Part of The Forgotten Crimes Series
World War II made us witness the extent of cruelty that man could unleash upon each other. Around 70 million people died in the conflict, of which 11 million were victims of the Holocaust. Yet, numbers, which on their own shocking, do not do justice to the magnitude of atrocities and suffering that characterized the war. To reduce the countless victims of this horrible episode in history to mere statistics is to dehumanize them. Rather, if we are to truly acknowledge a tragedy of this scale and thus effectively teach future generations of what not to repeat of the past, we should not shy away from sharing the minute details, individual transgressions, and acts of barbarity that are hidden behind those mass figures.
One of the vilest, most sadistic episodes of the Holocaust occurred in Romania, January 23, 1941. A sort of a Fascist civil war was raging on as the fanatical paramilitary force – the Iron Guards revolted against their dictator, Ion Antonescu.
The revolt had arisen over disagreements on how the Romanian Jewish should be robbed of their possessions. The dictator favored a systematic process of using the state to legally expropriate Jews of their property while the Iron Guard, growing impatient, resorted to street violence and terror to achieve this end.
Not wanting his authority challenged, Antonescu took steps to curb the activities of the legionnaires and removed members of the Guard from the government. As a response, the legionnaires revolted and took control of the capital, Bucharest, besieging the dictator in his palace. With anti-Semitism already rife among the populace, pogroms were conducted by the Iron Guard against the Jewish residents of the city.
Jewish homes, shops, and synagogues were looted, burned and their occupants were taken to torture centers where they were subject to some of the worst acts of abuse imaginable. Of these, the worst transpired in the last hours of the rebellion. Around 60 Jews, including a 5-year old girl, were rounded up by the Guard and taken to the local slaughterhouse. There, they were hung from the hooks alive, skinned and cut open, their entrails hung around their necks in a cruel parody of shehita, the kosher slaughter of cattle and their bodies were labeled ‘kosher’.
The American Minister to Romania, Franklin Gunther, visited the gruesome site after the rebellion was crushed. He wrote back to Washington that he could have never imagined such barbarity was possible until he saw the evidence firsthand.
Sixty Jewish corpses were discovered on the hooks used for carcasses. They were all skinned . . . and the quantity of blood about was evidence that they had been skinned alive” – Franklin Gunther
The leader of the Iron Guard and architect of the pogrom, Horia Sima, was never brought to justice for his actions. After the rebellion was crushed and the Iron Guard liquidated by the state, he escaped the country first to Germany and then, in the face of the Soviet advancement, to Spain where he lived until his death in 1993.
Even with the fall of the Iron Guard, there would be no respite for the Jews of Romania. Their prosecution increased under the reign of Ion Antonescu and hundreds of thousands of more Jews would die as a result of his policies until his overthrow in a coup led by the young Romanian King on August 23, 1944.