A HOLOCAUST-ERA mass grave containing the bodies of an estimated 100 Jews killed by Romanian troops has been discovered in a forest, researchers say, offering further evidence of the country’s involvement in wartime crimes.
The find in a forest near the town of Popricani, about 350 kilometres northeast of Bucharest, contains the bodies of men, women and children who were shot in 1941, the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania said in a statement.
Overnight, riot police sealed off the area, not allowing anyone near the site, local reporters told AP. The find offers evidence of pogroms against Jews in the region, scholars say, campaigns that were long minimised 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 during autumn after nothing was found. Experts resumed the investigation at the site and began interviewing witnesses again in 2009, according to Romanian historian Adrian Cioflanca.
About 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. About 6000 Jews live in Romania today.
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 minimised 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.