Throughout the 1920s and 30s, the Iron Guard, a right-wing, fascist political group, spread antisemitic propaganda and instigated street violence against the Jews of Romania. After King Carol II was forced to abdicate in September 1940, a coalition of radical right-wing military officers formed, and General Ion Antonescu and the Iron Guard came to power. A month later, Romania joined the Axis Alliance. Antonescu established the “National Legionary State” and enacted harsh antisemitic measures and terrorized Jewish-owned businesses. The Iron Guard fueled the antisemitic rhetoric and violence.
In January 1941, Antonescu realized that the Iron Guard was a corrupt, destabilizing force and banned it as an organization after it tried to topple the regime. In June 1941, Romania assisted Germany in invading the Soviet Union. The Romanian government took this opportunity to unleash its own antisemitic agenda. On June 29-30, 1941, Romanian authorities carried out a pogrom against the Jews in the city of Iasi. While many former Iron Guard members and sympathizers took part in the murders, the Romanian government organized the acts of violence. Romanian police officials shot hundreds of Jews in the courtyard of the police station. In all, approximately 4,000 Jews were murdered during the pogrom. Thousands more were arrested and deported by train in unventilated freight cars to nearby towns; many perished from starvation or dehydration on these death trains. The total number of victims of the Iasi pogrom is unknown. The Romanian government estimates that 13,266 people were killed, and the Jewish community put that number at nearly 15,000.
Following the invasion of the Soviet Union, Romania reannexed some of the territory it had lost to the Soviet Union at the beginning of the war. The Romanian army and police personnel established ghettos and concentration camps in the reacquired territory. They also continued to massacre thousands of Jews. By the end of the war, German and Romanian authorities had killed between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews. After Germany, Romania was directly responsible for murdering more Jews than any other country.
When teaching the Holocaust, it is important to explore how the Holocaust played out in different countries. The Romanian story underscores the horrific violence carried out against the Jews and the fervor with which certain collaborationist regimes advanced the genocide alongside the Germans.