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Dr. Ion Popa


Freie Universität Berlin

Center for Area Studies


Postdoctoral Fellow

Ion Popa successfully defended his PhD thesis in December 2013 at the University of Manchester, UK where he also received his M.A. in Religion and Political Life in 2009. Before joining the Center for Area Studies in February 2015 Dr. Popa was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Yad Vashem International Institute for Holocaust Research, Jerusalem (October 2014-January 2015), and a part-time lecturer in Holocaust Studies at the University of Manchester (2012-2014). Dr Popa published articles and book reviews in Yad Vashem Studies (2011), European Review of History (2012), Holocaust. Study and Research (2013) and Holocaust and Genocide Studies (2015) and the book manuscript based on his PhD thesis entitled A History of Denial: The Romanian Orthodox Church and the Holocaust, 1938-Present, is under publication by Indiana University Press. He presented papers at numerous academic conferences in Washington DC, Jerusalem, Bloomington Indiana, Krakow, Leicester and Manchester, including two lectures for the general public on the topic of Jewish-Christian relations at Imperial War Museum North, UK (October 2014) and at Yad Vashem International Institute for Holocaust Research (November 2014). Dr. Popa has been the recipient of several prestigious awards: Yad Vashem Post-Doctoral Fellowship (2014-2015), the Tziporah Wiesel Fellowship at the Centre for Advanced Holocaust Studies, USHMM, Washington DC (2013), University of Manchester/School of Arts Languages and Cultures Award (2012-2013) and the Saul Kagan Claims Conference Advanced Shoah Studies Fellowship, New York (2010-2012).

Title of research project:

The Catholic Church and the Holocaust in Romania, 1938-1948

Focus of research:

The attitude of the Catholic Church in Romania towards the Jewish Community in the context of the Holocaust


Jewish-Christian relations, the Holocaust, church-state and inter-religious relations in Romania and Eastern/South-Eastern Europe.

Regional focus:

Romania, Eastern Europe, South-Eastern Europe


My postdoctoral project aims to research the attitude of the Catholic Church in Romania towards Jews from 1938 to 1948. I see it as a continuation of my inquiry into the attitude of Eastern European Churches towards the Jewish community during and after the Holocaust. During my doctoral studies, which looked at the attitude of the majority Romanian Orthodox Church towards Jews, I discovered fascinating documents about the Catholic Church. Just before the Second World War there were 1,234,151 Roman Catholics (6.8% of the population) in Romania, constituting the third largest religious group after Orthodox 13,108,227 (72.6%) and Greek Catholics 1,429,391 (7.9%). Although a minority Church, the Catholic Church had a different relation with the Romanian authorities in comparison to other religions due to the Concordat signed by the Romanian state with the Vatican in 1929. My project has just begun, but most of the documents I already researched showed a contrasting image: while the Romanian Orthodox Church either encouraged the Ion Antonescu regime’s polices of destruction or was silent at the cries for help of the Jewish community, the Catholic Church in Romania was actively involved in rescue efforts. This contrast between the two Churches was the driving force behind my decision to pursue this topic.

This project has four main objectives:

  1. To widen the historiography about the Holocaust in Romania and South-Eastern Europe. The fate of the 756,930 Romanian Jews (4.2% of the population), the third largest Jewish community in Europe before the Second World War, has been under-researched until recently. The situation is even worse when it comes to the attitude of Eastern European Christian Churches towards Jews during the Holocaust, with only few very recent scholarly contributions in this field.
  2. To offer a more comprehensive view of the alleged rescue actions of the Catholic Church in Eastern Europe by looking at the case of Romania. Recent research suggests that in Romania, Hungary, and the Balkans the Vatican was more vocal in defending the Jews. Several articles and book chapters published since the end of the 1960s emphasize the positive role of Monsignor Andrea Cassulo, the papal nuncio to Bucharest (1936-1947). He listened and responded to the pleas for help of the Jewish Community, was involved during the Holocaust in humanitarian actions in Transnistria, and contributed to the averting of the 1942 foreseen deportations to Belzec. As most of the documents about the positive actions of the Church speak generally (sometimes solely) about the figure of Andrea Cassulo this project aims to offer a thorough research which will comprehensively analyses whether the papal nuncio was helped by the local Catholic Church and by the Holy See in his plan to help the Jewish community.
  3. To understand more clearly the attitude of the Catholic Church in Romania towards the Jewish community in the context of inter-religious relations and religious/political diplomacy. The minority status and Romania’s Concordat with the Vatican (1929) had a great impact on the way in which the Catholic Church related to the Jewish community, the majority Orthodox Church and the Romanian state. A more comprehensive analysis and comparison with similar cases will help explain why that was the case. There are also strong indications that the Romanian authorities planned to use the Catholic Church as a mediator with the Allies, if the situation of the war would have asked for it. This created the favourable context in which Monsignor Andrea Cassulo could act in favour of the Jewish community.
  4. To offer a comprehensive analysis of the controversial topic of Jews’ conversion to Christianity. As revealed in one of my articles published in the journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies (2015), some Catholic Churches used conversion as a way of helping Jews to avoid deportation. But the number of those rescued through conversion was very low and conversion was done in exchange for money. This issue raises important questions about the dynamics of Jewish Christian relations during the Holocaust; the project aims to look more carefully at social and theological dimensions of the Catholic conversion of Jews and to analyses the reaction of the Jewish community in this matter. A comparison with the attitude of the other Catholic Churches in Europe towards conversion of Jews would help to put the rescue efforts in Romania in context.


In Press (expected date 2016/2017): A History of Denial: The Romanian Orthodox Church and the Holocaust, 1938-Present – Indiana University Press


Peer Reviewed Articles:

“Sanctuary from the Holocaust? Roman Catholic Conversion of Jews in Romania, Bucharest, 1942” – Holocaust and Genocide Studies, vol. 29, no 1 (Spring 2015), pp. 39-56


“Visarion Puiu, the Former Romanian Orthodox Metropolitan (Archbishop) of Transnistria – A Historical Study on His Life and Activity Before, During and After the Holocaust (1935-1964)” – Holocaust. Study and Research, vol. 5, no 1 (6) (2013), pp. 182-203


“Miron Cristea, The Romanian Orthodox Patriarch: his political and religious influence in deciding the fate of the Romanian Jews (February 1938-March 1939)” – Yad Vashem Studies, vol. 40, no. 2 (2012), pp. 11-34


Book reviews: “Uta Gerhardt, Thomas Karlauf, eds., The Night of Broken Glass, Eyewitness Accounts of Kristallnacht, translated by Robert Simmons and Nick Somers, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012” – European Review of History, vol. 20, issue 2 (Spring, 2013), pp. 332-333