Urzeala violenței purificatoare în Romania anilor 1940


Armin HEINEN, România, Holocaustul și logica violenţei
pref. Alexandru Florin-Platon, trad. Ioana Rostoș, Ed. Universităţii „Alexandru Ioan-Cuza”, Iași, 2011

The Holocaust meant „more than Auschwitz”. It is the assertion, shared by a number of exegetes of this 20th century dark page, that this work assumes as its fundamental premise (p.42). As suggested by the very title of this book, it proves indeed a far more extended phenomena as far as its where, when, why, who, whom and how are concerned. Armin Heinen’s book constitutes in this sense a valuable addition to the already existing literature in the field, aiming to analyze one of the local manifestations of this genocidal experience, namely the Romanian case, with a special focus on what the author defines as „its logics”.

What is more, the Holocaust is stated to have been more than just a bureaucratically organized massacre. The validity of this statement is pressed against the case analyzed here by Heinen. In this respect, the account of the author is indeed a multi-layered one, taking into consideration five distinctive but interacting levels and forms of manifestation of the violence: the political-governmental level (represented by the policies of Antonescu´s dictatorship), the fascist violence of the Legionary Movement, the military violence (the murders and abuses of the Romanian soldiers), the violence of the police forces during deportations and in the camps and last but not least, the collective violence of the popular masses manifested most especially during pogroms (p.46). Moreover, this regime of plurality is also signaled in the existence of competing forms of bureaucracy and eventually, three coexistent states during Antonescu’s fascistoid dictatorship as far as anti-Semitic policies were concerned: the state of the norms (basically preserved in the Old Kingdom), the state of measure-taking (Bessarabia and Bukovina) and the behemoth-state (the Transnistrian territory where the Jewish deportations took place). Also, very importantly, the author attempts to provide a cultural-symbolistic approach in order to actually understand „the logics of the violence”, sometimes operating comparisons between the ways of acting of Romanian and Gerrman perpetrators of violence while explaining actually two different cultures of the violence (pp.135-136).

As far as Antonescu’s dictatorship is concerned, we are offered an account of the entire social functioning that made possible the violence under its different forms and on the other hand – that diminished it or even made it impossible at a certain point. In this latter case, what we would like to draw attention upon is the existence of the complex network of relationships that contributed decisively to the salvation of the Jews from the Old Kingdom, proving ironically that the Jewish community was a fairly well integrated one that actually had the capacity to transform itself into an effective „group of pressure”, perhaps a more recent concept but which in my opinion applies to this case. This would be especially justified if we take into account the internationalization of the issue, and in this respect we may draw a parallel with the circumstances which led to the very recognition of the Romanian Holocaust in far more recent times. Also, as to the facts that made violence possible, the author elaborates briefly on the sources and nature of Romanian anti-Semitism and on the evolution in terms of policies and discourse of the anti-Semitism developed by Antonescu’s dictatorship, that at least up to a certain point, tried to emulate the National-socialist model. One striking fact would be that no matter how harsh the anti-Semitic/anti-minorities stance became, the cleansing policies aimed at the Jewish and the Roma community never represented an end, but only a means to the purification and reglorification of the Romanian Nation, in the sense that Michael Mann described as a fusion between „demos” and „ethnos”, the organic (as opposed to the liberal one) vision of „the people”, susceptible to legitimize, as in this case, discriminatory policies triggered at ethnic minority groups1.

With regard to the second form of violence, perpetrated by the Legion of the Archangel Michael, the author analyzes it in strong connection with the very nature of this fascist movement, namely a political religion. However, at this point, the interpretation of the author should have been a bit more nuanced: it is not a quasi-religious order that the legionaries wanted to institute, but still a lay one, as their ambitions are of a purely political, and only apparently religious, nature. As far as the context of the manifestation of violence goes, the author’s account mentions very importantly the perpetuation of violence and abuses in the social and political environment in general, a state of facts perhaps not easily acceptable in an idealized perspective (often expressed in Romanian public discourse) of the Romanian interwar monarchy.

The following forms of violence (the military violence, the violence of the police forces and the collective violence) described by the author are more than closely connected to the reality of the war. They are at least in the first case its direct consequence, through the involvement of the Romanian and the German Army and their action in the (re)conquered territories. As to its proper manifestation, Heinen underlines the differences in terms of „ritualization” of the violence between the Romanian and the German versions (pp.138-139). The fourth form of violence is more likely the story of a failed state and a failed bureaucracy, incapable of administrating the challenge of ethnic cleansing in the re-occupied territories and once more, corrupt enough to „give up” and somehow allow the survival of the victims (pp.140-143). As well, the violence perpetrated by the masses in pogroms and other massacred is also considered by the author to be a product of the war, a response to the generalized insecurity climate, fear, lack of authority of state structures and need of finding scapegoats for the deplorable state of affairs (p.200). In addition, it is in this particular form of violence that bears a heavy display of symbolism and over-significance (p. 196), impossible to explain exclusively by historical-cultural arguments and involving elements of the very „living together” of the ethnic communities.

Last but not least, the conclusion reached by the author is in our opinion bound to be a just one, bearing special relevance for the past and possibly, future debates on the issue: Antonescu and his dictatorship were indeed very much responsible for the Romanian Ho­locaust, but certainly not the only one guilty. In any case, the great merit of the work is that it offers a wide and, dare we say, brief but exhaustive perspective over the dimensions and implications of the perpetration of this Romanian genocide. Moreover, it is an extremely systematized account, as it is well visible in the tables presented (p. 206). This is not to say that the analysis is to be adopted literally and taken for granted, of course further interpretations of the events are plausible, but this brings much clarity to the understanding of the facts and the author is thereby clearly stating a well-defined position. Furthermore, after establishing that the concept of genocide is indeed able to define the events, an even more delicate question is raised in the conclusion: was this, according to certain scientific standards, holocaust? After taking into account various formal and working definitions of the holocaust, the author reaches a positive answer. This is not to say that this statement is unanimously shared, especially by actors of the public and political sphere in Romania. It is at this point that we find the work especially relevant. For having presented, in an univocal and systematized manner, valuable information about the inhumanity of the experience, it demonstrates to any potential reader the meaninglessness of Romanian negationism and of the apologia of Antonescu, the actual „savior of the Jews”, as some political actors, sometimes served by a mystified historiography, were interested in picturing him. Even though, as illustrated in the present work, the Roma­nian authorities finally refused to go along with the final solution and deliver the Jewish and/or Roma population to Nazi camps, the annihilation and degradation of a considerable part of these communities is a fact, resulting into a fairly convincing Ersatz for „the German way”. Moreover, as shown in this work, very often the reason why the atrocities were stopped from perpetrated was the corruption practiced on bigger or smaller stages by the Romanian actors, not to mention the fact that one of the potential explanations for the abandoning of the „final solution” was according to some like Michael Mann, that after the German victory seemed less likely, „The Jews became for Antonescu a possible form of exchangeable currency”2. Even from a theoretical standpoint, the fact that the annihilation of the Jewish element was not a final end, but just a means for the achievement of the purity of the Nation – is actually, as the author himself remarks, an element that the Romanian case shares with the German one. For as well, the dimensions and character of the atrocities, along with the goal assumed by the Romanian state of proving itself worthy of the support of the Third Reich as motivation for these acts, actually qualify them as merely another representation of the Holocaust. We may add that, apart from the numerical dimensions of the crime, the only actually objective difference between the two phenomena is the very physical me­thod by which human people were put to death, in that the Romanians did not use gas, but various other „instruments”, including bureaucratical incapacity and indifference. And whatever the instruments, the final consequence was in our opinion the same: transforming the Mensch in Untermensch.

Alina-Carmen Ciolcă
[The University of Bucharest]


1 Michael MANN, The dark side of democracy, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 55
2 Michael MANN, Op. cit., p.306


ALINA-CARMEN CIOLCĂ–  Masterand, Facultatea de Ştiinţe Politice, Universitatea din Bucureşti, licenţiată în ştiinţe politice, Universitatea din Bucureşti.




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