The ‘Great Communist Bank Robbery’ of 1959, the ‘Ioanid Gang’ and Jewishness in Soviet-era Romania…

Reconstruction of the 1959 'Great Communist Bank Robbery' in Bucharest

I recently caught a documentary film called Marele Jaf Comunist AKA Great Communist Bank Robbery. It was about a 1959 payroll heist in Soviet era Romania.

The gist is, a small group of armed robbers held up a van carrying wages to the Romanian National Bank – an unthinkable crime in a ‘Socialist’ state.

After a major police dragnet which saw scores of suspects arrested, interrogated and in many cases tortured, the cops drew a blank. Then eventually a lead turned them onto what became known as the ‘Ioanid Gang’ (named after two of its members) – five men and a woman. All were Jewish-Romanians, and either state functionaries or officers of the Securitate.

They were made to ‘confess’, and compelled to play themselves in a docu-drama film made to illustrate how they carried out their dastardly crime. This film, Reconstruction, was later shown to high ranking Party officials and trusted journalists. Subsequently all were found guilty at trial (their Party careers conveniently forgotten – now they were simply a ‘corrupt and rotten element’, a ‘swindler’, a ‘fake intellectual’, an ‘adventurer’, a ‘gangster’, and a ‘marginal element’…) and all but one sentenced to death.

A 2001 documentary film, also called Reconstruction (which I haven’t yet managed to watch), later covered the topic. Finally, in 2004 the aforementioned Marele Jaf Comunist was made, looking at the robbery, the police investigation, the making of the original documentary Reconstruction, and efforts by the son of one of the gang members to review the Securitate files.

One strand which could have been covered more in depth was the specific details of the suspects’ prior involvement in the Party and the apparatus of the state, and in particular the wartime resistance activities of some of them. One suggestion made during the film was that the execution of the five condemned men was a ruse so that they could be ‘disappeared’ and used as agents of espionage elsewhere. Again, this was not pursued with any real vigour.

So can anyone point me in the direction of any (English language) books which cover the story in depth? It seems entwined with the issue of Jewish emigration from Romania, anti-semitism, and purges within the Partidul Muncitoresc Român/Partidul Comunist Român as Gheorghiu-Dej steered towards an undestalinised ‘national communism’, so any suggestions on that front would also be welcome, as would pointers to good works on the Securitate.

Many thanks :)

About these ads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s