01 July 2015
Michael Shafir: "In the main trial - the sixteenth in the series staged by the People’s Tribunal in Bucharest - thirteen of the twenty-four defendants received death sentences, but six of the sentences (including those of Iron Guard commander Horia Sima and Iron Guard Ministers Mihai Sturdza, Ioan Protopopescu, Corneliu Georgescu, Constantin Papanace and Victor Iasinschi) were pronounced in absentia and never carried out. Marshal Antonescu and his foreign minister, Mihai Antonescu, General Inspector of the Gendarmerie Constantin Z. (Piki) Vasiliu and Transnistria Governor Gheorghe Alexianu were executed on June 1 1946.
Crimes committed against Jews occupied a relatively small place in both the indictment act (some 12 out of 125 pages) and the debates at the trial. While admitting that between 150,000 and 170,000 Jews had been deported to Transnistria, Marshal Antonescu claimed in a memorandum refuting the indictment that this act had been intended to save allegedly pro-Communist Jews from the population’s wrath and thath the Iron Guardists were preparing 'a St. Bartholomew' against them in cooperation with the Germans. Unfortunately, he claimed, implementation of the deportation order had been 'destabilized' by the 'then dominant spirit.' By 'destabilization' Antonescu was referring euphemistically to the mass executions, death marches and starvation inflicted by the Romanian police and army while carrying out his orders. The harsh early winter conditions, 'which also claimed many victims among the belligerent armies,' he maintained, had added to the number of casualties among the deported, but 'this was also the reason why the Germans lost the Moscow battle.' The blame for the Jewish casualties, he said, lay with those who were executing orders. He had personally ordered an inquiry 'and the result was known. A general staff colonel and a captain was [sic] demoted and sent to the front line as a private soldier, where he met a heroic death.' Antonescu thus placed responsibility for the crimes on the Germans, as well as on fanatical or terrorist elements in the Iron Guard; but he also blamed his subordinates, as indeed he would attempt to do when the Odessa massacres were discussed during the trial. In the memorandum he wrote that as chief of state he assumed 'responsibility for everything that went wrong' under his governance 'except for abuses and crimes.' He could not 'endorse crimes' and 'I respectfully bow before the victim’s shadows and am begging the pardon of those who had to suffer because of them [sic].' Antonescu further claimed in the memorandum that 'the number of dead from among the population deported from Bessarabia and Bukovina to Transnistria and from the country [i.e., Romania proper], as well as their treatment, is exaggerated … The region ws healthy, picturesque, and very rich. Many of them did not wish to return.'
If Antonescu (and the others accused with him) sought to minimize the dimensions of their crimes, the prosecution itself strove to deflect the focus from Jews to crimes committed against the Romanian nation as a whole. The indictment thus spoke of 'hundreds and thousands of anti-fascists' and of 'political suspects' interned in prisons and suffering 'torture and terrible terror'. This was a clear attempt to exculpate collaborationism. Ostensibly, in countries that had been occupied or in those that collaborated with the Germans both in the West and in the East, the indictments were individual; in practice, the frame of reference in both was politically inspired or condoned collective self-defense. The Romanian indictment act reflected this quite clearly by emphasizing (against all recent memory and evicende) that 'in fact, the country had been under German occupation' and that 'Romanian public opinion received with indignation the German armies' which had entered the country under the September 15, 1940 agreement signed by Berlin and Bucharest. However, no evidence of this alleged indignation was produced. Under a decree passed in early 1950, those convicted of war crimes who had 'demonstrated good behavior, performed their tasks conscientiously, and proved that they had become fit for social cohabitation during their imprisonment' were made eligible for immediate release, irrespective of the severity of the sentence passed. Among those 'socially rehabilitated' were several condemned to life imprisonment for crimes against the Jews. Many of those liberated joined the Communist Party (PCR). Others, however, would have to await amnesties granted between 1962 and 1964, when the regime’s National Communist policies were being implemented and the PCR needed the support of nationalist-minded political prisoners, and in particular the intellectuals among them."