Several hundred Christians were killed by Iron Guardists when they sought to defend Jews during the anti-Jewish pogrom carried out by the rebels in Bucharest last week.
Storming through the Jewish quarter in a mad orgy of killing and destruction, armed Guardist gangs killed or beat up every person they saw who appeared to be Jewish , this correspondent learned before he left the Rumanian capital. The test seems to have been merely whether persons encountered by the frenzied gangs were willing to participate in the massacre. If they were willing they were considered “Aryans” and not attacked, if otherwise, they were instantly killed.
The pogrom, which cost the lives of at least 1,000 Jews in Bucharest, was not accidental but an integral part of the Guardist insurrection and had been prepared long in advance. It was designed, in case things went wrong, to deflect the attention of the populace and covert the uprising into a wholesale massacre of Jews. It was a massacre of Jews but instead of infecting the populace the action caused revulsion among the people and several hundred Christians lost their lives vainly seeking to protect the Jews from the Guardists.
On Wednesday afternoon when it became apparent that the insurrection could not be carried out with anticipated ease, the Guardist “general staff” ordered the destruction of the Bucharest Jewish quarter and the murder of its inhabitants.
The pogrom lasted continuously until Thursday midnight–approximately 36 hours. In this brief period the Greenshirt gags devastated the entire Jewish quarter, destroying nine out of every 10 shops, many of which were not Jewish-owned. An eyewitness whose word cannot be doubted, told this correspondent that dozens of Jews were burned alive or tortured in other fashions before being dispatched by the Guardist killers.
The “general staff” which ordered the massacre consisted of Vice-Premier Horia Sima, chief of the Greenshirt Legion, Dimitry Groza, boss of the “Legionary Workers Corps” composed of “Lumpen proletariat” and completely lacking in skilled or organized workers, and Viorel Trifa, leader of the frenetic Greenshirt “student movement.”
One in every twenty buildings in the Jewish quarter was set afire and destroyed by the Guardists, who used great quantities of gasoline stolen from neighborhood filling stations. It was a significant point in Greenshirt psychology, however, that the Guardists never set fire to any building without first removing everything of value and hauling it away to Legionary hideouts in stolen military trucks mobilized for this purpose.
Equally significant was the fact that there was little looting by bystanders. Most of those involved in such incidents were gypsies.
Though the Guardists in their hurry dropped or left behind many items stolen from Jewish shops the bystanders were so revolted by the Guardist actions that they let them lie, feeling that evil would befall them if they picked them up.
The following typical reaction of the public was reported verbatim by a trustworthy eyewitness:
Two old charwomen were watching the Guardists looting a shoe store. Many pairs of shoes were scattered over the street where they had fallen from a truck in which the store’s contents had been hurriedly loaded. The two old women, although very badly shod, turned on their heels and walked away, one of them muttering, “I would never have a quiet conscience if I touched such accursed things.”
The witness, who, it is needless to say, was a Christian, remained in the locality for about half an hour to study the reactions of other passerby. He reported that in every case but one the people avoided the shoes as if they bore a curse. Many crossed themselves and muttered prayers. The only person who took anything was a gypsy girl, almost barefoot despite the snow on the street, who took a pair of bedroom slippers and fled.
Although many German army units were billeted in the Jewish quarter they made no effort to stop the pogrom. They confined their activity to defending the buildings in which they were installed. Even so they were responsible for saving the lives of many Jews who were either owners or tenants of the buildings occupied by the Germans.
German soldiers billeted in the Ciocanul Trade School, operated by the Jewish community, refused to allow Guardists to molest 50 Jewish apprentice-students still living in the school and operating a machine shop in spite of the fact that the building had been taken over by the Germans. The German soldiers shared their rations with the boys during the three days they were virtually besieged within the structure.
The German-requisitioned institutions and houses in the area between the Caleas Vacaresti and Dudesti were the only buildings not destroyed or damaged by the Greenshirt marauders. Synagogues were the special targets of Guardist fury. Only a choral temple and several others used as barracks by German troops escaped destruction.
What happened to the Spanish temple was typical of what happened to three other synagogues destroyed by flames – the Emigratului, Atena and Amare synagogues.
In the attack on the Spanish temple, a mob of several hundred Greenshirts, mostly under 25, stormed the building with clubs and stones. After smashing windows and breaking down the doors, the Guardists went inside and systematically destroyed all but certain items of furniture. Everything of real intrinsic value was piled outside and hauled away to Legionary warehouses. All the ritual objects, alter vestments and books were gathered in another pile which was soaked in gasoline and put to the torch. While some went inside to sprinkle gasoline over the synagogue’s floor, preparatory to firing the building, others outside formed a circle and capered in an “Indian dance” around a bonfire fed by Torahs (Holy Scrolls), Talmuds (commentary on the Bible), altar benches and tapestries. Still others fired guns into the air or shot any stray passersby, whether Jewish or not, who happened to come within range.
As a last act in the hideous ceremony–before the synagogue was set afire–20 to 30 Jews were rounded up and made to dance to the tune of bullets fired by the Guardists, after which they were shot and killed or beaten into insensibility. Gasoline was poured over several of the latter and they were roasted alive. Meanwhile, the synagogue went up in flames, creating a pillar of fire and smoke visible from all points in the city. Most of the marauders then went away, leaving a few of their number behind to keep watch.
The purpose of these guards became obvious a short while later when fire engines arrived to extinguish the blaze. The armed Greenshirts refused to permit the firemen to put out the conflagration and forced them at pistol point to return to the way they came.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.