During World War II, Romania of its own accorded murdered tens of thousands of Jews, more than any other country save the Third Reich itself, with which it was allied. The new Romanian film “I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians” tells the story of Mariana, who is producing a pageant about her country’s celebrated defeat of Soviet forces in the 1941 battle of Odessa. Dara Horn writes in her review:
The municipal government funding her pageant is hoping for a display of nationalist glory. . . . But Mariana has something different in mind. She wants to reenact another aspect of the Odessa victory: the murder of some 20,000 of Odessa’s Jews, which was in fact only two days out of a years-long, Romanian-led campaign of mass murder. She is convinced that if today’s Romanians knew what their countrymen did, the country could move beyond mindless patriotism to a mature and vibrant future. To no one’s surprise but hers, that isn’t in the cards. As the film makes clear, Holocaust minimization in post-Communist Romania is a bit like the Pledge of Allegiance, an entry-level credo that no one questions.
The film, writes Horn, is darkly funny and deeply disturbing, satirizing Mariana’s naïveté, the townspeople’s anti-Semitism, and the government officials’ attempts to sabotage her production, along with the absurdity of making a pageant about the Holocaust in the first place. While finding all of this effective, Horn also comments on “the dark void” that the film leaves unmentioned:
When the movie mentioned the city of Cernauti, I realized with a jolt that this was Tshernovits—the city known for the lauded Tshernovits Conference of 1908, where the great Yiddish writer Y.L. Peretz and many others declared Yiddish a national Jewish language, deserving of institutional support. . . . As I watched the film, names like these kept seeping in unacknowledged, because no one in the film had the knowledge to do so.
Here was Satu Mare—a hick town to Romanians, but known on my planet as the birthplace of the Satmar Ḥasidim, who in their enclaves today maintain Yiddish as a living language even as it has died out nearly everywhere else. There was Focsani—another nowhereseville from the Romanian viewpoint but cemented in my memory as the hometown of the paradigm-setting scholar Solomon Schechter. It was also the host city for the world’s first Zionist congress in 1881 (sixteen years before Herzl’s in Basel).
For Mariana, the truth is nothing more than murder, a dark pit of sadism and slaughter at the heart of her own country’s identity. For most people who see this film, that will be disturbing enough. But I also shuddered at the profound emptiness at its core. . . . As noble as Mariana genuinely is, she and the frightening crowd at her pageant have one thing in common. They are all only interested in dead Jews.