Story by Alison Mutler for Associated Press, November 5, 2010:
A Holocaust-era mass grave containing the bodies of an estimated 100 Jews killed by Romanian troops has been discovered in a forest, researchers said Friday, offering further evidence of the country’s involvement in wartime crimes.
The find in a forest near the town of Popricani, some 350 kilometers (220 kilometers) northeast of Bucharest, contains the bodies of men, women and children who were shot dead in 1941, the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania said in a statement.
The find offers evidence of pogroms against Jews in the region, scholars say, campaigns that were long minimized in a country whose official history taught that Germans were the sole perpetrators of the Holocaust.
Sketchy reports about the possibility of a mass grave in the forest began to appear in 2002, and local authorities began an investigation, which was suspended in the fall after nothing was found. Experts resumed the investigation at the site and began interviewing witnesses again in 2009, according to Romanian historian Adrian Cioflanca.
Some 280,000 Jews and 11,000 Roma, or Gypsies, were killed during the pro-fascist regime of dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu, who was prime minister from 1940 to 1944 and executed by the communists in 1946. Romania today has only 6,000 Jews.
Historians have documented several pogroms in Romania during World War II, including one in June 1941 in the northeastern city of Iasi, where up to 12,000 people are believed to have died as Romanian and German soldiers swept from house to house, killing Jews.
Those who did not die were systematically beaten, put in cattle wagons in stifling heat and taken to a small town, where what happened to them would be concealed. Of the 120 people on the train, just 24 survived.
Romania’s role in the Holocaust remains a sensitive and highly charged topic. During communist times, the country largely ignored the involvement of Romania’s leaders in wartime crimes.
The country’s role in the Holocaust and the deportation of Jews were minimized by subsequent governments after communism collapsed in 1989.
In 2004 after a dispute with Israel over comments about the Holocaust, then-President Ion Iliescu assembled an international panel led by Nobel-prize winner Elie Wiesel to investigate the Holocaust in Romania.