The Holocaust as Reflected in Communist and Post-Communist Romanian Textbooks

Ana Bărbulescu, Laura Degeratu, Cosmina Guşu. Intercultural Education. Volume 24, Issue 1-2. 2013.


For decades after the Second World War, discussion of the Holocaust was more or less taboo within the Romanian educational system. While textbooks sometimes included aspects of the Holocaust in Europe, during the Communist era there was little or no acknowledgement of the involvement of Romanian authorities for more than 50 years. This paper maps out the road taken by Romanian history textbooks regarding the Holocaust from the Communist era until the present, with an emphasis on the continuity and discontinuity between the two periods and the points at which the direction changes. Qualitative text analysis is applied to the textbooks used during these periods in order to reveal the ways in which each reconstructs the history surrounding the Holocaust.

The article is organized into three parts. In the first section, we provide a historical overview of the role of the Romanian authorities in the processes of discrimination and extermination of the Jews during the Second World War and in the period prior to it. This historical background is necessary to recognize the omissions and distortions that appear in the next two sections of the article. The second section offers an analysis of the Romanian history textbooks from the Communist era, while the third shifts focus to post-Communist times. These latter parts review the reconstruction of the Holocaust as presented in the textbooks, with reference to both Europe generally and the specifics of the Romanian case. Through this review of the textbooks, we develop a six-part model of the types of representation found in the textbooks, and apply it to document the evolution of Holocaust representations over time. The six models of representing the Holocaust can be synthesized as follows: (1) The Holocaust is completely absent; (2) Romania as a saviour of Jews; (3) Discrimination without deportations; (4) Deportations to camps for unnamed victims; (5) Deportations without the final solution; and (6) The Romanian Holocaust: discrimination, pogroms and deportations.

History of the Holocaust in Romania

The borders of Romania changed frequently after 1878 and were altered further by the war and its aftermath. According to the 1930 national census, 756,930 Jews lived in Romania, representing 4.2% of Romania’s total population. The Jewish population was not evenly distributed across Romanian territory. In Walachia there were 94,216 Jews, in Moldavia 162,268, in Transylvania 81,503 and in Bukovina 93,101, while the largest Jewish population resided in Bessarabia, where 206,958 Jews resided. The fate of the Jews in Romania unfolded differently depending on the region. While the Jews from the Old Kingdom were subjected to discriminatory laws, most Jews from Bessarabia, Bukovina and Transnistria were deported and killed.

Anti-Semitic legislation and violence preceded Romania’s entry into the war alongside Germany on 22 June 1941. Although the Jewish population had endured anti-Semitism and racial persecution during the second half of the 1930s, official ‘state anti-Semitism’ (See Ancel 2001, 65-98) commenced under the Goga-Cuza Government in 1938. In July 1940, King Carol II named Ion Gigurtu, an industrialist with strong German connections, as prime-minister. During his visit to Berlin in late July, Gigurtu assured his German counterparts that Romania hoped to solve its Jewish problem definitively in the context of a German-led ‘total solution’ for all Europe (International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania 2005, 53). In September 1940, the new dictatorship of Ion Antonescu adopted even harsher measures against the Jews.

The Jews from the Old Kingdom were subjected to two main outbreaks of violence: the pogroms in Bucharest (January 1941) and Iasi (June 1941). The Bucharest pogrom started in late January 1941. Some 125 Jews were killed and 1274 private and public Jewish buildings were destroyed (International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania 2005, 114-115). The most devastating pogrom in the Old Kingdom soon followed. At the end of June 1941, Jews in Iasi were accused of fraternizing with the Soviet enemy and were subjected to murder, torture or rape. They were attacked on the streets and in their houses, arrested and shot in police headquarters. Those who survived were taken to the railway station and deported to two different destinations, Podu Ilioaiei and Călărasi. As many as 14,850 Jews were killed during the Iasi pogrom (International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania 2005, 126).

During the summer of 1942, the Antonescu regime agreed in writing to deport the Jews under their authority to the Nazi death camp Belzec in Nazi-controlled Poland. However, in the autumn of 1942, the Romanian authorities decided not to implement the deportation plan, although the reason for this change remains unclear. Perhaps the motivation was Hitler’s failure to comply with Antonescu’s request to return Northern Transylvania to Romanian control, but Romanian nationalists may have also resented Germany’s attempt to dictate to them what to do with the country’s Jews. As a result of this political shift, 290,000 Romanian Jews survived the war. This shift has also permitted defenders of Antonescu to try to represent him in a more positive light. The situation was even more dire for the Jews from Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and Transnistria, the latter being transferred to Romanian authority in 30 August 1941.

Between 45,000 and 60,000 Jews were killed in Bessarabia and Bukovina by Romanian and German troops in 1941, while between 105,000 and 120,000 deported Romanian Jews died as a result of their deportations to Transnistria, primarily through starvation, cold and illness. In Transnistria, between 115,000 and 180,000 indigenous Jews were killed, especially in Odessa and the countries of Golta and Berezovka. Of the 25,000 Roma sent to Transnistria, approximately 11,000 perished (Florian 2007 124). In addition to the Jews who died in the territories under Romanian authority, approximately 132,000 were deported to Auschwitz from Hungarian-ruled Northern Transylvania in May-June 1944. Most of them were killed.

Holocaust Distortion in the Romanian Textbooks (1945-1989)

The Communist government in Romania influenced all research into the Holocaust and determined the part that school—and, in particular, the discipline of history—was to play in the education of the following generations.

In order to analyze how the Holocaust was approached in Romanian textbooks during the Communist period, this section considers:

  1. How the Romanian education system was regulated after 1948;
  2. The extent to which Romanian education was influenced by Communist ideology, and the particular role reserved for history among the school disciplines;
  3. The main paradigms developed by the Communist historiography in the interpretation of the Holocaust that conditioned to a great extent the content of history textbooks;
  4. The historical discourse on the Holocaust and related subjects in the key history textbooks published in Romania during the Communist period (1946-1989).

According to the provisions of Decree 175 on education reform, as of 3rd August 1948, the public school system was organized exclusively by the State. All confessional or private schools were transformed into public schools. The Romanian education reform of 1948 set forth the ideological function that the new education system would have. Thus, according to the law, the public school system ‘is laid on democratic, popular and realistic-scientific bases’. The new structure aimed at ‘educating the youth in the spirit of popular democracy and raising the people’s cultural level;’ ‘preparing middle and senior specialists, on scientific bases, who would correspond to the needs of consolidating popular democracy and constituting socialist society’. The formation and education of the new man, ‘the assimilation by pupils and students of the politics and ideology of the Romanian Communist Party, of scientific socialism, of the materialist-dialectic and historic conception on the world and life’ were central to education in Romania in this period. Romanian history in particular played an important role in achieving the goals of Communist education. According to the Communist view, history’s goals were: in the cognitive field, firstly, ‘the formation within the student of the scientific conception (dialectical and historical materialism)’, and in the affective field, ‘teaching the students about revolutionary patriotism and internationalism’.

These goals set the ideological framework in which the new school textbooks were elaborated. Moreover, the entire Romanian historiography was influenced by the new political and ideological practices imposed according to the Soviet model. Subjected to deformations and distortions, history had to be fixed into a pre-set schema (Boia 1999, 89 [for the French edition see Mythologie scientifique du communisme, Caen, Paradigme, 1993]). The history of the Holocaust was no exception, being re-written within the limits of a narrative teleology that was part of the dominant Marxist discourse (Fox 2004, 420). Considering ethnic and religious conflicts to be secondary, attempts by the ruling classes at distracting the attention of the oppressed from the actual oppressors (Fox 2004, 420), the Communist historiography encouraged the deformation and concealment of the Holocaust. Perceived as part of a larger catastrophe, ‘the martyrdom of Jews will end in losing itself in that of nations’. The partial retrieval, beginning with the 1960s, of the national past in the Romanian historical discourse did not trigger a change in approach to the history of Holocaust; rather, as it will be shown, it constituted a change of emphasis.

Holocaust issues were presented in the textbooks of world contemporary history and textbooks of Romanian history, both disciplines being taught during the last 2 years of gymnasium and high school. The pre-university Romanian educational system had three different cycles: elementary school (children between 7 and 10 years old), gymnasium (children between 11 and 14 years old), and high school (15-18 years old). The new education reform consecrated the principle of a sole textbook for each academic year, a textbook drafted by a group of authors according to a syllabus approved by the Ministry of Education. Changing the group of authors inevitably changed the content of the textbooks, though they continued to follow the general guidelines established by Communist historiography on the Holocaust and the Ministry of Education.

With these parameters, we identified 63 history textbooks in the Romanian archives. Because many of these were published in several editions and some of them underwent minor revisions, we selected those textbooks which represent milestones of the main discourse on Holocaust issues and simultaneously tried to identify to what extent the changes inserted occurred in successive editions (see the endnotes).

Not one of the textbooks that were examined dedicated a distinct chapter or lesson to the Holocaust. Mere references appeared within passages included in the lessons concerning the establishment of fascist regimes and the history of the Second World War. Thus, we analyzed these chapters aiming to identify the following topics: (a) How authors integrated Holocaust issues within the wider framework of the Fascist regimes and Second World War history; (b) How authors interpreted the Holocaust as a European phenomenon and how they represented Romania’s role in it; (c) How authors labelled categories of victims and deal with the issues of responsibility.

The qualitative analysis of education history textbooks between 1946 and 1989 reveals the following discursive strategies regarding the Holocaust: The representation of the Holocaust was shaped by the way in which the broader context of the Second World War was simplified and distorted. The 1947 textbook drafted under the direction of Mihail Roller, History of Romania, imposed the model for reconstituting the recent past that stood for a decade, both in the elaboration of school textbooks, and in Communist historiography (Roller 1947. See the next editions as well: Roller 1948, 1952, 1956). The establishment of the national-legionary state, the anti-Jewish legislation adopted subsequent to this date, Romania’s participation together with the German troops in the war against the Soviet Union, the discrimination and degradation to which Romanian Jews were subjected during the Antonescu administration and the deportations and systematic extermination in Transnistria were all relegated to a few sentences or passages (if not altogether ignored).

Emphasis was placed on ‘the patriotic action against the Hitlerite war’, on

the fight for mobilizing all patriots for the national liberation from under the Hitlerite yoke, for the breaking down of the Antonescu regime, for ceasing of the war against the Allies and Romania’s joining the Allies in the fight against Fascism. (Roller, 1947 765)

The Romanian Communist Party was described as leading these initiatives. François Furet is right in holding that, ‘the anti-Nazism of this epoch prevents even an analysis of Nazism’. (Furet, op.cit. 417) When reference was made, however, to Romanian-German collaboration, it was framed in terms of ‘the loss of national independence’ (Roller & Istoria României 1947, 742); at General Antonescu’s call, Romania ‘was in fact occupied by the German “instructors”’. (Roller 1947, 745) Romania was drawn into an unjust war that made many victims from the Romanian army and caused large material losses. Thus, as the presence of the Red Army was felt, ‘Romanian workers and intellectuals realized that those interested in leading them to death on Soviet territory are the same ones who were exploiting them in the country’. (Roller 1947, 756).

According to Tony Judt, because they lacked the people’s support in the territories recently freed by the Soviet army in Central and Eastern Europe, Communists were very much interested in ‘flattering recalcitrant locals’, inviting them to believe that as far as responsibility was concerned they had no contribution to the murders committed on their countries’ territories, eventually proving to be a trustworthy ally in the liberation campaign led by the USSR and by the national Communist parties (Judt, op. cit., 377-378). The re-nationalization of the Romanian discourse at the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s did not lead to significant changes. The past could be but a glorious one, a result of the Romanian people’s fight over the centuries ‘for just causes: freedom, justice, independence’. (Almaş and Fotescu 1971, 262. See also the editions of 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988) Any episode that could have cast a shadow on this portrait had to be taken out of history.

From a theoretical viewpoint, Fascism was presented according to the definition formulated in 1935 by Gheorghi Dimitrov, according to which fascist regimes represent ‘the openly terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, chauvinist and imperialist elements of financial capital’. Thus, in Germany, ‘upon the realization that they could no longer dam the people’s fight, the most reactionary strata of the ruling class brought to power, in January 1933, the fascist party’. (Almaş, Nicoară, and Vianu, 1973, 165. See also the following editions: 1974, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1987) As far as Romania was concerned, the aggressiveness of the leaders of the monopolistic capital determined the development of ‘an aggressive ideology, out of which the ideology of Romanian Fascism crystallized and developed’ (Roller & Istoria României 1947, 730. See also 746-747). The nationalist re-orientation in historiography imposed, however, a reconsideration of the inter-war period in an attempt to emphasize the resistance of Romanian society to the fascist offensive. To join the Communists and the large popular masses in the anti-fascist cause, ‘certain bourgeoisie circles, democrats and representatives of the progressive intellectuals’ (Almaş, Georgescu-Buzău, & Petric 1969, 182) were recovered. Furthermore, ‘numerous soldiers refused to go to war any more. Even circles of the bourgeois parties and the royal palace manifested adversity to the German occupation, protested against the Hitler plunder’ (Dragne, Ionescu, and Iordănescu 1970, 208. See also the editions 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974). Communists however were in the foreground of the anti-fascist fight.

Lacking popular support, the Iron Guard was represented as ‘Hitler’s direct agents in Romania’, (Roller & Istoria României 1947, 741) or ‘the Hitler’s’ fifth column in Romania’ (Roller 1956, 680). The legionaries were ‘the agents of Hitlerite Germany’, ‘the people’s most inveterate enemies’ (Almaş,Georgescu-Buzău, and Petric 1969, 183), ‘the most inveterate of the fascists and traitors of the Romanian people’s national interests’ (Vianu 1968, 180. See also editions 1969, 1971). In the logic of this discourse, as the legion had no social roots in Romania, most of the Romanian people revolted against such ideology (Mureşan & Vesa Vasile. 1978, 154). In the legion’s characterization, anti-Semitism rarely appeared as a defining element. On one of the rare occasions when reference was made to the Iron Guard’s programme, anti-Semitism, in an enumeration of its main characteristics, appeared third after mysticism and chauvinism (Almaş, Georgescu-Buzău, and Petric 1960, 327). In a later edition, among the defining elements of the legionary programme, only mysticism, the spirit of racist savagery and murder persisted (Almaş, Georgescu-Buzău, and Petric 1965, 319).

The discrimination and murders directed against Jewish communities were minimized, distorted or concealed more often than not. A distinction was made between the persecutions and assassinations initiated by the Nazi authorities and those committed by the Romanian fascist regime. When reference was made to the discriminatory measures and atrocities committed by the Nazis, the victims were not identified as Jewish. Once they came to power in Germany, a textbook narrated, the Nazis ‘suppressed the parliament, liquidated all democratic organizations and cruelly persecuted scientists, artists, intellectuals and all honest people’, simultaneously promoting ‘an education in the spirit of savage hatred to other peoples’ (Vianu 1958, 222. See also editions 1959, 1960, 1961). Jews went unnamed, even in a discussion of the Nurnberg trial of the leading German war criminals, which shed light on

the terrible conditions in the Hitlerite camps of death in Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Treblinka, Maidanek, etc, where over 12,000,000 people from the USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary, France, Belgium, Holland and other countries were exterminated by gassing, inoculation of diseases, starvation, labor in salt-mines and all kinds of brutalities.(Almaş and Vianu 1961, 258)

Even when the authors mentioned the victims’ ethnic identity, Jews were in the background, the specific nature of their tragedy being minimized or, in some cases, completely distorted: ‘In the crematoria of Auschwitz, in the extermination camps of Maidaneck, Treblinka, Dachau, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen etc. millions of people deported from European countries: Russians, Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Frenchmen, Greeks, Dutchmen etc. perished by gassing, being burned alive’. The authors made reference to the persecution of Jewish populations, emphasizing that they were outlawed, imprisoned in ghettos, starved, deported and exterminated by hundreds of thousands in the death camps from Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau (Mureşan & Vesa 1978, 172). In later editions, however, the reference to Jewish victims is replaced by a generalizing formula such as, ‘millions of people belonging to all nations’ (Mureşan and Vesa, 1989, 134). We can speak, in this case, about concealing the victim’s Jewish identity, which Michael Shafir names the internationalization of the Holocaust (Shafir 2002, 22).

Representations of discriminatory measures and the measures for the extermination of Jews initiated by the Romanian authorities reveal the same attempt at distortion. The discourse is ambiguous, imprecise and incomplete. Three procedures may be identified for this purpose: (1) The persecution of Jews during the royal (Roller & Istoria României 1947, 736) dictatorship is recognized, but the identity of the victims of the persecutions initiated during the legionary and thereafter Antonescu government is hidden. That is the case of the victims of the legionary rebellion or of the deportations to Transnistria. According to Rotman, the latter was reduced to a simple key geographic location, not being a location on the map of the Holocaust (Rotman 2003, 214); (2) The dissimulation in the successive editions of any references in respect of the persecutions that predominantly aimed at the Jewish population. If in a textbook it was recognized that anti-Semitism was proclaimed state policy during the royal dictatorship, and that ‘measures tending to exclude Jews not only from the political but also from the economic life’, (Roller & Istoria României 1947, 738) in the following editions, ‘racism was proclaimed State policy’ (Roller 1956, 670); (3) Eluding the chronology of events and minimizing the number of Jewish victims. The Iaşi pogrom was not dated in a succession of repressive measures and murders initiated by the Romanian authorities; any reference to this event predates the legionary rebellion of January 1941. The number of victims was reduced and it was shown that ‘over 2,000 people, mostly Jews, were executed’ (Petric, Gh, and Ioniţă 1978, 99. See also editions 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983).

Even when crimes against the Jewish community committed by the Romanian regime, at the latter’s initiative or with German complicity, were recognized, an attempt was made to minimize or elude any local responsibility. The fascist dictatorship was considered a regime imposed from the outside, servile and an accomplice to Nazi Germany, with Romania portrayed as being occupied by the Germans. Therefore, the fascist government, a stranger to the interests of the Romanian people, was held responsible for committing such crimes. Local initiatives were thus ignored and the population as a whole was exonerated from any responsibility.

Communists were presented as the main victims of the fascist persecution. They would not surrender the top place in the victims’ hierarchy (Furet, op.cit., 417). Therefore, ‘fascists took away the peoples’ rights and liberties, imprisoned and killed everyone who had the courage to fight for freedom. They mostly persecuted Communists’ (Almaş and Fotescu, op.cit., 1971, 230); and ‘thousand of Communists and anti-fascists were subject to an extermination regime in prisons and concentration camps’ (Dragne, Ionescu, and Iordănescu, op.cit., 1970, 207). Emphasis was particularly laid on the victims’ political membership, not on their ethnic identity. This applies to Communist Jews hospitalized in Târgu Jiu and deported in 1942 to Transnistria in the camp at Vapniarka. A number of them were transferred to a prison in Râbniţa, where they were executed by a retreating German SS unit in March 1944 (See Deletant 2006, 40-41). One of the textbooks mentioned the killing in the camp of Râbniţa of Communists Grunberg and Bernat Andrei (Almaş, Georgescu-Buzău, and Petric 1960, 351). Even when the victims’ Jewish identity was obvious, their political membership was emphasized.

In school textbooks from the Communist era, Holocaust related subjects were almost non-existent. In the rare cases when the subject was not omitted, it was presented in a sequential and minimizing way. The term Holocaust did not appear and the ones pointed out as the victims of the fascist regimes were the Communists and anti-fascist fighters. During the Communist era, the discourse hardly changed and when it did, following political trends, the manner in which the history of the Holocaust was treated remained basically the same. In the context of nationalizing history, evident in the beginning of the 1960s, short passages dedicated to the issue marked an increased openness towards the recognition of Nazi atrocities, as well as an attempt to conceal the specifics of the Romanian case.

One may conclude that when Holocaust issues were presented in school textbooks between 1946 and 1989, they were incorporated into a broader interpretation of the history of the Second World War, with an emphasis on Romania’s exceptional situation in the European context and hiding any national responsibility for perpetrating atrocities. The legacy of subjecting historical discourse to political and ideological commandments was not easily overcome, and school textbooks continued to follow such approaches to the Holocaust in the post-Communist period.

Holocaust Education in Post-Communist Romania (1990-2007)

This final part of the analysis shifts towards the post-Communist period and the transformation induced by the change of political regimes. Romania’s transition to democracy started in December 1989, but another 10 years passed before Holocaust related issues were included in the school curricula for contemporary history and Romanian history. This change occurred in 1999 with decision number 3001 of the Romanian Ministry of Education.

Given the importance of the 1999 decision for educational practice pertaining to Holocaust related topics, in this section we both dwell upon textbooks published before and after 1999, looking at the transformation enforced by the governmental decision and the content of this transformation. However, despite this unitary requirement, the Romanian educational system is characterized by the existence of alternative textbooks, and as a consequence the specific content of each lesson could vary from one textbook to another (See also Waldman 2003, 272). Moreover, as we shall see, the governmental decision from 1999 eventually generated a fundamental change in the presentation of the Holocaust in textbooks. Considering all these elements, the analysis of the lessons dedicated to the Holocaust will therefore be developed on three levels: (1) the extent to which the textbooks present a complete chronology of the events; (2) the extent to which the same materials discuss the broad category of Holocaust victims; and (3) the extent to which the textbooks reconstruct the broad category of the perpetrators. The research conducted used a qualitative approach. By applying the analytical categories sketched above (a complete/incomplete chronology of the events; a vague/incomplete/complete identification of the victims; a vague/complete/incomplete reconstruction of the broad category of the perpetrators) to a thorough reading of the relevant textbook passages, we establish the discursive models that predominate in the textbooks. The analysis is equally focused on the European and Romanian cases; the three dimensions sketched above are used for the reconstruction of the discourse regarding both geographical areas.

The Holocaust of the European Jews

Until 1999, the Holocaust was not explicitly included in school curricula for contemporary history or Romanian history. After the reform, issues related to the Holocaust have been included in the curricula for the 7th, 8th, and 10th-12th grades. From the pre-reform era, we focused on the textbook for modern and contemporary history published in 1993, the only textbook for the 10th grade at the time, and re-published in 1995, 1996 and 1998. For the post-reform period we chose the textbooks covering the period 1999-2007. The analysis conducted on these textbooks reveals the existence of two distinctive discursive models: the first model covers the years 1990-1998 and is characterized by minimal development of the subject, making it impossible to reconstruct historical events; the second model first appeared after the 1999 Ministry decision and is characterized by a broad development of the topic that makes possible both the chronological reconstruction of historical events and of their consequences.

Thus, the reconstruction proposed by the first of these models (Mureşan, Vasile Cristian, & Eugen Vârgolici. 1993, re-published in 1995, 1996, 1998) is limited to the introduction of the conceptual pair ‘vital space’ and ‘superior race’, while the topic is dispatched in several columns and the term ‘Holocaust’ is absent. The way in which the Holocaust issue is treated in these textbooks is best seen in the following passage, which is found in similar form in all of them:

[Italy’s and Germany’s] claims meant the revival, in a more brutal form, of the issue regarding the division of the world among the Great Powers; they were trying to justify these claims through an ultra-nationalist, racist and anti-human ideology. Humanity was divided, affirmed the fascists, in superior and inferior races. The former had the right to live and to dominate the latter, this right not being restricted by moral norms; moreover, they were free to impose themselves through force, war, and the extermination of the races defined as inferior. (Mureşan et al. 1993, 105)

In all these textbooks, context and information are minimal. The reader learns neither who was defined as inferior nor what the consequences of these policies were when they were applied by those who regarded themselves as superior. In other words, the category of the victims remains vague. As a consequence, the discursive model proposed by these textbooks is an incomplete one that makes impossible the chronological reconstruction of the events that led to the extermination of millions between 1933 and 1945.

The second model (Mitu et al. 1999; Băluţoiu 2000; Buşe & Rădulescu 2000; Oane & Ochescu 2000b; Selevet, Stănescu, & Bercea 2002; Barnea, Vasile Manea, & Mihai Stămătescu 2005; Stan & Vornicu 2007) offers a completely different scenario. Thus, in a textbook published in 2002, we find references regarding both the discriminatory measures directed against the Jews before the war and the opening of labour and later extermination camps. The list of groups that were victimized is complete: Jews, Roma, Slavs but also physically or mentally disabled people, homosexuals and political prisoners. Within the generic category of victims, the Jews are distinguished by pointing to the European level, the extermination of two thirds of them as a result of the Nazi policy. In the category of the perpetrators, the emphasis lies upon the Third Reich but also its allies as well as its satellite states (Selevet et al. 2002, 76-98).

This scenario is enriched in two textbooks published in 2005. The more complete description of the period includes: the Nuremberg Laws, Kristallnacht, the Wannsee conference, the actions of the Einsatzgruppen and the implementation of operation Reinhardt. The category of victims is limited to Jews, Slavs and Roma. The extermination of approximately six million Jews representing 64.4% of the Jewish population in Europe is still present (Barnea et al. 2005, 99-109). A similar discursive model is reiterated in a textbook from 2007. In this text, the authors mention that in the Einsatzgruppen operations in Poland, Ukraine, Byelorussia and the Baltic countries, participants included not only German units but also the local police and population (Stan & Vornicu 2007, 79).

Consequently, with regards to the generic European case, the 1999 decision of the Education Ministry transforms in a radical way the approach to Holocaust related topics. We witness the shift from a discursive pattern where the topic is almost non-existent to a broad reconstruction of the scenario as to include the chronological events that led to the extermination of millions of people. In this second model, the category of the victims, most of the time, includes the Jews, individualized as a special target, the Slavs and Roma. When the discussion turns to the perpetrators, the emphasis is always on the German government although, as we have seen, in some instances Germany’s allies or satellite states and/or the local police and population are mentioned.

The Romanian Case

Regarding the Romanian case, we have identified six discursive models varying from the complete omission of the subject to a detailed description of it that includes a complete chronology of the fundamental events that unfolded in Romania between 1938 and 1945. The six categories are: (A) The Holocaust is completely absent; (B) Romania as a saviour of Jews; (C) Discrimination without deportations; (D) Deportations to camps for unnamed victims; (E) Deportation without the ‘final solution’; and (F) The Romanian Holocaust: discrimination, pogroms and deportations.

The Holocaust is Completely Absent

In this case, the lessons contain no reference to the Romanian case. This model is found in textbooks for the 10th and 11th grades published between 1993 and 2006. What is important to note is that while the textbooks published and re-published between 1993 and 1998 are old textbooks re-published without any modifications, the ones from the year 2000 or 2006 are new textbooks published after the 1999 decision that expressly included in the curricula for contemporary history lessons dedicated to the Holocaust. Developed along these lines, the model proves to be very close to the one constructed within the Communist historiography when the history was reconstructed by omitting the periods/events considered to be dissonant with the utopian portrait attributed to the Romanian people. Consequently, within the history reconstructed as such there is no place for the actions directed by the Romanian authorities against the Jewish population, whether in regard to the territory of the Old Kingdom or those under Romanian control after June 1941. This model has strong similarities with the Communist era model, but its durability in textbooks from the 90’s is remarkable (See Mureşan et al. 1993, re-published in 1995, 1996, 1998; Mitu, Lucia Copoeru, & Virgiliu Ţârău 1999). More importantly, four textbooks from 2000 to 2007 continue to fall into this category (See Băluţoiu, 2000; Buşe & Rădulescu 2000; Mitu, Lucia Copoeru, & Virgiliu Ţârău 2000; Oane, Strat, and Băluţoiu 2006). When the discussion turns to the allies of the Third Reich and the fate of the Jews from the territories under their control, the position of the Romanian state is once again ignored, a fact that suggests two critical implications: (1) There was no Holocaust in Romanian territory or in those under Romanian control; and (2) Romania’s status as an ally of Nazi Germany is implicitly denied through its absence from the list of Nazis’ ally countries.

Romania as a Saviour of Jews

Following this model, there was no discriminatory legislation, camps, pogroms or deportations in Romania. Consequently there were no victims. The only way to relate Romania with the Holocaust is mentioning it among the countries that saved their Jews or participated in the saving of those who escaped from different geographical spaces. The model is found in a textbook published in 2001 and re-published in 2006, where we read the following:

‘Several European countries, including Denmark, Romania and Finland, protected their Jews, refusing to hand them over to the Nazi Germany’ (Ciupercă & Cozma 2001, 128; Ciupercă, Cristian, & Cozma 2006, 128).

Similar discourses could be found in textbooks from the beginning of the 90s, except that in this case, the emphasis is placed on the non-implementation of the Final Solution in Romania, which implicitly portrays Romania in a positive light.

Consequently, considering that this is the only information offered on the Romanian case, even if it is not completely false (the Romanian authorities refused in October 1942, due to political and military reasons, to hand over the Jews from the Old Kingdom) the historical reconstruction proposed by these authors remains a distorted one.

Discrimination without Deportations

These textbooks contain several facts regarding the status of Romanian Jews between 1938 and 1944. The information is not false but incomplete and, as a consequence, the student is informed only partially about the events that characterized the analyzed period. Thus, in a textbook of contemporary history published in 2000, we find the main stages of anti-Jewish policies (discrimination, ghettoization, deportation and extermination), the description of the main characteristics of the national-socialist regime, and the different categories of victims and perpetrators in Germany (Oane & Ochescu 2000a, 102-103). For the Romanian case the description is more vague. We hear about the Iron Guard and its anti-Semitic programme about the existence of a set of discriminatory laws directed against the members of the Jewish communities and about the existence at the end of the war of about 300,000 Jews on Romanian territory (Oane and Ochescu 2000a, 103). All three items are true; however, the authors are not interested in explaining what contributed to the anti-Semitic programme of the Legionary movement or to the anti-Semitic legislation and its consequences for the Romanian Jews. It does not address how many Jews were living in Romania at the beginning of the war and what happened with the remaining 300,000. More importantly, the deportations are completely absent from this version of history and thus the implicit message is a positive one. This positive stance is reinforced by the representation of the fate of the Jews from North Transylvania, who were deported by the Germans with the support of the Hungarian authorities (Oane and Ochescu 2000a, 103) to the extermination camps from Poland (North Transylvania was regained by Hungary following the Second Vienna Award in August 1940).

A textbook from 1999 follows the same pattern: the only missing information is the one regarding the 300,000 surviving Jews at the end of the war, while the paragraph regarding the discriminatory legislation is ‘enriched’ with the introduction of a new piece of information: the anti-Jewish legislation promulgated during Antonescu’s regime is described as a mere ‘continuation’ of legislation already put into place by the members of the Iron Guard during the national-legionary state (Brezeanu, Cioroianu, Müller, Rădulescu, & Retegan 1999, 198). In other words, Antonescu’s responsibility is denied. The textbook makes no reference to the deportations and the policies of extermination in Transnistria.

Consequently, within this model, history continues to be deformed, although the historical period is not completely ignored and the events chosen by the authors to describe it are, most of the time, correct.

Deportations to Camps for Unnamed Victims

This model (Manea and Teodorescu 1995 [re-published in 1999], 323, 342) adheres to the pattern sketched above and goes a step further. We find again brief reference to anti-Jewish legislation, only this time the description is more detailed: it mentions Jews being dismissed from public function. There is again a brief reference to the number of Romanian Jews at the beginning of the war (800,000) without mentioning how many were still alive at the end of it, and there is also a reference to the situation of the Jews from North Transylvania under the ‘Hortyst government’, What is more important, a new piece of information is added to the previous scenario: mention is made that the Romanian government built camps and ordered deportations. The examples given are historical: Vapniarka, Bogdanovka and Dumanovka, but the omitted information is also important. We do not learn where these camps were located, who the detainees were, what the reasons were for their internment, what daily-life in such a camp was like, how many were deported, what happened to them, etc.

As a result, in this model there is no causal connection between Jewishness and the probability of ending up in such a camp. The new information offered does speak of Romania between 1940 and 1944 as a non-democratic state. We learn that there were 800,000 Jews at the beginning of the war that they suffered from discriminatory legislation and that they were deported from North Transylvania. We learn furthermore that people were deported under Romanian authority and that camps were opened. The identity of the deportees remains unidentified.

Deportations without the ‘Final Solution’

In this model, the description of the events is more complete. In addition to the mention of discriminatory legislation, the Iaşi and Odessa pogroms are mentioned as is the mass deportation to Transnistria (directed explicitly against the Jews). For the first time, the authors talk about the total number of the victims. The main characteristic of this discourse resides not in the more detailed description of the events but the addition of a comparative dimension. Hence, the emphasis is placed either on Antonescu’s decision in October 1942 to not deport the Jews from the Old Kingdom to the Belzec extermination camp, or on the fate of the Jews from the Old Kingdom vs. those from North Transylvania.

Along these lines, a textbook from 1999 acknowledges both Antonescu’s responsibility for the anti-Semitic politics that characterized the period and the existence of pogroms in Iaşi and Odessa—as well as the death of 250,000 Jews during this period—but nevertheless claims that, ‘Antonescu did not accept the final solution’ (Scurtu, Curculescu, Dincă, & Soare 1999, 116, 2000, 188). This claim is found once more in a textbook from 2000. In this textbook, the number of acknowledged victims is much smaller, not more than ten of thousands (Mitu et al. 2000, 115). The conclusion is the same: Antonescu did not implememnt the final solution and at the end of the war, there were still 350,000 Jews living in Romania (Mitu et al. 2000, 115).

This time the student learns that the Romanian Jews were deported, there were victims, and Antonescu’s responsibility is recognized in a more or less explicit way. However, the number of victims varies greatly and the information is not developed enough to reconstruct either the conditions in which these deportations took place or the fate of the victims. Moreover, the emphasis is not on the deportations but on Antonescu’s refusal to participate in the final solution on Romanian territory. The strategy is evident in a textbook published in 2000. The authors accept the reality of the Transnistria deportation, in which several thousand of the 100,000 deportees died, but for these authors, what remains essential is ‘the fact that through Antonescu’s decision, 292,149 Jews remained alive in August 1944’ (Dumitrescu et al. 2000, 164), the real issue of concern being not the fate of the thousands of Romanian Jews, but the extent of Antonescu’s responsibility.

This argument appears in a similar form in a second textbook published in 2000. The authors refer to 100,000 victims of the Transnistria deportations and this number is analyzed through the comparison with the fate of the Jews from North Transylvania, a territory where the final solution was implemented (Oane & Ochescu 2000a, 150). The information regarding the non-application of the final solution on Romanian territory, although correct, remains incomplete as long as the authors choose not to discuss the period when the same Romanian authorities had reached an agreement with the German envoys, including the date and place, for beginning the deportations and do not specify the reasons behind Antonescu’s decision to break the agreement. In addition, the authors of this textbook explain that the anti-Semitic operations developed by the Romanian authorities in Bessarabia and Bukovina resulted from the fight against communism (Oane and Ochescu 2000a, 150). That implicitly leads to the inclusion of all those affected by these measures into the category of sympathizers with the Communist movement.

In conclusion, apart from the real data on the Holocaust, the message transmitted to the student through this model encourages the continuing comparison between the two decisions associated with Antonescu: the deportations to Transnistria and the non-application of the final solution on Romanian territory. The latter is defined as more important. Moreover, the information is incomplete in both cases and as a result the reconstructed history is in more ways than one a distorted one.

The Romanian Holocaust: Discrimination, Pogroms and Deportations

In this final model, the information given to the students is relatively extensive (Selevet et al. 2002; Băluţoiu 2005; Barnea et al. 2005; Petre et al. 2007; Stan & Vornicu 2007). They learn about each stage that led to the deaths of 280,000-380,000 Jews: the anti-Semitic legislation, the pogroms in Dorohoi, Bucureşti and Iaşi, the deportations to Transnistria and the massacre of the Jews from Odessa by the Romanian army, as well about the cessation of the deportations after 1943. Antonescu’s position regarding the final solution is presented from the double perspective of pre- and post-October 1942. Thus, the authors mention both reneging on the agreement with the German ally as well as the fact that the Romanian authorities had already established (with the same German ally) the details for deporting the Jews from the Old Kingdom to Belzec extermination camp. More importantly, Antonescu’s decision is explained as being determined by his disagreement with Hitler regarding the Second Vienna Award (in which North Transylvania was given back to Hungary.) The category of victims in this model includes the Roma, a population deeply affected by the deportation policies. Regarding actual numbers of victims, the authors follow the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania: 280,000-380,000 Jews and roughly 11,000 Roma. The situation of the Jews from North Transylvania is also mentioned but there is less emphasis on the comparison between the two cases (Antonescu vs. Horthy).

During the summer of 2004, the Ministry of Education announced that an elective course on the history of Romanian Jewry and the Holocaust was to be introduced in high schools in the autumn. In this textbook, more than one-third of the themes are dedicated to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust (Petrescu 2005).

In conclusion, we can state that the content of the analyzed textbooks in Romania varies to a great extent from a complete removal of the subject (model A) to a complete reconstruction of historical events (model F). We also found several models where some historical facts were omitted and other facts included (model B, C and D) or where certain decisions by the Romanian authorities were mentioned and others ignored (model E). The main change only came about after 2000 when the first textbooks appeared that offered a more or less complete presentation of the extent to which Romanian authorities participated in the discrimination, deportation and extermination of the Jews, Roma and other targeted groups during the Second World War.


During the Communist era, the Holocaust was almost completely absent in school textbooks. In the rare cases where the subject was not omitted, it was presented in a sequential and minimizing way. The term Holocaust did not appear and only Communists and anti-fascist fighters are identified as victims. The discourse did not undergo any major changes and, when it did, it followed political trends. In the context of nationalizing history, evident at the beginning of the 1970s, short passages were dedicated to the issue in the context of a re-examination of Romanian Fascism. The emphasis was on Romanian resistance to Fascism and Fascist ideology before the rise of extreme right movements. There was also an increased openness to the recognition of the atrocities committed by the German authorities, as well as an attempt to obscure the specifics of the Romanian case. In both cases, the ethnic identity of the victims was downplayed. The change of the political regime in 1989 did not greatly influence the approach towards the Holocaust. The involvement of Romanian authorities was still absent and the narrative in the textbooks from the 1990s was quite similar to the one developed during Communist times.

There was no significant change until the government decision of 1999 regarding the introduction in the school curricula of Holocaust history. From this moment on, a more accurate presentation started to appear in textbooks. Still, the categories of victims and perpetrators are too often misrepresented. As a result, 20 years after the fall of Communism, there is no agreement on narrative in textbooks.