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Local History, Transnational Memory in the Romanian Holocaust, edited by Valentina Glajar and Jeanine Teodorescu. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 275 pp. $85.00.
This elegantly produced volume of essays alerts the reader to the fact that the Holocaust in Romania was unlike that in other parts of Europe and the Soviet Union. First, the mass murder was carried out by the Romanian authorities under Ion Antonescu’s military dictatorship, and Romania was a sovereign German ally. Second, the deaths of Jews and Roma at the hands of the Romanians were the result not only of systematic killing, but also of deportation and its consequences. Third, Romania’s “Jewish policy” was independent of Germany in the sense that Antonescu acted of his own volition regarding the Jews, but in a context established by Nazi domination of continental Europe. For example, in the summer of 1942 Antonescu changed his mind about acceding to German requests that the remaining Jewish population of Romania—from the Banat, southern Transylvania, Wallachia, and Moldavia—be deported to the death camps in Poland.
It was not by chance that the word “purification” came most frequently from the lips of Ion Antonescu when referring to the need for deportation of the Jews; this connotation underlines the racial character of their policy towards the Jews. When examining the regime’s minority policies, it should be borne in mind that the legislation regarding the Jews in the period 1941–1944, like that in the years immediately preceding, was directed against the Jews as a race, and the Jews in Romania were the only minority population to suffer such racial discrimination. The deportation of the Jews, whilst representing the fundamental objective of Antonescu’s minority policy, was accompanied by a less draconian project to remove Romania’s other minorities, principally the Roma, and to bring in Romanians who lived outside her borders.
Valentina Glajar opens her perceptive introduction with a question from Lawrence Langer: “To whom shall we entrust the custody of the public memory of the Holocaust? To the historian? To the survivor? To the critic? To the poet, novelist, dramatist? All of them recreate the details and images of the event through written texts, and in doing so remind us that we are dealing with represented rather than unmediated reality.” This collective work is testimony to Langer’s contention. It opens with Alexandru Florian’s measured analysis of the Holocaust in Romanian historiography and in the Romanian media and then moves to Mihai Dinu Gheorghiu’s discussion of the depiction of the Iaşi pogrom in Malaparte’s Kaputt. Survival and memory characterize the articles on Transnistria by Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer, by Florence Heymann, and by Deborah Schultz, who also draws on the albums and diaries of Arnold Daghani to illustrate his experience of deportation. This first part, titled Local History, closes with a lively and engaging chronicle by Andrei Oişteanu of the broken friendship between Mihail Sebastian and Mircea Eliade.
The second half of the book brings together contributions under the heading of “Transnational Memory in Literature and Film.” Paul Celan’s “transnationality” is highlighted by Iulia-Karin Patrut, in her sensitive presentation of Celan’s writing, a characteristic embodied in his birth in Czernowitz, his Jewish origins, his multilingualism (German as his mother tongue, then Romanian, French, Russian, and English), and the multiculturalism itself of his native city. Czernowitz is also the birthplace of Aharon Appelfeld and is itself a character, as Emily Miller Budick points out in her essay, “as important and imaginatively endowed as any person—fictional or otherwise—that Appelfeld might include in his story.”
Norman Manea’s quest for identity is discussed by Jeanine Teodorescu in Chapter Nine, while the thesis of Domnica Radulescu’s article on Elie Wiesel’s autobiographical Night is that “theories of the superiority of the Christian religion and Christians in general were tied into, or friendly to, the Nazi ideologies that led to the extermination of those perceived for centuries as ‘enemies’ of Jesus and the religious institutions created in his name.” In her “Performing the Shoah on Post-War Bucharest’s Yiddish Stages” Corina Petrescu in effect refutes claims that in post-war Romania Yiddish theatre was only a mouthpiece for the Communist regime by showing that it was a potential tool for educating as well as providing covert social commentary.
It is a relief to find that the suffering of the Roma, so often marginalized in studies of the Romanian Holocaust, is considered by Valentina Glajar herself in the final essay on the Romanian Jewish and Romani Holocaust in film.
This volume offers an original multi-layered approach to the memory of the Holocaust in Romania, one which fortifies our attempts to understand the iniquities of the Antonescu regime.
University College, London