21 July 2004, Volume 6, Number 15
COMING TO TERMS WITH THE RECENT PAST: HOLOCAUST EDUCATION IN POSTCOMMUNIST ROMANIA (Part 2)
By Felicia Waldman*
The Holocaust In Textbooks
In 1999, the Holocaust became a compulsory topic in Romania's history curricula. It must be covered in 1-2 hours in the seventh grade (Romanian History -- references in the chapter on World War II), 11th grade (Universal History -- two case studies and one lesson within the wider frame of World War II) and 12th grade (Romanian History -- references in the chapter on state, society, and culture -- the Jewish Community in 1940-44). In addition, optional courses focusing on the Nazis and the Jewish problem, the Iron Guard regime in Romania, the Antonescu regime, or Romanian solidarity with the Jewish community during the war are being offered for students in all those grades if parents opt for it.
This might not be a lot, but at first glance it looks encouraging -- that is, until one starts examining teaching resources. Except for the textbooks, which are not always accurate or similar in content, no professional teaching support is available in the Romanian language. Although a number of books related to the Holocaust, mostly translations, have been published in recent years, so have a series of Holocaust-denying, negationist tomes; and it is difficult for an uninformed educator to select the most suitable. (Recent projects have undertaken to edit/translate, publish, and distribute in school and high-school brochures and books, in Romanian, designed to serve as supporting materials for teaching the Holocaust. Also, with the assistance of Yad Vashem and other international organizations active in this field, the Universities of Cluj and Bucharest provide teachers who attend training sessions in Holocaust education organized on a yearly basis with new materials and teaching methodologies).
Let us review a few textbooks.
Instead of in the seventh grade, the first reference to the Holocaust appears in a textbook for eighth graders published by Octavian Cristescu at Editura Didactica si Pedagogica in 1998 and reissued in 1999 under the title "Istoria romanilor: Epoca moderna si contemporana" (History of Romanians: The Modern and Contemporary Age). On page 168, one reads: "The nationalism and anti-Semitism promoted by the legionnaires [Iron Guard] led to [the issuance of] decree-laws that were discriminatory against Jews, and the staff in enterprises was 'Romanianized.'" No explanation is given as to what "Romanianized" (i.e., the forceful dismissal of Jews) means. More relevant to the textbook's minimizing presentation of the Holocaust in Romania is a reference made to the pogrom in Iasi, in which some 12,000 Jews perished and which was personally ordered by Marshal Ion Antonescu and carried out according to a blueprint (Ancel, 2003, p.83). That pogrom is presented as an exception to the general rule, and the presentation exonerates the Romanian authorities of any guilt:
**Although measures against the Jews were indeed undertaken, they were not exterminated, as Berlin had stipulated. The pogrom of June 1941 in Iasi, which resulted in 3,233 Jewish victims, was organized without the knowledge of the Romanian government by the Legionnaires and the Nazis. Many Jews were rescued from north-western Transylvania, which was occupied by the Horthysts, and still others were able to leave for Palestine (Cristescu, 1999, p. 171).
This is more than mere reflection of the communist-era treatment of the Holocaust: It is simply its word-by-word reiteration. Postcommunist Holocaust deniers wholly embraced that legacy. That some Jews sought refuge from Hungarian-occupied northern Transylvania and others left for Palestineis beyond question, but the circumstances of these exceptional cases -- some of which remain disputable to this day -- are far from reflecting the general situation, as the textbook would have students believe. The eighth graders learning from Cristescu's textbook are bound to conclude that apart from the 3,233 Jews whose misfortune it was to find their ends at the hands of a bunch of Legionnaires and Nazis turned loose, Romanian Jewry in Antonescu's Romania lived happily under the benign protection of the marshal.
Remarkably different from Cristescu's approach is a 10th-grade textbook published in the year 2000 by Alexandru Vulpe, which states that "among the first measures taken by the Legionnaires were a number of decrees pursuing the 'Romanianization' of the enterprises (firing all Jews and foreigners and replacing them with Romanians), the confiscation of Jews' assets, and their exclusion from military service" (Vulpe, 2000, p. 124). On page 126, in a chapter titled "Romania During World War II," the author adds:
**The Jews from Bessarabia, Bukovina, and the Old Kingdom were deported to Transnistria, where many of them were executed or died because of the harsh deportation conditions: lack of food, illness, cold. The order for the extermination of the Jews and Gypsies was given by Antonescu, being prior to, and independent from, the extermination policy practiced by Nazi Germany in the Soviet Union. The deportations ended at the end of 1942, when military developments were showing that Germany was going to be defeated.
Though hardly extensive and not very detailed, the information provided in this textbook is the most accurate, particularly when compared to all other textbooks. This author is the only one who takes a matter-of-fact approach, without attempting to justify or falsify the policies pursued by the Romanian authorities.
Moving on to the 11th grade: Quite interesting is a textbook published by Valentin Balutoiu under the title "Istorie" (History). On page 97, in a chapter dealing with the situation in Germany during World War II, there is a brief entry titled "The Anti-Jewish Policy," which states:
**Anti-Semitism was a permanent feature of the Nazi regime. The state launched a policy of systematic persecution against the Jews. Under the circumstances, many were forced to emigrate. Those who remained behind were subjected to a regime whose aim was the "final solution" -- the extermination of all the Jews in Germany and in Europe.
What is unusual about this textbook is that it mentions, among other supporters of the Legionnaires, Mircea Eliade, Nae Ionescu, and Emil Cioran. This is a highly "sensitive" issue in postcommunist Romania, for despite the fact that the three interwar intellectuals' involvement in politics on the far-right pole of the spectrum has by now been proven beyond doubt, they have to a large extent been fetishized not only (as one would have expected) by nationalists, but also by intellectual groups that would describe themselves as pro-Western and above all democratic.
The textbook speaks about the persecutions to which Hitler started subjecting Jews immediately after his accession to power, about the boycott imposed on Jewish businesses, about the exclusion of Jews from civil service, and about the "Racial Laws" that stripped them of German citizenship. The author also mentions the 1938 Kristallnacht, which resulted in the death of about 100 Jews and the internment of some 20,000 in concentration camps immediately after those events. Details are given about the confiscation between 1939 and 1945 of Jewish assets and the interdiction of access to state education in all territories under Nazi rule. The text also explains the significance of the yellow-star badge that Jews were forced to display on their clothing, life and death in the Polish ghettos, as well as the special SS troops (Einsatzgruppen) tasked with liquidating Jews behind the advancing Nazi armies marching into the USSR.
More surprisingly and quite singular for that matter, the volume also mentions Jewish resistance, describing the Warsaw ghetto uprising of April 1943. It provides information regarding the emergence of the "Final Solution" plan, decided at a January 1942 meeting of National-Socialist officials, which would lead to the establishment extermination camps at Auschwitz, Majdanek, Treblinka, etc. This obviously is a reference to the so-called Wannsee Protocol, although, as Michael Shafir has pointed out, the 20 January 1942 gathering did not "decide" on the Final Solution but was merely convoked to discuss how to make the previously decided and already underway "solution" more rapid and efficient (Shafir, 2003, p.43). Balutoiu also describes in detail the concentration, forced-labor, and extermination camps; the deportation to the camps from all over Europe in cattle wagons in which many died of hunger, illness and cold or heat; the "selection" process upon reaching the camps, in which those strong enough were selected for labor until death of exhaustion, illness, or hunger, while the weaker, the ill, and mothers with children under 14 were sent straight to the gas chambers; the cremation of those exterminated; and the inhumane experiments performed on some of the prisoners.
According to Balutoiu, who apparently takes his figures from Raul Hilberg (1994, Vol. 3, p. 1300), 5 million Jews were exterminated during the Holocaust. The author does not neglect to mention attempts to save Jews in Denmark or even fascist Italy. He also mentions Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg's attempt to rescue Hungarian Jews and describes the Nuremberg trials against the war criminals. There is even a quote from Auschwitz commander Rudolf Hoess's testimony in Nuremberg about the atrocities in that extermination camp. Of the textbooks that I have reviewed for this study, this is by far the most complete and accurate in information regarding the German and European Holocaust.
Another 11th-grade textbook, "Istorie" (History), authored by Sorin Oane and Maria Ochescu in 2002, includes a chapter on "the totalitarian regimes of the interwar period," insisting, in a special lesson, on the political repression under those regimes. On page 93 in Chapter 8, the reader is informed that Nazi terror had been directed particularly against the communists and the Jews. "At the core of the Nazis' social policy was the racial problem, in particular anti-Semitism," the text reads. "In 1933, Jews represented about 1/100th of the German population. Nazis blamed them, however, for all economic and political weaknesses of postwar Germany. In "Mein Kampf," Hitler states that: 'Jews have never created an institution but they destroyed so many. They seek to suppress the Germans' national feeling and spoil their blood.'"
A sidebar in the same volume marks the stages of Nazi anti-Semitic hysteria, showing that until 1939 and during the first years of the war, "Germany's most outstanding scholars and artists, some Jewish and some German, fled the country." The authors include a list of people who fled Germany and Austria before the war. More surprising, however, is a chronological and rather detailed list of anti-Jewish persecutions perpetrated between 1933 and 1945: discrimination (1933-38 -- the boycotting of stores, the Nuremberg racial laws, the ristallnacht), internment in ghettos (1939-41 -- Poland) and extermination (1942-45 -- the Wannsee conference and the collective massacres in the extermination camps at Auschwitz, Chelmo, Treblinka, Majdanek, etc.).
Later, in Chapter 9, which deals with World War II, an entire subchapter is dedicated to the Holocaust, defined as "sacrifice brought to divinity by the ancient Hebrews and Assyrians, consisting in burnt offerings. In the 20th century, the term was used to designate the tragedy undergone by the Jewish population subjected to extermination (including by burning) in camps built for this particular purpose by the Nazis." Under the title "Racism and Extermination," information is given on the fate of Jews in Poland and the Western part of the Soviet Union, liquidated by the Einsatzgruppen. Mention is made to the fact that
**435 concentration camps and the extermination camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek were set up in Poland.... Some concentration camps were eventually turned into extermination camps. The entire operation acquired industrial dimensions, and each camp had a plan to fulfill. At Auschwitz, the largest of all death camps, 12,000 people were exterminated daily by gassing, shooting, etc. By the end of the war, the Holocaust had resulted in nearly 6 million Jewish deaths, [representing] two-thirds of Europe's Jewish population (Oane and Ochescu, 2002, p. 102).
The volume specifies the atrocities committed at Lidice, in Czechoslovakia, as well as at Oradour-sur-Glane, France, placing them in the same category of wartime occurrences as the Warsaw ghetto uprising. On page 103, a map shows the concentration and extermination camps of Nazi Europe (significantly, Transnistria is missing); a photo of several Dachau inmates taken at the moment of their liberation is reproduced; as is the above-mentioned testimony of Rudolf Hoess in Nuremberg, that trial being briefly covered on page 122, as well. It is probably not mere chance that the text emphasizes that "similar horrors were also perpetrated in this war by the Italian and Japanese occupiers and by the Croat ustasa," or "of all the countries occupied by Germany, Poland suffered the biggest human losses compared to the total population: 6 million dead." While this information is accurate, the manner of its presentation seems to betray a subtle intent to minimize the special anti-Semitic aspect of Nazi and pro-Nazi policies by presenting Jewish victims as mere casualties of an inhumane war and Holocaust perpetrators as criminals among many other lawbreakers.
This feeling is further enhanced by the technique of presentation. In an extremely original vision, the manual, which covers world history from 1815 until the present, includes, in each chapter, a brief parallel presentation of Romanian history at a particular scrutinized historical moment. The chapter on World War II is also accompanied by a sidebar on Romania. At this point, however, things get complicated. In a first paragraph, the authors mention that "[concentration] camps were set up, while enterprises and [state] institutions were militarized. Although the Antonescu regime opposed the extermination of the Jewish population in Romania, during 1941-43 almost 100,000 Jews were deported to Transnistria, where thousands of people died under harsh living conditions and atrocities." The reader is never told who was guilty of committing those atrocities, and might become even more disoriented learning from the second paragraph that:
**[D]uring the war, the situation of Jews in Romania was different from that of the Jews who were left in northern Transylvania, [which was] annexed by Hungary, where they were almost entirely slaughtered. Their case was the most rapid implementation of the final solution in Europe. The Romanian Jews were victims of racial legislation and of other discriminatory measures but at the end of the war the Jewish community counted about 300,000 members, more than in any other country dominated by the Nazis (Oane and Ochescu, 2002, p. 122).
It thus becomes obvious that the authors remain faithful to the former communist "party line": "It happened, but not here." This Janus-faced posture has been labeled by Shafir (2002, pp. 89-103) as "selective negationism." Oane and Ochescu's position is not much different from that displayed by most other authors scrutinized in this study: There is no explanation as to who was imprisoned in the camps and no mention of the "Romanianization" process, which in their terminology is replaced with the vaguer and misleading "militarization." Moreover, the attempt to save Antonescu and the Romanian authorities' face leads to an aberration: If the regime was against deportation, who deported the Jews to Transnistria? Last but not least, the comparison with the situation of Jews in northern Transylvania betrays the authors' communist training. This was precisely the strategy promoted by the former regime to blame, once more, the Magyar authorities, with the twofold purpose of attacking Janos Kadar's Hungary and rehabilitating Antonescu and the Romanian authorities' nationalist policies. The end of the paragraph provides the perfect crowning of the technique; the authors conclude that the Romanian Jews had a happier fate because they suffered nothing more than discriminatory measures, and anyway more of them were left alive after the war than in other countries. Naturally, comparisons have their importance; but the authors fail to mention how many Jews lived in Romania before the war. If one embraces the figure of 800,000, promoted by another textbook, which, in the same style, forgets to mention how many were left (the 12th-grade textbook by Mihai Manea, analyzed below), some 500,000 -- or nearly two-thirds of the Jewish population -- appear to be missing. Apparently, this is not nearly sufficient for Oane and Ochescu to justify the label of "extermination policy."
In his "Istoria Romanilor de la 1821 pana la 1989" (History of the Romanians from 1821 to 1989) textbook for the 12th grade, published in 1998, Manea writes that on 9 August 1940 "the Jewish population was banned from civil service in administration and the army, and from owning property," and claims that although this "was just the beginning of a series of anti-Semitic measures," they allegedly were also "a rare instance in the history of Romania [sic]." Unaware of the self-contradiction, or choosing to ignore it, Manea adds: "Both anti-Semitism and nationalism were, however, moderate, the Jewish population counting, on the brink of war, 800,000 inhabitants" (Manea, 1998, p. 323). If anti-Semitic measures throughout Romanian history can be deemed to have been "rare," one is hardly surprised to see that the policies of the Iron Guard and the Goga-Cuza or Antonescu governments are in turn described as characterized by "moderate anti-Semitism" and "moderate nationalism." And, like One and Ochescu, Manea insists on the number of Jews living in Romania before the war but is silent about how many were still alive after it.
Furthermore, he tells his young readers that
**[u]nder exceptional circumstances, the Antonescu government intensified political repression through arrests, deportation and by imposing anti-popular measures. Labor camps were set up and enterprises and institutions were militarized. Thus, prisons and labor camps were opened in the country at Targu-Jiu, Caransebes, or on the territory under [military] war administration at Odessa, Vapniarka, Smerinka, Bogdanovka, and Dumanovka (Manea, 1998, p. 339).
There is no mention as to whom these measures affected; the student is left to guess. Pupils using the textbook are also told by its author that
**[i]t was Antonescu's merit that he opposed the enforcement of the "final solution" and the extermination of the Jewish population of Romania. The excesses and the losses amid the Jewish population on the territory occupied by the Horthyates in northwestern Transylvania and in Transnistria notwithstanding, the "final solution" was not enforced in Romania, an exception being...the program [sic] of 6 July 1941 in Iasi. In Bessarabia, despite all the efforts made by the leaders of the Zionist movement in Romania -- L. Filderman, M. Benvenisti, Al. L. Zissu -- to save the lives of the Jewish population, in tragic and complex [sic] circumstances, massacres were nonetheless carried out in Marculesti, Floresti, Gura Kamenca, Climauti, Gura Cainari. During the summer of 1942, Ion Antonescu managed to obtain the annulment of the promise made to Gustav Richter, German police attache in Romania and representative of Adolf Eichmann, commander of the Reich's Security, to deport the Jews of our country to the Auschwitz death camp. The Romanian government agreed, however, to allow the emigration of Jews to Palestine; in very hard times, Romania thus became a genuine springboard for the emigration of Jews from Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland.
The text obviously intends to create the impression that Antonescu in fact tried to save the Jews, and whatever went wrong happened without his knowledge and were mere exceptions to the general rule. Not to mention the use of a euphemistic phrase such as "tragic and complex circumstances" to describe the Romanian authorities' participation in the atrocities! And the contradiction in terms is simply outstanding: If in Romania the final solution was not applied, but massacres did occur in Bessarabia, one might logically conclude that Bessarabia was not part of Romania! If so, why did Antonescu join Hitler's war to liberate it?
Last but not least, very interesting is the textbook for the 12th grade published in 2001 by a group of authors, with historian Ioan Scurtu as editor. Although Scurtu does not avoid the issue (which is not surprising considering his current position of counselor to the president of Romania on educational matters), he dismisses it in a brief paragraph:
**[the] Antonescu regime promoted an anti-Semitic policy, taking measures particularly against the Jews of Bessarabia, whom he accused of communism. Pogroms were recorded (Iasi and Odessa), the number of dead or missing Jews amounting to about 250,000 people. Still, Antonescu did not accept the "final solution" (the extermination of the Jews) demanded by Hitler (Scurtu, 2001, p.188).
On page 189, the students are also told, "Following the confrontations of January 21-23, 1941, 416 victims were recorded, of which 120 were Jews." That is virtually all the authors have to say about the Holocaust and the "Jewish problem." One notes the repeated insistence on Antonescu's rejection of Hitler's demand that Romania agree to the deportation of its Jews. This reminds one of Radio Erevan: first, because the Marshal DID agree to the deportations but withdrew his agreement as the looming end of the war appeared clearer to him as an experienced military commander; and second because even before agreeing to send Romania's Jews to the German death camps, Antonescu had his own recipe for a "Romanian final solution," which he started implementing and then interrupted (see Ancel, 2001, pp. 111-142 and 2003, pp.125-275).
Of course, this study is not exhaustive. It was not intended to be -- although it is not the first produced by the author on this problem (see Waldman, 2003). There are many school and high-school textbooks that have not been taken into account here. But those that have been reviewed demonstrate, in my opinion, that there is no coherent view on what should be taught in relation to the Holocaust or how it should be taught. Some textbooks do not touch on the subject at all; others are completely beside the point; and still others still are inaccurate or incomplete. An attempt to put together whatever is accurate in all these textbooks shows that not even then would the image be complete. For someone who is not familiar with the true history of Romania -- and I am not necessarily referring to foreigners, but also to the generations educated under the communist regime, when historical information was filtered and rewritten to fit communist requirements -- it is impossible to get from these textbooks a correct picture of what really happened at that time.
After 14 years of "democracy" in Romania, the Holocaust is still an extremely sensitive topic. The current authorities are still reluctant to admit a Romanian chapter in the European Holocaust, claiming that what happened in Romania entailed minor events that do not justify that status. Much of what has been achieved in the last three years is the result of international pressure. Raising awareness on what truly happened during World War II and teaching people to assume responsibility for their history as it is -- rather than as they want it to be -- is therefore still a high priority.
Furthermore, this study shows that the problem arises only when what is in question is the Holocaust in Romania. It is readily noticeable that, while the textbooks for the eighth, 10th, and 12th grade vary considerably in approach and information, both 11th-grade textbooks include vast and accurate data, regardless of who authored them. In addition, the presence of the same quotations from the relevant international literature proves that, at least in this respect, a large basis of information is available to anyone interested. The same cannot be said of Romania's recent history. Here, too, similar details appear in most textbooks. Still, this does not mean they are accurate; on the contrary, it suggests they are designed to accredit the same false image of what truly happened.
Therefore, there is much to be done in this direction. But much also depends on the determination of the new generation of historians to tackle and present the real history of those times and teach children according to current methodologies. In effect, the 27 percent of votes given to an extremist party like Greater Romania during the last elections is merely a natural result of the lack of information and education of younger generations in regard to the real history of the far right in the country. However, it is interesting to note that more and more young people -- pupils and students -- have developed a special interest in this field and seem to be looking for reliable sources. The near future will probably show what they have discovered.
Postscript: The Future Looks Bright
At the end of 2003, Romania applied to join the International Force for Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research. The government expressed its willingness to organize and sponsor further events, conferences, seminars, and training courses, in cooperation with the nongovernmental sector (there are at least four NGOs with experience in such projects: Initiatives for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE), the Romanian Institute for Recent History, the Holocaust Victims' Association, and the Association for African and Oriental Studies). It also pledged to stimulate a national program of teacher training in Holocaust education. Moreover, it went so far as promising to alter and develop the curriculum so as to include the Holocaust as a topic in itself when modifying the compulsory period of education in keeping with the European-integration agenda, in more than one curriculum area: Romanian and universal history, civic education, social sciences, literature, and arts.
To assist in this process, a series of specifically devised academic and scholarly publications is under preparation for the next school year. The Holocaust Victims' Association is carrying out a joint project with the Ministry of Education and Research for the distribution in schools and high schools of a survivors' memoirs and a book of relevant articles, designed to serve as supporting material for teaching the Holocaust. The Moshe Carmilly Institute for Hebrew and Jewish History of the Babes-Bolyai University of Cluj and the Goldstein Goren Center for Hebrew Studies of Bucharest University each year elaborate teaching materials for those attending their training sessions. The Center for Research and Study of the Culture and Civilization of South-Eastern European Jewry of the University of Craiova is working on two volumes of excerpts regarding the oppression of the Jews (forced labor) taken from French and Romanian archives, in cooperation with the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism. In turn, the Romanian Institute of Recent History is preparing a three-volume resource book (one introductory and two with documents) on the European and Romanian Holocaust designed to serve as documentary support for teachers.
With such an impetus, things should start looking better. Until the next flip-flop, that is.
* Dr. Felicia Waldman is lecturer in Hebrew and Jewish thought at Bucharest University and director of the Bucharest-based IDEE think tank.
Ancel, J., 2001, Contributii la istoria Romaniei: Problema evreiasca 1933-1944 [Contributions to Romania's History: The Jewish Problem, 1933-1944], Part 2, Vol. 1 (Bucharest: Editura Hasefer).
Ancel, J., 2003, Contributii la istoria Romaniei: Problema evreiasca 1933-1944 [Contributions to Romania's History: The Jewish Problem, 1933-1944], Part 2, Vol. 2 (Bucharest: Editura Hasefer).
Balutoiu, V. 2000, Istorie [History], (Bucharest: Editura Didactica si Pedagogica).
Cristescu, O. 1999, Istoria Romanilor: Epoca moderna si contemporana [History of the Romanians: The Modern and Contemporary Age].
Hilberg, R., 1994, Die Vernichtung der europaeischen Juden (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag), Vol. 3.
Manea, M., 1998, Istoria Romanilor de la 1821 pana la 1989 [History of the Romanians from 1821 to 1989], (Bucharest: Editura Didactica si Pedagogica).
Oane, S., Ochescu, M., 2002, Istorie [History], (Bucharest: Humanitas Educational).
Scurtu, I., Istoria Romanilor [History of the Romanians], (Bucharest: Petraion).
Shafir, M., 2002, Intre negare si trivializare prin comparatie: Negarea Holocaustului in tarile postcomuniste din Europa Centrala si de Est [Between Negation and Comparative Trivialization: Holocaust Denial in Postcommunist East Central Europe] (Iasi: Polirom).
Shafir, M., 2003, "Ex Occidente Obscuritas: The Diffusion of Holocaust Denial from West to East," in "Studia Hebraica," 3, (Bucharest: Bucharest University Press), pp. 23-82.
Vulpe, A., 2000, Istorie [History], (Bucharest: Sigma).
Waldman, F., 2003, "Reflectarea 'problemei evreiesti' si a Holocaustului in manualele scolare romanesti (1998-2002)" [Reflection of the "Jewish problem" and the Holocaust in Romanian textbooks (1998-2002)] in Identitatea evreiasca si antisemitismul in Europa Centrala si de Sud-Est [Jewish Identity and Anti-Semitism in Central and South-Eastern Europe] (Bucharest: Editura Meta).