Pogroms and the role of (dis)organized violence in the Holocaust cannot be separated from the practical contexts from which they emerged. As Steven Zipperstein has shown in his seminal work, pogroms are more than just random or spontaneous acts of violence.1 The specificity of such event does not deny its larger implications. The pogrom of Iaşi, a mid-sized Romanian town close to the border of the wartime Soviet Union, proved that violence is nothing if not specific. Between June, 28 and July, 6, 1941, over 13,000 Jews were murdered, an event which grew out of the direct moral and legal consent of the Romanian Antonescu regime. The series of murders were launched by the Ion Antonescu fascist governmental forces, especially the Romanian Special Information Service and Section II of the Supreme Headquarters. The pogrom was thus organized by the Romanian government, with both Romanians and Germans from Abwehr participating. Das Iași Pogrom is not a volume which dwells on ambiguities. The images presented in this photo documentary do more than simply showcase sheer brutality and death, but also create a context both out of which historical information can be understood and empathy afforded to the victims. As Alexandru Florian points out (pp. ix-x), because this volume was born out of an exhibition organized by the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, it brings together a crucial insight: that photographs are bearers of historical information about the victims, their memory, the motivations of the perpetrators and the evolution of events over a short period of time in ways in which no narrative volume can aspire to capture.
This publication by Radu Ioanid is the result of an academic endeavor of various scholars and institutions. It is not simply the end-product of an exhibition as the 130 photographs presented herein are enhanced in quality and include additional historical information. The pictures are organized chronologically across four sections: the massacre in the city of Iași, the two death trains, the postwar trials of war criminals, and the victims. Yet, a thematic organization also lays over this chronological arrangement. The photographs provide an important depiction of how violence grew day by day. For example, the first photographs predate the episodes of violence (. pp. 21–23), while the subsequent photos show the preparations for and ideological fervor behind it. Therein, they capture the gradual accumulation of the hatred against Jews. The main source for many of the images in the volume was the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., which gathered images from bystanders and perpetrators. Archives from multiple countries in Europe, from the US, as well as from The Black Book by Matatias Carp (1946–1948)2 can also be credited for making certain images available.
The first section of photographs showcases beatings, looting, abuses and the massacre in the streets (pp. 19–62), while the second presents the mass acts of dehumanization such as in the movement of the death trains (pp. 63–154). Over 7,000 Jews were trapped there for two days, where they eventually died of starvation and suffocation. Dozens of pictures attest to these facts, presenting how people were thrown like cattle inside tight containers, how dead bodies were discarded at stops along the way, as well as the confusion and pain of survivors, such that the scenes actually depict that death was in the air. It is worth emphasizing that the photographs were taken by bystanders, as they were not stopped by the military forces, by Romanian perpetrators, as well as by German military units that were present for other war operations. The end of the volume displays pictures from postwar trials of the Pogrom’s perpetrators (pp. 155–164) along with portraits of the victims before the war (pp. 165–179).
The most striking aspect of the book is the way in which it brings images and information together. Scholars and writers alike have criticized the so-called myth of “photographs that value more than words” as a tendency to induce a superficial reading of personal experiences depicted in images and have urged for a more in-depth scholarly approach to analyzing pictures, beyond the immediacy of what one sees.3 They have also warned against how “at times we begin to remember so as to forget”.4 This is not at all what this volume does. Ioanid’s book, contrary to all of the criticism leveled against the interpretation of Holocaust photographs, manages to put the victims first in terms of both memory and history. In this way, the sufferings of victims are remarkably depicted for the reader in the context of pain and persecution, reducing the personal subjectivity of the individual looking at these images. Before the four main sections of photographs, the volume presents an excerpt from Ioanid’s book on the Holocaust in Romania5, contextualizing the pogrom from the perspective of how perpetrators had dealt with events (pp. 1–16). This empirical form of writing has the advantage of mirroring the images that follow, while the short excerpts presented with each photograph are reminders of how to bring humanity to the victims; the very humanity that the killers and looters tried to take away. The entire volume functions like a movie: chronology fused with themes of violence, pain and death, a historical account as to how and why, the destruction of a community by means of persecution and dehumanization, but also the assurance that victims were not forgotten and that their memories are not lost.
While the short excerpts next to the images do have an informative value, they are not an adequate substitute for a more in-depth historical narrative to explain each picture. Broad historical contextualizations are provided before each section of photographs, yet it would have been useful to create a larger narrative of the Pogrom by placing more information next to each image. I do not discard the important role of having a historical chapter before the four sections of pictures, yet I feel a shorter account at the beginning would have been of better use, while providing larger excerpts on each picture with the rest of the information.
These ideas notwithstanding, the book speaks volumes about the importance of showing to the public, both general and scholarly, how the Holocaust took place in Romania. In this sense, the German-language version is a welcome addition which expands upon the scope of research for scholars, brings to the forefront of public interest the context of persecution for those who are not familiar with the academic side of events, and creates knowledge, not mere information, inasmuch as it gives images a voice of their own within the larger historical framework of genocide. The Holocaust in Romania, part of a research cluster of the Holocaust in the East, is a growing field which merits an expansion in as many languages as possible because as much as local Romanian conditions contributed to the specificity of this event, situations like this are the ones that ultimately raise awareness about universal issues.
1 Steven J. Zipperstein, Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History, New York City 2018.
2 Matatias Carp, Cartea Neagră. Suferințele evreilor din România 1940–1944, 3 volumes, Bucharest 1946–1948.
3 Dan Porat, The Boy: A Holocaust Story, New York City 2011, p. 230.
4 Barbie Zelizer, Remembering to Forget: Holocaust Memory through the Camera’s Eye, Chicago 2000, p. 202. Also see in Porat, The Boy, p. 230.
5 Radu Ioanid, The Holocaust in Romania. The Destruction of Jews and Gypsies under the Antonescu Regime, 1940–1944, Chicago 2000.