, to Jews who had been deported to Transnistria.

In the summer of 1942, Jews in the Old Kingdom [the Regat] confronted the most critical times, as Romania accepted the Nazi plan to deport all Jews living in Romania to the Bełżec extermination camp. However, by November 1942 it became clear that the Romanian authorities were deferring the enforcement of this action and eventually gave it up completely [emphasis added]. They did so as a result of pressure from the Allied forces, but also because of internal opposition mobilized especially by Filderman. Policies concerning Jews began to change in October 1942, and the deportations finally ended in March–April 1943. Approximately 340,000 Romanian Jews survived. Partial repatriation began in the second half of December 1943. On 20 December, the 6,053 inhabitants of Dorohoi who had survived deportation were sent back to their hometown. On 6 March 1944, a total of 1,846 of the more than 5,000 orphans were repatriated.

Approximately 135,000 Jews living under Hungarian rule in northern Transylvania were murdered after deportation to Auschwitz, beginning in the spring of 1944. The territory of Romania, thanks to the change in attitude of authorities toward Jews, became a refuge for those who succeeded in crossing the border from Hungary…

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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Mark Collins – What’s an Intellectual Romanian Jew to do Before WW II?

The start of an article in the NY Review of Books:

Surrounded by Jew-Haters
John Banville
May 26, 2016 Issue

For Two Thousand Years [see here]

by Mihail Sebastian, translated from the Romanian by Philip Ó Ceallaigh

In his Journal 1935–44, Mihail Sebastian, lawyer, journalist, novelist, playwright, left a profound and moving record of some of the most terrible years in the history of Europe [more here and here]. His native Romania may have been on the geographical periphery, but it was, no less than Spain, one of the cockpits in the struggle between totalitarianism and democracy that was to lay waste to entire countries, and cause uncountable millions of deaths and the near annihilation of European Jewry. The wonder of it is that the Journal (not published in Romania till 1996 and in English till 2000) is not only an invaluable historical document, fully as significant as the diaries of Victor Klemperer [a German Jew–wonderful books, more here] and Anne Frank, but also a beautifully shaped and subtly executed work of literary art.1 Never has the savagery of which human beings are capable been recorded with such insight, style, gracefulness, and, amazingly, humor. Now, in For Two Thousand Years, we have a fictional precursor of the Journal that in its way is equally fascinating, and equally shocking.

Mihail Sebastian was the pen name of Iosif Mendel Hechter. He was born to a Jewish family in Brăila, a port on the Danube, in 1907. He studied law in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, which at the time liked to think of itself as a second Paris, and then in Paris itself, before returning to Bucharest and becoming a typical figure of the times, an intellectual flaneur, a habitué of literary cafés, a chaser after girls. He worked intermittently as a lawyer while also writing essays, novels, poems, and plays, and moving in a milieu that included writers and thinkers such as Mircea Eliade, Emil Cioran, Eugène Ionesco, and Camil Petrescu.

In that fevered year of 1934, with Hitler established as German chancellor and Spain stumbling toward civil war, Sebastian published For Two Thousand Years. The novel caused an immediate scandal in Romania. The Zionist left accused him of being anti-Semitic, while the fascist right saw him as a wild-eyed Zionist. He had asked his friend and hero, Nae Ionescu, charismatic teacher, philosopher, mathematician, and, eventually, fascist activist, to write a preface to the book. Ionescu obliged, but what he wrote turned out to be not the sympathetic and approving puff Sebastian had hoped for but a disgraceful indictment concentrating on the fact of Sebastian’s Jewishness. Assimilation was a foolish fantasy, Ionescu wrote: no Jew could ever belong to a national community. “Someone can be in the service of a community, can serve it in an eminent way, can even give his life for this collectivity; but this does not bring him any closer to it.” He told Sebastian bluntly that he should not even think of himself as Romanian:

It is an assimilationist illusion, it is the illusion of so many Jews who sincerely believe that they are Romanian…. Remember that you are Jewish!… Are you Iosif Hechter, a human being from Brăila on the Danube? No, you a Jew from Brăila on the Danube.

It seems inconceivable yet Sebastian, despite sadness and disappointment, went ahead and published this appalling diatribe as a preface to his novel. Later he was to write that including the piece was his only possible revenge on Ionescu. This is completely typical of Sebastian’s stoical and endearingly wistful attitude toward the unashamed, indeed loudly proclaimed, anti-Semitism of so many of his most intimate companions. When Nae Ionescu died in 1940, at the age of forty-nine, Sebastian wept bitter tears for his lost friend.

Indeed, Sebastian’s capacity to accept and even forgive the excesses of his friends is truly remarkable…

Consider also the famous pre-World War II Austrian Jewish author Stefan Zweig.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins: NATO/Ukraine Crisis: Continuing Canadian Military Presence in E. Europe?

The prime minister is musing as furiously as he ever does:

Harper ramps up Canada’s NATO forces [just a tiny bit for the nonce] to combat Putin’s ‘menace

Canada is sending an additional 75 soldiers to Eastern Europe as part of the NATO response to Russian aggression and Stephen Harper says his government is looking at a making a bigger long-term defence commitment to the region to guard against Vladimir Putin’s “menace and expansion.”

This deployment comes as Poland and North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders call for permanent new bases in Eastern Europe to contain Russia after it seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula this spring.

“…Canada is expending additional military resources here right now. And we are very much looking at options for additional presence going forward,” he said…

Canada already has six CF-18 fighter jets flying air policing operations in Romania [nice report here, with video, from Matthew Fisher], a frigate in the eastern Mediterranean and about 50 paratroopers training in Poland as part of the NATO military response to the new threat posed by Russia.

On Tuesday [June 3], Canada announced a Canadian Armed Forces contingent of about 75 soldiers will join Exercise Saber Strike 2014, an annual U.S.-led security co-operation exercise [official US Army website here]…

Follow Steven Chase on Twitter: @stevenchase

Meanwhile John Schindler has this suggestion at his ever-stimulating blog, The XX Committee:

Defending NATO’s Eastern Frontier: A Modest Proposal

…NATO must station a heavy BCT [brigade combat team] in the Baltics as well, divided among Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, given the Russian threat to those small countries, and one of its three to four battle groups should be American (or Canadian: Ottawa pulled its forces out of Europe a generation ago, and it would be good to see them return [emphasis added])…

Now, whether one thinks that a good idea or not, the simple fact is that it is not feasible.  The Canadian Forces were very hard-pressed to sustain at Kandahar a battle group (a reinforced battalion of some 1,000 troops); I would think the chances of a similar deployment to Eastern Europe–even without all the extra costs and controversy of combat–are zero for at least the following reasons: the very substantial expense; the present resource stresses on the Army (see second quote here); the lack of a political imperative for such a major commitment; and the absence of a sense of Alliance obligation to that extent (let the US and Euros do the pretty heavy lifting).

On the other hand, for a continuing while as events evolve, an Army company-strength presence or rotating RCAF Hornet six-packs from Bagotville and Cold Lake might be in order should the government be willing to shoulder those added expenses (without taking them from the forces’ existing budget).  But a long-term permanent presence as we used to have during the Cold War is simply out of the question unless things deteriorate in a truly desperate way, yet still short of war.

As for the Royal Canadian Navy, a one or two ship presence with NATO would hardly be seen as a serious response, indeed would be regarded as almost avoiding doing something significant.

And keep this in mind regarding the Canadian Forces’ current state and capabilities:

Roland Paris [more here-tweets at @rolandparis]: Harper’s heroic Ukraine message does not reflect reality

Also quite relevant, Professor Paris featured again:

Defence Budgets: Down Under Up, Great White North Down

Down but certainly not out.  But down enough not to imagine an on-going major European presence.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds