By Elisabeth Weber
The interwar period, often dubbed “The Golden Age of Romanian Culture”, was also the age of student violence and disorder. Several student strikes and many violent conflicts between “Christian” students and Jews left their mark on the everyday academic life of those times. Anti-Semitic aggressions led to interventions from the authorities and university shut-downs lasting several months. If classes were not suspended, they were held in the presence of the military, which was requested to keep the campuses safe.
The protests were legitimate, since the students were faced with overcrowded campuses and lacked the conditions to study. But their discontent was framed in an anti-Semitic key and resulted in a demand for a “numerous clausus”, a cap on the number of Jewish students in universities. “Numerus clausus” became one of the main slogans of anti-Semitic nationalists and contributed, to a large extent, to the high degree of politicization amongst students. The radicalization of the student body was accelerated by a group of students around Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, the soon-to-be leader of the Iron Guard, promoters of a violent anti-Semitism. Armed with clubs, encouraged by right-wing parties and supported by their professors, teachers and priests, these students managed to became a political force within a few years.
The first major conflict erupted in 1922 at the Medical School in Cluj. The pretext was the issue of using Jewish bodies in anatomy class, the Christian students claiming for dissections according to religion. The protests quickly degenerated into public violence. After Christian students beat up and drove away their Jewish colleagues, violence spilled over onto the streets of Cluj. By chanting slogans such as “Down with the Jews”, they devastated Jewish stores, broke the windows on Jewish homes and hurt Israeli citizens. The commotion spread quickly to other academic centers. On December 10, 1922, between 3000 and 4000 students across the country gathered at the University of Bucharest, where they declared a general strike in protest against the accommodation in the dorms and the study facilities. Their main claim was the introduction of “numerous clausus.” When the students left the premises of the university with the intention of marching on the streets, they were met by riot police and the military. Upon the student’s refusal to disperse, the security forces opened fire and there were violent clashes between students, Jewish people and riot police in the Jewish neighborhood. December 10 became the anniversary of “the beginning of the student movement against the Jewish element”; the phrasing belongs to the official student organization in Cluj, in a 1928 address to the dean of the Faculty of Science. The date was celebrated every year with religious service, congresses, marches and anti-Semitic excess. Thus, the beginning of the student movement also meant the prelude to a then unprecedented wave of anti-Semitic violence in Romanian history. A note by the Internal Affairs Ministry registered over 70 violent clashes between Jews and non-Jews, most of them involving students, for 1925 and 1926 alone. […]