This week, exactly 70 years after the massacre of the Jews of Iasi, Romania, the plaque created in their memory found its permanent home in the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum (Beit Lohamei Haghetaot).
The memorial plaque was created by Yitzchak-Ephraim Benditer, then 14 years old. He created it just two weeks after the Iasi pogrom of June 1941, in which at least 13,000 Jews were murdered.
After the pogrom, the residents of Iasi asked Benditer, who was known for his skills as an artist, to create a plaque in memory of dozens of worshipers in the Great Synagogue of Iasi who had been murdered. The plaque was then hung on the synagogue wall.
Benditer went on to draw dozens of similar memorial plaques for other synagogues whose members wanted to perpetuate those who perished in the Holocaust. Benditer survived the Holocaust and immigrated to Israel in 1947, where for years he tried to find out what had happened to the plaques he had drawn, but without success.
The plaque Benditer had drawn in memory of the Iasi Jews was discovered in 1998 by two of his relatives, who found the plaque discarded in the Iasi cemetery and brought it to Israel.
Last November, Benditer gave the memorial plaque to the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum, as part of a campaign the museum held to collect Holocaust-era artifacts from survivors and their families. The plaque underwent a special conservation process and this week, upon its completion, was permanently fixed in the museum during a special ceremony attended by Benditer and members of his family.
The plaque was given to the museum just several days after researchers announced that a mass grave had been discovered in a Romanian forest, near the town of Popricani, which is close to the city of Iaci. The grave contained the bodies of approximately 100 Jews – men, women, and children – who had been shot by Romanian troops in 1941.
The mass grave shed light on Romanian involvement in the Holocaust, a sensitive subject in Romania, where for many years the government taught that Germans were solely responsible for murdering Jews.
The Jewish community in Iasi was established in the 16th century and by 1940 grew to a population of over 50,000. Anti-Semitism was always prevalent in Romania, with pogroms on the Jewish community in Iasi having taken place already in 1899 and 1923.
The 1941 pogrom was an operation carried out by the Romanian army and timed to coincide with the movement of Romanian and German troops toward the Russian front. Romanian soldiers, using the false excuse that Jews had fired on them, rounded up the Jews and took them to the courtyard of the Police Headquarters where they were shot and beaten to death.
Click here for a recent INN op-ed on the Jewish community of Iasi, Romania. The op-ed was written by Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran, vice president of communications and marketing of the Orthodox Union’s Kashruth Division. His father of blessed memory was Iasi’s town rabbi.