Accessibility links

Breaking News

East European Perspectives: December 20, 2000

20 December 2000, Volume 2, Number 23
Who 'Brought' Communism To Romania And Who 'Destroyed' It? (B)


One must deal separately with the main instrument of repression, the Securitate, which had a special role in the party-state apparatus. Jews and other minorities are often accused of having played a prominent role in the Securitate. Again, while an initial overrepresentation of Jews in the apparatus of the communist secret police cannot be denied, some explanations are in order. First, the overrepresentation holds for only the first few years following the setting up of the so-called "popular democracy" in Romania. For that period, Jewish overrepresentation can be explained in terms of the "advantage" Jews had over other segments of society: they had "clean" files -- in the spirit of those years -- because they could not be suspected of having participated in any fascist movement or organization. Second, Jewish overrepresentation must not be understood as if they ever were a majority on the staff of the sinister institution. "The first statistics concerning ethnic composition carried out by the General Direction of the Securitate [after its establishment in 1948], show that of the 60 senior officers in command of the General Direction (major or higher in rank), 38 were Romanians, 15 Jews, three Hungarians, two Ukrainians, one Czech and one Armenian." And, according to a report presented by Securitate commander General Gheorghe Pintilie at a closed meeting of the Securitate staff (evidently, this report was not meant for publication), the staff of the Securitate had the following ethnic composition in February 1949: "83 percent Romanians, 10 percent Jews, six percent Hungarians, and one percent other nationalities" (Oprea, 1996, p. 36). These numbers were based on staff files and in these files one could find the "real names of officers who in the meantime had opted for 'Romanianizing' their identity; in the same files, the real nationality of staff members was registered, not the one suggested by the adopted name" (Oprea, 1996, p. 36), so that the figures presented were undoubtedly real.

It is true, according to journalist Marius Oprea, that "in 1948 there was a preference for Jews, Hungarians and other national minorities for leading positions in some of the Securitate's regional divisions, which, however, did not reflect the ethnic composition of the institution as a whole (which was dominated by Romanians). The ratio of Romanians/non-Romanians with decision making-power at Securitate leadership level reflects the ratio of decision-makers in the Communist Party (the make up of the Political Bureau of the Romanian Workers' Party)" (Oprea, 1996, p. 36). And, as Oprea emphasizes in another article the entire repression apparatus was, after all, commanded and controlled by Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, the secretary-general of the party (Oprea, 1997). This explains the gradual restraining of the number and influence of foreign, non-Romanian, elements in the Securitate in the following years and, finally, the elimination of Dej's Romanian and non-Romanian rivals alike (Lucretiu Patrascanu, Ana Pauker) from the leadership of the party, with the help of the Securitate. Hand-in-hand with the gradual prevailing in the party of the national and nationalist line in subsequent years, the numbers and the power of non-Romanian ethnics constantly decreased in the Securitate as well. Under the Ceausescu regime there were certainly no Jews in the leadership of the Securitate and the number of Jews serving at lower ranks tended to zero as well.

A few words are also in order for Ana Pauker, a symbolic character of Jewish destruction in Romania after 1944. Her activity between 1944 and 1952 represented the hard-line of Comintern and greatly contributed to the policy of Sovietizing Romania. She has done much harm, no doubt; but she did not do it as a Jew but as a communist. She served Stalinism, not in the least the Jewish population of Romania.

The Jews in leading party positions never protected or defended the Jewish community, from which they distanced themselves while at the same time denying their roots. The first newspaper to be suspended by the communists in February 1945 was the "Curierul Israelit" (Israelite Courier). Zionist organizations were repressed and prohibited. Some 250 people were arrested and tried for Zionism between 1948 and 1959, many of them sentenced to hard labor or life imprisonment (see Zissu, 1993). There is ample evidence attesting to anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic outbursts by Jewish Politbureau member Iosif Chisinevski, who was stating that "The Jewish communities have always been a nest of robbers and spies" and must therefore be repressed (Wexler, 2000, p. 118).

Pauker came to power with a mandate from Moscow. In 1952 she was eliminated from the leadership (together with Luca) by Gheorghiu-Dej and his supporters, again with Stalin's knowledge and consent; at that time, it would not have been possible otherwise. "The conflict between Dej on the one hand and Ana Pauker and Vasile Luca on the other was not a 'national' conflict (the Romanians against 'aliens'), it was rather a rivalry for first place in Stalin's grace and the party hierarchy" (Constantiniu, 1997, p. 20). Stalin's siding with Dej and against Pauker was in line with the general anti-Semitic orientation of the Communist Party leadership in the Soviet Union at that time. Similarly, Stalin preferred Klement Gottwald in Czechoslovakia and ordered the elimination of Rudolf Slansky and other prominent Jewish communists. He also ordered the elimination of Jewish activists from the leadership of the Polish Communist Party and the strengthening of the "national" leadership of that party. "The fall of Ana Pauker in 1952 was part of the anti-Semitic campaign launched by Stalin which culminated in the USSR with the staging of the 'assassin doctors' plot (most of them were Jewish) and the arrest of Ana Pauker in Romania in February 1953. It was not Gheorghiu-Dej but Stalin who decided her elimination from the leadership of the RCP" (Constantiniu, 1997, p. 20). Pauker was accused of a "rightist deviation," which in party jargon meant tolerance of the "class enemy" (Levy, 1993). She never had to account for the genuine crimes committed against the Romanian people. Recently-published documents show that she was accused, among others things, of having closed a pact with Iron Guardists and the enrollment of many members of this interwar fascist movement into the party's ranks. Can this act be suspected of being prompted by "Jewish favoritism?" In a grievous "self-critical" document addressed in 1953 to the leaders of the party, Pauker admitted this crime ("I have allayed the vigilance of members of the working class towards Iron-Guardists and I agreed to have some Iron-Guardist leaders... [join the party]"). Generally, she admitted the sin of lacking "firmness" and "revolutionary vigilance," with which she had been charged, but she never saw it fit to question her own harshness in serving the party policy (Pauker, 1998, p. 10). And then: did anything change in the nature of the Bucharest communist power center after Pauker's elimination from it? It must be emphasized that the campaigns against "kulaks," the mass arrests and sentencing to hard labor terms served in the labor camps of the infamous Danube-Black Sea Canal from which many never returned, and, in general, all the repressive actions that mark the "haunting decade" of the 1950s and that are so often (and rightly so) invoked, were launched AFTER Pauker's elimination from the leadership. After the death of Stalin (1953) and mainly after the XXth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union under Nikita Khruschev, when the period of "thaw" set in, "the Stalinist Dej was obviously against de-Stalinization (...) Dej learned 'patriotism' by defending his own position as a leader; he used nationalism to consolidate his position of apparatchik" (Constantiniu, 1997, p. 21). Communist totalitarianism in Romania did not change its nature but became a Stalinist system without Stalin, a national and nationalist communism.

One must also mention other names of prominent Jewish communists and their ill-fated role in advancing the theory and implementing the practice of cultural "proletcultism" in the 1950s: Chisinevski, Leonte Rautu, and others held important positions on the "ideological front." An overrepresentation of Jews on this "front" persisted for quite some time. Many Jews were in leading positions on the editorial board of newspapers and periodicals, in publishing houses, and the "social sciences" departments of universities. But does this justify attributing to Jews alone and Jews in general that immense harm done to Romanian culture by "proletcultism?" One must not forget that these characters were carrying out -- some of them overzealously indeed -- a policy determined, after all, by Dej and the Romanian majority in the leadership of the party. As writer M. Nitescu puts it:

"Because of their fear of fascism -- even though Romania had to suffer less than other countries -- Jewish intellectuals enrolled in masses in the first lines of proletcultist aggression, mainly at the beginning, rendering therefore valuable service to the new regime. Some of them were the first mouthpieces for the tendencies of Sovietizing our culture. Some of them nurtured, probably in good faith, the illusion that in this way they will prevent a possible return of the period of persecutions, while it is possible that others ignored the real, destructive nature of their actions. ...Due to their considerably great numbers in the press, publishing houses, and university education, a.s.o. and their proletcultist zeal, a zeal equaled only by that of a few Romanian intellectuals, the conviction was born that they were guilty for the aggression against culture. The regime itself used and perhaps increased this conviction, transforming it into a SUI GENERIS DIVERSION. However, making them responsible for everything that happened to our culture and literature in the proletcultist period, as some are inclined to do, would implicitly mean an absolution granted to those in power, which would evidently be aberrant. It would be completely erroneous to think that without them things would have happened in a radically different way" (Nitescu, 1995, pp. 168-169. Emphasis in original).

While essentially agreeing with Nitescu, it might be useful to pursue matters further. Based on the bibliographical list at the end of his book, one can easily conclude that, despite Jewish overrepresentation, the majority of proletcultists writers cited by Nitescu were Romanians, not Jews or members of other ethnic minorities. It can, on the other hand, be argued that Nitescu's bibliography is incomplete, and the ratio rendered by a different list could be substantially altered. I, for one, doubt that. What seems to me more important is that Chisinevski, "historian" Mihai Roller, Leonte Rautu, and many others were gradually removed; the initial proletcultism was overcome and rejected; the initial internationalist communism was replaced by national communism. Has this changed the nature of the totalitarian regime? Has the activity of people such as Ceausescu-era, cultural mini-czars Mihai Dulea or Suzana Gadea, in the last decades of Romanian communism, been more beneficial to Romanian culture? Did the democratic and pluralist spirit gain ground in their time? Did the isolation of Romania from Western trends of thought and acquisitions of Western cultural products increase or decrease under them?

In the last analysis, totalitarian communism meant the unbridled, discretionary power of the secretary-general of the single party. Thus far no one has yet claimed that Gheorghiu-Dej or Nicolae Ceausescu were Jews rather than Romanians; and both had constructed a system of power that leaned on an authentic Romanian ethnic nomenclature, and did so with increasing success.

Following the PCR's relatively "internationalist" period, Romanian communism became increasingly and openly national through the composition of its nomenclature and nationalist in its political-ideological orientation. In this second, much longer period -- and especially in the 25 years of the reign of Ceausescu -- all aspects of public life, the entire political, repressive, and ideological apparatus were intensely Romanianized. Despite its nationalism, the Ceausescu regime starved, humiliated, and exasperated the Romanians. At the end of the night, people went on the streets to protest against the regime in that memorable December 1989; the regime was shattered and overthrown by the anger of the masses.


Many Jews -- intellectuals, first of all, but not only them -- enrolled in the communist movement because they were attracted by its original ideology, which they perceived as the most suitable for the purpose of emancipation, since its internationalist slogan implied the equality of all individuals, regardless of origin and ethnic belonging, as well as social justice postulated in a future communist utopia. This is not surprising in the case of a people that had been subjected to discrimination for such a long time. I have, of course, in mind the "original ideology" of the movement, formulated by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, which has very little in common with the nature of the ideology that was produced to legitimize the deeds of Lenin and Stalin, and even less with the PRACTICE of Soviet-type communism. Marxist ideology acted as the "opium of intellectuals," including many non-Jewish intellectuals in Western countries, as French sociologist Raymond Aron wrote in the 1950s (Aron, 1955). It was certainly "opium" for Jewish intellectuals all over the world, East and West; and here, too, one could well speak of overrepresentation of Jews among those who opted for that "opium." That the ideology eventually would prove pernicious, that the established communist regimes did not implement equality and general justice (not even equality between nations) but was blended with nationalism -- all this is true, but does not justify the attribution of bad intentions to those who once made the option in question.

In the more specific Romanian situation before and after the World War II, one must take into consideration the existence of virulent anti-Semitic political-ideological movements that cast a shadow on the country's interwar democratic system. Suffice it to mention in passing the Iron Guardist movement and its toleration and even encouragement by different Romanian political forces. Eventually, the government of rabid anti-Semites Octavian Goga and Alexandru C. Cuza initiated discriminatory, anti-Semitic legislation in 1938, that is, before the beginning of the Second World War. The setting-up of the "National-Iron-Guardist" state in 1940 considerably aggravated the situation. Massacres of Jews during the Iron Guardist rebellion against Antonescu in January 1941 and the massacres in Iasi in June 1941 were followed by the deportations to Transnistria. In 1940, when the Soviets occupied Bessarabia, the Jews were accused of pro-Soviet feelings. "The majority of the Jews saw the Soviet Union as a [possible] place of refuge in case the looming persecutions would break out in Romania as well," a Romanian historian recently wrote. When those persecutions did indeed break out, "Jews were accused of treason. They betrayed a country which in its turn betrayed them, questioning their civil rights." (Dobrila, 2000, p. 16). In fact, those rights were finally abolished altogether. Between 1936 and 1939, according to yet another Romanian historian, "the RCP increased the number of its Jewish members and followers, because the slogans of anti-fascist struggle based on the Popular Front and certain international actions which joined Romania, France, and the Soviet Union, could not, at least at first sight, but satisfy the major interests --above all that of right to life -- of this minority threatened by measures taken or envisaged by the regimes or movements of the extreme right." (Chiper, 1998, p. 31). It is not difficult to comprehend, then, that many Jews would not welcome the idea of a TALE QUALE restoration of the interwar regime. They opted for what they believed to be another type of democracy, one that would hopefully secure their full emancipation. And thus they fell into the trap of the communist illusion.

One must also observe that Nazism had openly declared its anti-Semitism and its quest to eradicate all the Jews from the world, for which purpose it would effectively organize the Holocaust, the consequences of which are well-known. Is it then difficult to understand that in the face of these mortal, far from rhetorical threats, a part of the Jews opted for the political movement and for a regime that they considered to be the most steadfast in fighting against fascism and effectively contributed to the military defeat of the fascist coalition? Subsequently, the communist regime proved to be totalitarian, similar to the fascist regime. However, this was not known in 1944-1945 by those Jews in Romania or elsewhere who chose the unfortunate option. Each individual bears responsibility for his or her options and actions. Every former communist must individually confront his past and re-examine his former convictions, hesitations, doubts, or the compromises made. Collective responsibility, in any way, cannot apply to Jews, just as it cannot apply to other peoples, and least of all can it apply for deeds committed by individuals who where neither acting as Jews, nor pursuing the aims, of the great majority of the Jewish population.


The issue discussed in this article is not at all a specifically Romanian problem. It has its analogies in Russia, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere. In Russia, for example, there was an incontestable overrepresentation of Jews among the Bolsheviks who prepared the 1917 Revolution and among the first leaders of the Communist Party after it took over power. However, neither Lenin, nor Stalin, nor Vyacheslav Molotov, Lavrenti Beria, Georgii Malenkov, Nikita Khruschev, or Leonid Brezhnev were Jews. Moreover, the main opponents of Stalin in the Bolshevik leadership (Lev Trotsky, Grigorii Zinovyev, Lev Kamenev, and many others) were Jews and they were executed, with few exceptions, by Stalin during his bloody "purge" campaigns because they stood in the way of his overall dictatorial power. During the show trials orchestrated by Andrei Vyshinskii, the Jewish origin of the accused was emphasized time and time again (Medvedev, 1972). In the Soviet repression apparatus, the Cheka and then the NKVD, Jews were overrepresented AT THE BEGINNING (40 percent in the 1920s, as compared to their 2 percent proportion in the total population) only to be drastically eliminated later on during the great terror of the 1930s. On Stalin's personal orders, their ratio in the repressive apparatus was cut to 2 percent. The campaign against "cosmopolitanism" after World War II was directed first of all against Jewish public figures -- the few who still existed -- who were stigmatized as "imperialist agents." The regime of Stalin offered all Sovietized countries the model of a stratagem for self-legitimation through nationalism and anti-Semitism. Looking for "scapegoats" to account for historical failures -- and picking out minorities in general and Jews in particular for that role -- is therefore not a Romanian invention. "Nationalism is a way to prevaricate from responsibility for the past. It is always the foreigners who must be blamed -- this is the conviction of all nationalists" (Michnik, 1990, p. 121.)


In the Romanian anti-Semitic media after 1989, there were lots of voices -- louder than their real weight in public life in the last years -- which accused the Jews in Romania of having organized, or at least inspired -- the "demolishing" and destruction of the Ceausescu regime, and implicitly, of the communist system. Who are the accusers? I prefer not to name them so that I do not contribute to increasing their fame. They repeat all the old and new themes of anti-Semitism, which one can find in the pages of publications such as the weeklies and the periodicals "Romania Mare," "Europa," "Totusi iubirea" and others, as well as improvised authors of books and pamphlets. I consider it important to shortly discuss this issue in the last section of this article.

One must first remark the absurdity of the allegation: had the Jews really "provoked" the fall of communism, this would be a historical merit, not yet another "crime" to add to their "record." There is also a logical contradiction in the anti-Semitic discourse: had the Jews really have "brought" communism to Romania, its destruction by them would amount to an atonement for their past sin, as it would mean that they had liberated the country of an evil thing (Voicu, 2000, IV, p. 51). The contradiction, however, is rendered comprehensible by the shift of anti-Semitic nationalism from the position of extreme right to the extreme left, more precisely, by the agglutination of the two extremes into NATIONAL COMMUNISM, as was shown above.

Who, in fact, "destroyed" communism? No person, group, community or institution can be credited with being the "forger," the historic change. Many people undoubtedly contributed to it, but, essentially, communism was not "demolished": it has self-destroyed itself, it became bankrupt as a social, economic and political system, it imploded and collapsed because it could no longer stay on its feet.

Among the factors that contributed to its collapse one must mention the historic success of the capitalist system under all aspects, the success of democratic constitutional states and the open society; "reform communism," which was born and acted even within the leadership of certain communist parties and states, and which produced the first cracks in the "wall;" and finally, the masses, exasperated because of the material, moral, and spiritual misery of the system, and who actually imposed this change by coming out on the streets and openly expressing their will to change it. It is well known that the revolutions in 1989 were non-violent in most of the countries of the former Soviet bloc, where the leaderships complied with the will of the masses or opened the way towards modifications in the system. In Romania, the changes imposed a bloody tribute, due to the harsh resistance of the Ceausescu regime, which held its ground and stuck to its extreme Stalinist rigidity until the last hour. On that last day, 22 December 1989, which also became a FIRST day, not only did the communist state system in Romania collapse, but the Romanin Communist Party was also dispelled. It was not dissolved by anybody, nor did it dissolve itself after the decision of any political body, but disappeared completely, at once, as though it had never existed.

Accusing the Jews of destroying Romanian communism is part of the conspiracy theories on changes of social systems: Jews, allegedly, had acted from within the system, in connivance with the great foreign intelligence agencies -- the Mossad, the CIA, and the KGB. The Jews were allegedly in league with all of them, and at one and the same time, which is again an absurdity. What is essential here is: could the internal and external agents have brought people onto the streets and mobilize those tens and hundreds of thousands who filled the streets in many towns and in Bucharest, the capital of the country, at the end of December 1989? The conspiracy theory is a negation of evidence and of the reality of a mass movement observed and experienced by the whole country. Moreover, it is an insult to those tens and hundreds of thousands of people who went into the streets at considerable personal risk, and whose historic contribution is thus denied.

Accusing the Jews for the fall of communism is often accompanied by allegations that the Jews are the profiteers of these changes, in an analogy to the post-1944 period. Only that after 1989 one can no longer speak of an overrepresentation of Jews in leading positions, in the state apparatus, in economy or culture. On the contrary: Jews nowadays represent 0.05 percent of the population; the great majority of the Jewish population is more than 65 or 70 years old and retired. This small minority group can hardly "grab" power in any political, economic, or professional sphere. Right after the "great change," the two most prominent Jewish leaders were the new prime minister, Petre Roman (whose ethnic origin is half Jewish, but who completely denies it, repeatedly insisting on his affiliation to the Romania Orthodox Church) and Silviu Brucan, the chief ideologist of the post-communist National Salvation Front, a former Stalinist, then reform-communist, one having no connection with the Jewish community and who soon withdrew from the leadership structures. The presence of Jews in the parliament, the government, the central government apparatus, the leadership of central, county, and local institutions, a.s.o., is completely insignificant in the present. There are some rare individual cases, but one cannot speak of significant percentages. What sense does it make, then, to claim that the Jews are those who profited from the elimination of Ceausescu? It is the whole population of Romania, both majority and minority, which actually profited from it, profoundly so and rightfully so as well.

The author is professor of sociology at Babes-Bolyai Cluj University, Romania.


Aron, R., 1995, "L'opium des intellectuels," (Paris, Calman-Levy).

Chiper, I., 1998, "Consideratii privind evolutia numerica si compozitia etnica a P.C.R., 1921-1952," (Examining the Evolution of the R.C.P.'s Numerical Strength and Ethnic Make Up, 1921-1952," in "Arhivele totalitarismului," no. 4, pp. 25-44.

Constantiniu, F., 1997, "De la stalinistul obedient la comunistul national," (From Obedient Stalinist to National Communist) in "Dosarele istoriei" (Bucharest), no. 3, 18-21.

Dobrila, C., 2000, "60 de ani de la sfartecarea Romaniei," (Romania's Slashing, 60 Years On) in "Memoria" (Bucharest), no. 2, 8-18.

Levy, R, 1993, "Jewish Culpability in the Implementation of Stalinism in Romania: The case of Ana Pauker," in "Shvut. Jewish Problems in the USSR and in Eastern Europe," (Tel Aviv University), Vol. 16, pp. 339-360.

Medvedev. R., 1972, Le stalinisme: Origines, histoire, consequences, (Paris: Editions du Seuil).

Michnik, A., 1990, "Verborgene Ungeheuer," in "Der Spiegel," no. 28.

Nitescu, M., 1995 Sub zodia proletcultismului: Dialectica puterii (Under the Sign of Proletcultism: The Dialectics of Power), (Bucharest: Humanitas).

Oprea, M., 1996, "Pagini din copilaria Securitatii romane," in "Dosarale istoriei" (Some Pages from the Romanian Securitate's Childhood), (Bucharest), no. 5., pp. 34-38.

Oprea, M., 1997, "Gheorghe Gheorghiu Dej, politia secreta si puterea," (Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, the Secret Police and the Power) in "Dosarele istoriei," (Bucharest), no. 3, pp. 29-31.

Pauker, A., 1988, "In slujba Kominternului," (In the Service of Comintern) in "Adevarul literar si artistic," (Bucharest) 28 July.

Voicu, G. 2000, "Teme antisemite in discursul public, I-IV ," (Anti-Semitic Themes in Public Discourse) in "Sfera politicii," (Bucharest) nos. 80-83, pp. 47-55, 46-55, 52-58, and 51-56, respectively.

Wexler, T., 2000, "Procesul sionistilor," (The Trial of Zionists) in "Memoria," (Bucharest), no. 2, pp. 118-122.

Zissu, A. L., 1993, "Sionistii sub ancheta. Declaratii, confruntari, interogatorii, 10 mai 1952 -- 1 martie 1952," (Zionists Under Interrogation: Declarations, Confrontations, Questionings) (Bucharest: Edart-FPPP).