Me: Mom, why have you never told me about our Holocaust?
Mom: What Holocaust?
Me: About how we killed our Jews and our Roma during Antonescu's time ... when we were on the fascists' side ...
Mom: We were only formally fascists... we were opposing the Russians more... and we did not kill them. Antonescu, did just the contrary ... tried to be gentle ... he put them to work ... sent them to other places ... just not to die.
I feel like I'm getting closer to Iasi by hearing the Moldavian accent echoing around me on the train and definitely rises my spirits. Unlike the Romanian we speak in Bucharest, the one in Moldova seems sweeter, gentler, more innocent.
When you finally get to Iasi, you feel as if you landed into your high school History book. Everywhere you look there are streets, buildings, or monuments, you hear a familiar name that you had to memorize sometime, at times with pleasure, but often with fear and which can be even more traumatic if you had it on some exam. Going beyond this small psychological shock, Iasi really opens up as a colorful album of our history: the first university in Romania, Eminescu's first volume of poems, the churches of Stephen the Great, the residence of Alexandru Ioan Cuza, the little house of Ion Creanga, Junimea - I feel overwhelmed. But the truth is I actually came to Iasi for a history lesson.
We have a KineDok screening at Meru. A cultural hub set in an old house redecorated playfully in the likeness of the people who take care of it: artists, designers and other creative people, including Otilia and Mirela, who greet us with tea, lemonade and stories. In their company, Meru seems an oasis of silence, culture and imagination.
Tonight Meru hosts a new KineDok screening: "Dead Nation" by Radu Jude. People in the audience, from the age of 18 to people over 50 - are solemnly watching the film that confronts with our less known past. I'm jostling in the chair, I keep changing position and look forward to the end. Not because I do not like the movie, but because I have seen it already and I am especially interested in what will happen after the screening, when the discussion with the evening guest follows: Alexandru Ţîrdea - a PhD student at the History University specialized in power institutions and ideologies. I am excited about how the local audience will receive a debate about one of the most disgraceful episodes of Romanian history that happened here, especially in their beautiful city.
Alexandru makes a precise and meticulous summary of the Iasi Pogrom on 27-29 June 1941. He calmly and patiently explains how anti-Semitism appeared in Romania in the 1930s as a manifestation of the struggle for power and how it degenerated during the withdrawal of the Romanian army from Basarabia. The pogroms in our country were a late but extremely bloody manifestation. They started by a diversion of the Romanian authorities who claimed that the Jews were armed and helped the Soviets, and by this justified the armed intervention against them. The Iasi Pogrom was carried out quickly: in just three days of summer, the Jews in Iasi were taken from their homes, robbed, beaten, killed, and those who survived were loaded into the Death Trains. These freight trains strolled the Jews in other Moldavian stations, running at an extremely low speedm, precisely to kill as many people as possible through heat, dehydration and overcrowding. The details of Jude's film, confirmed and developed by Alexandru, make me angry: the cruelty, the hysteria, the civilians who contributed voluntarily to the massacre, but also the civilians who tried to help. The audience listens and engages in the conversation. Questions are being asked, completions are being made. But there are also different opinions: someone thinks that the Jews somehow caused this misfortune. He read a book showing different myths defaming and demonizing Jews. I listen closely, waiting for a conflict. But to my surprise, people do not gang up on the one who spoke, but they adopt a constructive and open attitude. Mythology is confused with the historical truth and every opinion is seriously discussed. Listening to it I can see how anti-Semitism can be thwarted in the best of us by the propagation of demonizing mythologies, but also how prejudice can be eliminated through correct information, respect and understanding.
At the end of the debate, I dare ask a question to Alexandru: What does the Romanian Holocaust mean to the Romanians and what was it really? Alexandru responds in his calm and scientific style of true history. For the average Romanians, the Holocaust is unknown, people do not know the details, but according to statistics, Romania's involvement in the Holocaust generated between 280,000 and 380,000 deaths - almost half of the Jewish population in Romania at that time, and this places Romania ranked second after Germany in the top of massacres against the Jews during the Second World War. This information amuses me. I was not at all ready for this ranking. Finally, we thank Alexandru for facilitating this trip in history, we bid farewell to Otilia and Mirela and we go to the hotel. I have an ambiguous, conflicting state. I am sad and joyful at the same time: the debate that took place in Meru after Radu Jude's film screening should actually take place at a national level, a discussion in which we take responsibility for our own history as shameful and painful as it may be.
A doua zi vizităm Chestura - locul de unde armata română a ordonat masacrul și unde au fost uciși o mare parte din evrei. Acum este doar o casă în paragină. Singurul lucru care mai amintește de evenimentele petrecute acolo este o plăcuță memorială ce estimează numărul victimelor. Îi fac o poză pe care i-o arăt apoi mamei când ajung acasă. Mama citește încordată. Îi ia ceva timp, deși nu sunt decât câteva rânduri. Se uită apoi la mine și spune: "Nu am știut .... îmi pare rău că nu am știut... pe noi nu ne-a învățat nimeni ... nu ne-a spus nimeni de asta.... " Mă uit la ea și mă minunez cum o proiecție locală de film documentar poate genera schimbări în conștiința noastră, având ecou nu doar printre oamenii prezenți la proiecție, ci chiar și printre cei absenți.
The next day we visit Chestura - the place where the Romanian army ordered the massacre and where a large part of the Jews were killed. Now it's just a deserted house. The only thing that reminds of the events there is a memorial plaque that estimates the number of victims. I'm taking a picture which I show to my mother when I get home. Mom reads it tensely. She takes some time, even though there are only a few lines. He then looks at me and says, "I did not know .... I'm sorry I did not know ... no one taught us ... no one told us about it ..." I look at her and wonder how a local documentary film projection can generate changes in our consciousness, echoing not only among the people present at the screening, but even among those absent.
I loved Iasi, a city which gave us so much: from the lovely memories of Ion Creanga to the most painful ones in recent history. We must cherish both and care for them always.
text by Monica Stan