Ion Butnaru

Ion Butnaru

Born: December 4, 1918

Husi, Romania

Ion was born to Jewish parents in a small, ethnically diverse city in east-central Moldavia [in Romania], a region known for its wine. Husi had a sizable and active Jewish population, which organized literary and artistic festivals and ran a local library. Ion's father was a wine maker and his side of the family had owned vineyards for at least three generations.

1933-39: I enjoyed helping my father in the family vineyards. I also did volunteer work at our local Jewish library. When I was 17, my cousin, a lawyer, encouraged me to write epigrams for our local newspaper. My plan was to go to a university and become a writer. Instead, war broke out in 1939. On November 11, I was drafted into the Romanian army and assigned to the 9th regiment.

1940-44: Anti-Jewish feeling mounted after the Soviets occupied parts of Romania in June 1940. Jews were accused of being communists, and pogroms broke out. I was expelled from the army and reassigned to a labor battalion; I was lucky to survive. Following the outbreak of war with the USSR in 1941, I was sent all over Romania as a forced laborer. The city of Bolgrad was unforgettable in 1942, with its deserted streets, smashed windows, pillaged Jewish homes, mass graves and the stench of death from eight miles away.

Ion was liberated by the Soviet army in August 1944. He continued to live in Romania until 1976, when he immigrated with his family to the United States.