The history of the Holocaust in Romania is relatively neglected in English. So far, to my knowledge, there have been four works available to the English reader (1) the report of the official commission of inquiry headed by Elie Weisel (2) The Holocaust in Romania by Radu Ioanid (3) two volumes by I.C. Butnaru, The silent Holocaust and Waiting for Jerusalem, and (4) a highly abbreviated translation of Matatias Carp's Black Book of 1948 (a more complete version was published recently in French). (Vladimir Solonari's Purifying the Nation also covers some of this ground, but it is wider than just the Jews.) None of these is entirely satisfactory, so I awaited Ancel's book with great anticipation.
The book was something of a disappointment. At 550 pages, plus another 150 pages of notes, bibliography and index, it has a wealth of details and is very informative. But it does not give an explanation for what I find to be a deep mystery.
Looking at the territory under Romanian administration from 1941 to 1945, i.e. pre-war Romania plus Transnistria minus Northern Transylvania (given by Hitler to Hungary) there were about 800,000 Jews in 1941. Of these, 50% survived. That is remarkable for a country as anti-semitic as Romania. (I do not mean to minimize the sufferings of those who perished by saying this.)
Even more remarkable is the geographic pattern. Of the 200,000 Jews native to Transnistria/Ukraine, 90% died. Of the 300,000 in Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia, 65% died. Of the 13,000 in Dorohoi, a district that was part of Moldavia but reassigned to Bukovina, 38% died.
Of 162,000 in Moldavia (part of the Regat or old kingdom), some 17,000 died or 10%. Of these, 15,000 died in a single pogrom in Iasi at the end of June 1941. Of the 100,000 Jews in Wallachia (the other part of the Regat), less than 1,000 died or 1%. In southern Transylvania, of 46,000 about 5% died. (All of these numbers are very approximate, given migrations, expulsions and deportations at the time.)
Why did the same notoriously anti-semitic Romanian government act so differently toward the two groups of Jews, those of the Regat and those of the "new territories"? Ancel's book does not shed light on this.
Perhaps that is because Ancel passes over very lightly the dynamics of the Jewish community and its leadership. He focuses almost exclusively on Wilhelm Filderman, who was indeed the public face. (Ancel also edited and published Filderman's memoirs, which might have influenced his choice of material.) But there were others. For example, there was an underground Jewish Council. Ancel passes this over in silence, except for a throw-away line that it couldn't have had much influence. But the Jewish Council organized truly massive bribery, from Mihai Antonescu and even Ion Antonescu's wife (gifts to her favorite charity), all the way down to petty officials.
Butnaru is much better on this topic, highlighting the inner tensions within the Jewish leaderships (plural), and their successes and failures. Their lack of unity was appalling. At one meeting with Radu Lecca, the Romanian minister responsible for Jewish affairs, two representative of opposing factions came to physical blows in Lecca's office, or so I have been told by a purported eye-witness.
Even with 550 pages, Ancel's book is incomplete. For example, several sources say that 400 Jews died in a pogrom in Galati on 30 June 1940, after the Romanian army's retreat from Bessarabia and Bukovina. Did it really happen? There is no mention in Ancel's book.
In conclusion, Ancel's book advances our knowledge of this tragic period. But there is still much to understand.