The Synthesis of Functionalism and Intentionalism Through Human Experience: Victims and Perpetrators in The Jassy Pogrom

To try and provide a concrete definition of the synthesis of intentionalism and functionalism is perhaps one of the most difficult things in the historical study of the Shoah. The idea behind the synthesis itself is not the most popular precisely because of its complexity, and sheer convolution of an excessive amount of variables. The truth is that it is impossible to define the synthesis model, but it is possible to analyze it more readily, by simplifying it through the use of the ‘human element’ and ‘experience.’ This will undoubtedly shed some light on its inner framework and validity.

The synthesis of intentionalism and functionalism is intrinsically the most appropriate mechanism by which we can understand the way the Shoah was formulated under the complex circumstances of the many narratives we have available in history. More precisely, intent might have been a primary causation of the Shoah, but it was the functional organization that carried out its process. Yet, it is not the definite truth, nor the single manner in which the Shoah can be studied, rather only a part of many variables and complexities. In other words, it is an explanation of a process and not the single faceted answer to the questions of why and how? Thus, it is without a doubt that to provide a singular element of how the Shoah came to be is not only devaluing history itself, but does not take into account that the process of society is not so simple. It would be better to understand that both intent and function played an important role in its formation.

The reason for this is if we exclude either intent or bureaucratic function we are excluding pieces that were crucial to organization of the systematic murder of millions. However, its validity can only be appropriately proven through human experiences as shown by the victims and perpetrators, namely the individuals who made up the Shoah, rather than mere historical abstractions. The experiences of people such as Lazar Leibovici, Dov Shmuel, and Sulim Avramescu provide an interesting look at the way victims of the Shoah were persecuted and killed by the intent of the leadership and the function of the system.

On the other hand, the experiences of Gheorghe Stavrescu and Aurel Triandaf as preparators provide us with an understanding that what they did was due, similarly to intent and function. Although these individuals are on the opposite sides of the spectrum they were both participants in the Jassy pogrom of 1941, which even though was only a small theatre in the Shoah, provides great context for the study of the synthesis. Ultimately, this leads to the questions of can this small case study be applied to the large context of the Nazi propagated Shoah? Are the experiences of a few people similarly enough to provide validity to argument for synthesis? If this is the case then why is human experience so valuable to the discourse of history? And most importantly, did intent and function have such a strong effect on the individual level, rather than larger systems?

The importance of this human-based analysis is to deviate away from the abstractions that surround the intentionalist-functionalist debate, and show that the synthesis model can be easily expressed through the history of people. This itself raises the question of the importance a historian must place on the study of people’s narratives, and not that of mere statistics and generalizations.With this in mind, let us start with our main narrative.

Lazar Leibovici was one of the few who went through the whole ordeal of the pogrom at Jassy and lived to give his testimony. He was rounded up by the Romanian Legionnaires and German soldiers along with many of other Jews in Jassy where many were killed in the preliminary violence. He was ushered to the police station courtyard where he witnessed the systemic shooting of thousands of Jews, some of which were his own family friends. The next day he was thrown into a train wagon with his eldest son along with thousands others from where the trains moved up and down the countryside, occasionally stopping to dispose of the dead, namely those who died of wounds and thirst.

Although the army stated that they were simply deporting the remainder of the Jews, the truth was that this was a tactic to kill those who did not die in the shootings by exposure and thirst. Finally the trains stopped in Podu Iloaiei where only less than a thousand Jews left the “death trains” and were helped by the charity of the local Jewish community. Interestingly, the most compelling part of Leibovici’s testimony is the fact that when the Jews appealed to their Christian neighbours for help, whom they have thought of as friends for many years, they did nothing but look the other way and even joined in the pogrom. Leibovici was unwillingly a victim of both malicious intent, but also systemic function.

Leibovici was therefore affected by both the intent of the higher command to murder him and the Jewish community of Jassy, but also of the systemic function brought forth through the ranks of the military, and finally the spontaneous inclusion of the common Jassy population fueled by systematic antisemitism. In other words, Leibovici was picked up from his home on the orders of Marshal Ion Antonescu, who himself had orders to dissipate Romania’s Jews from Hitler. This chain of cause and effect trickled down with the main intent to murder the Jews of Jassy. However, this does not complete the entire panorama.

Although these orders were given from the other side of the country, how can one explain the systematic and role of the Romanian bureaucracy and even society’s system in the murdering of the Jews? Leibovici explains that for years the non-Jews of Jassy pretended to be friends of the Jews, but when the day of the pogrom came they had no reluctance in joining in the beating, murder and rape of Jewish women and children. This of course can be explained by the incessant anti-semitism that took over Jassy which was well rooted in the system itself. Another aspect was that of the organization of the army which was not organized by Hitler, nor Antonescu but rather the lower command officers functioning through bureaucratic means that pulled people out of their houses, shot them in the police courtyard and moved them in death trains across Moldavia. It was therefore both elements that finally led to the horrific events of the pogrom, not merely Antonescu’s orders, but also the system’s carrying out of those orders as they see fit. Interestingly the same cause and effect mechanism took its toll on Dov Shmuel, whose testimony provides an interesting look at this connective dichotomy.

Jassy Street, 1941
Jassy Street, 1941

Dov Shmuel found himself in a precarious situation as a young man in Jassy when he was rounded up by the army, no differently from Leibovici. Shmuel came to Jassy to become a tailor, until June 28th when he was imprisoned in a Jewish school. He was made to march across town to the main police headquarters along with Leibovici, where individuals were being sectioned into age groups. The reason being that the old and children were given passes with the world “Liber”- meaning free- in order to ensure they would leave the headquarters freely. The rest of the men were shot, beaten and humiliated by anti-semitic shouting. Interestingly, Dov Shmuel’s luck turned for the better when he was mistakenly given a free pass. As he left the police station, he saw a man being beaten by three civilians. Shmuel escaped through people’s backyards until he reached home and hid for about three days. When he emerged from his hiding spot he said that he found that close to 14000 Jews were murdered.

Shmuel like many others who escaped went through a process affected by the synthesis of greater intent and the system itself. He was also rounded up at the orders of the high command in order to be killed or murdered, yet the functional system as carried out by Romanian society under the intent of lower ranked personnel allowed for a glitch for him to be freed. Although this might only seem as a technicality, it is evidence of the fact that there was a systemic cause for the manner in which the pogrom at Jassy was propagated and it came into function. For instance, the free cards can be seen as a minor extension of the bureaucratic system.

Although Antonescu carried out the order to exterminate the Jews of Jassy, the free-cards were placed due to a number of many variables among which the idea that killing children and old man was morally wrong, religious aspects all the way to minor intent. The point is that Shmuel was indeed part of Antonescu’s master plan to exterminate the Jews of Jassy, but it was the Romanian bureaucracy with the use of its right hand-the army- that organized the murder of the Jews. the inclusion of civilians into the violence was also an extension of the bureaucratic arm to call for help among the populace by appealing to age old anti-semitic beliefs A similar analysis can be applied to the experiences of Sulim Avramescu.

Avramescu, a native of Pascani only a few miles from Jassy, worked as a shoemaker along with his brother, leaving his family behind in order to support them. On the 28th of June he, his brother along with the rest of the men in the family were taken in the streets, beaten and humiliated by the army and general population, in the same manner that Leibovici and Shmuel were. Finally, he was taken to the police headquarters of Jassy and shot cold heartedly either by a Romanian or German Soldier. The difference between Sulim and the other two men is that he did not survive, and did not get a chance to leave a testimony behind. In fact the only certain thing is that he was marched and shot along with the rest of his brother’s family. Avramescu is a an example of one who is unable to voice what happened to him during that horrid day, but it is obvious that even so he was a victim of both intent and the system.Yet, this time let us examine the trickling effect of both elements.

Avramescu was murdered through the orders of Antonescu which interestingly trickled down to the Gen. Gheorghe Stavrescu who he himself carried out the order to various Lieutenants and finally all sections of the population. The fact that the police were involved was due to orders set out by Gheorghe Stravescu, and finally the police encouraged civilians to take part in the beatings, rape and murder. In this sense, it seems that intent was carried out by the fuel of the bureaucracy. In other words, the master plan to was there, but the bureaucracy was there to make sure it was carried out accordingly.

This is perhaps best evidenced by the fact that Antonescu and even Hitler did not specify how the murder was to be done, as this was left in the hands of the military complex and the bureaucracy. This is was the case with the shooting in the police courtyards, and undoubtedly the death trains. Of course, this can be better understood from the opposite of the spectrum, from the point of view of one of main perpetrators.

Gheorghe Stavrescu served as the leading General of regiment 14th of the Romanian army stationed in Moldavia. He, along with the Constantin Lupu were the main propagators of Antonescu’s orders given out days before the pogrom was to take place. Stavrescu was initially the man who gave out the orders for the 14th regiment along with the police to take the Jews out of their homes, into the police station and finally the macabre death trains that traversed Moldavia repeatedly. The point of his narrative is to show that he was both a result of the greater plan to destroy of the Jews of Jassy, but also a propagators of the functional system. Yet, the question remains to what extent?

Death Trains, 1941. Public Domain
Death Trains, 1941. Public Domain

Stravescu played a crucial role in carrying out Antonescu and in Hitler’s intent through the use of the bureaucracy. For instance, his use of the army to propagate the pogrom in the initial violence and finally the death trains is a mix of both his own intent and his use of the system to carry out that intent. Jews such as Sulim Avramescu were rounded up to be shot because of this odd combination. In fact, by carrying out Antonescu’s orders Stavrescu either willingly or unwillingly made it his intent to murder Jews. This trickling down effect was undoubtedly fueled by the power of the bureaucracy to carry out such systemized violence and hatred. This will be made clear by the most gruesome instigators in the pogrom.

Lieutenant Aurel Triandaf of the Jassy Gendarmes, along with about 50 soldiers was in charge of one of the two death trains packed with approximately 3000 Jews that traveled Moldavia sporadically. The same train carried Lazar Leibovici and his son, both of which survived. Triandaf is known for his ruthlessness and cold hearted murder of the Jews locked up in the death trains. He would ignore the pleas of thirst and hunger and stop at every station to disembark the bodies of dead Jews. Lazar Leibovici gives testimony that many became so desperate for water they began drinking their own blood and the pus of others’ wounds. Every time the doors opened some would try to escape and they would be shot down. Under his orders, hundreds of Jews were packed in small wagons and left to die as the train traveled for a week. Triandaf finally stopped in Podu Iloaiei under orders, where only about 700 Jews were freed.

Triandaf was a main propagator of Antonescu’s grand plan. In other words he was a part of the bureaucracy and system that willingly murdered Jews through vicious ways. It was not Antonescu’s grand plan to kill the Jews by putting them on trains, but he did intend to exterminate all of them from Jassy. What does this mean? The fact is that the intent to kill thew Jews systematically was already set in place, but this was achieved through the bureaucratic arm. In this case, Triandaf was a representant and participator of that arm that instigated the grand scheme as he saw fit. Thus, if we only understood as Triandaf as a singular element acting on his own free will only the bureaucracy told him to, we would be forgetting that Antonescu’s orders reigned supreme. However, of course, the latter would also not be possible without the former. Thus, the singularity of either functionalism and intentionalism does not seem to complete the entire picture.

If we only take one singular element into account we would not understand the larger picture of what happened in Jassy and in the Shoah. Individuals such as Leibovici, Shmuel and Avramescu could have not been rounded up without both the grand scheme of their extermination, nor without the bureaucracy to effectuate that grand plan. Similarly, Gheorghe Stravescu and Aurel Triandaf who were essential branches of the greater bureaucracy would have not acted without those orders. Yet, those orders would have been meaningless without their executors and the bureaucracy.

The point remains that it would be impossible to determine how the Jassy pogrom and how so many people died, and how so many killed and raped without taking into account these complexities. Even so, this connective dichotomy would not be enough to explain the “why” and the “how” without taking into account the many other variants and elements that shaped what and how it happened. The important question that remains is whether’ this can be applied to the larger context of the Shoah?

It is without a doubt that a human based analysis of the Jassy Pogrom as a case study can easily be applied to the large context of the Shoah. The study of survivors experiences can be duly employed in order to understand the complex relationship between intentionalism and functionalism. By applying this analysis to every small theatre in the greater Shoah we are completing a puzzle which both provides a human context but also an understanding of the synthesis hypothesis, without dwelling into historical abstractions.

The study of people, rather than abstract ideas has alway provided a human element based on empathy for those who wish to understand history. It is in my opinion that these empathic approaches create a new level of analysis in the the ever going debate between functionalism and intentionalism. For instance, the study of people such as Sulim Avramescu, a victim, we can provide some context to how the greater plan of extermination, but also bureaucracy affected him and led to his ultimate murder.

Similarly, the study of propagators such as Aurel Triandaf can show us the manner in which that bureaucracy functioned as directed by the grand plan. By applying the synthesis model to individual based contexts we can build up a gradual comprehension of how it works on the larger level system of Shoah. In other words by applying it concisely to people’s narrative the general view can become wider. The question remains whether this is the only way to study the synthesis or are there other models that could work in parallel?

Browning, Bauer and Marrus, all leading promoters of the synthesis model have suggested that the only way to understand the Shoah effectively is two combine both intentionalism and functionalism as schools of thought. Of course, although this is what I am proposing I want to highlight the fact that it is important to do this effectively through the study of people as subjects. For instance, Bauer argues effectively although there was not concrete master plan, there as something of an intent to carry out a solution to the ‘Jewish Problem’, of course he does not agree that the bureaucracy was solely responsible.

It is for this reason why a combination of the two proposals makes more sense. However, not enough historians have concentrated on analysing this model through people. It is simple to propose that the synthesis makes more sense, but the real proof of this can be seen from real life case studies of survivors. It is in my opinion that more advocates of the synthesis model should put emphasis on the study of people similar to Browning’s pro-functionalist works. The question is therefore, what is the role and responsibility of the historian when he/she tries to create such an analysis?


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