Romania commemorates Jewish victims of 1941 pogrom

Romania, which has long denied taking part in the Holocaust, paid tribute to thousands of Jews killed during a 1941 pogrom in the northeastern city of Iasi.

An unprecedented meeting of parliament was convened in the presence of the massacre’s last survivors.

“We, as a nation, must openly admit that our past was not always glorious,” said Romanian Prime Minister Florin Citu, recalling the “unimaginable suffering, cruelty and savagery” inflicted on the orders of pro-Nazi marshal Ion Antonescu.

Some 15,000 victims, almost a third of Iasi’s Jewish population, were killed in what historians call “one of the most documented massacres of the Second World War.”

On June 29, 1941, thousands of Jews were taken to the Iasi police headquarters while being beaten and humiliated by Romanian police and civilians.

Between 7,000-8,000 people were crammed without water into two “death trains” comprised of sealed, overheated freight cars where most died of suffocation.

Around one hundred pictures of the massacre remain, along with about 600 portraits of victims.

“We have not completely fulfilled our mission,” lamented Silviu Vexler, president of the Federation of Jewish communities of Romania (FCER)  in reference to “praise for war criminals” by elected officials of the nationalist AUR party who won seats in parliament in December.

Between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews died in the Holocaust in Romania and territories under its control, according to a commission headed by Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel, himself a Romanian-born Jew.

And though the commission’s report was validated by the Romanian government, Antonescu, sentenced to death for war crimes and executed in 1946, remains a hero in the eyes of many Romanians.

“By commemorating this massacre, the worst in modern Romanian history, the parliament is laying the foundations for a truth-based reconciliation,” said Alexandru Muraru, the government’s top representative for fighting antisemitism and xenophobia.

Eighty years on, around two hundred people laid flowers on mass graves where some of the victims are buried.

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