Monday, November 3, 2008

Anti-Semitism is alive and kicking in Romania

By Cellu Rozenberg

Anyone in need of additional reminders of how much Romanians love the Jews could have found it in the recent destruction and desecration of some 200 graves in the great cemetery in Bucharest. Even though there are almost no Jews in Romania (their number is estimated at a mere few thousand, excluding Israelis who have gone there on business), anti-Semitism is nevertheless alive and kicking.

The graves that were destroyed and desecrated - a reminder of the large Jewish community, numbering some 800,000 people, half of which was destroyed in the Holocaust not by the Germans, but by Hitler's loyal allies, the Romanians - give no rest to some Romanians. This is not the first time such things have happened in Romania, but everyone keeps quiet, as if this were merely a bit of mischief.

The roots of Romanian anti-Semitism are planted deep in the country's soil, which is soaked with Jewish blood. In almost every city and town where Jews lived, they were routinely subject to murder and looting - carried out by ordinary citizens, but backed by the regime - both before World War II and after it. It is no wonder that historian Hannah Arendt described Romania as the most anti-Semitic country of all.

On the morning of June 29, 1941, 12,000 Romanian Jews, who were almost blindly loyal to the state, were led through the streets of the city of Iasi, humiliated and hungry, to the local police station, which became their slaughterhouse. It was the government that ordered the terrible massacre, in which my family, too, was murdered when the security forces began shooting in all directions. That, we will never forget.

By the end of World War II, most of the rest of Romania's Jews had also been systematically deported and eliminated. Thus following that war, many of the surviving Jews preferred to abandon communist Romania and move to Israel, albeit shorn of all their possessions. The communist regime did a thriving trade in Jews, demanding thousands of dollars for each one. They thereby stole additional money and property from the Jews. Under the communist regime, the Holocaust was never taught in Romanian schools. Only in 2004, due to external pressure, was the subject added to the curriculum.

But if anyone thought that a change had finally occurred over the last few years, if anyone hoped that anti-Semitism had been relegated to the boors who desecrate graves rather than pervading the government, then President Traian Basescu's remarks at a press conference at the Bucharest Airport upon his return from Syria a week ago reminded us that there is another Romania besides that of pastrami and wine - the Romania of anti-Semitism. Syria, Basescu said, is bordered by the following countries: Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine.

It is well known that Romania's president is not particularly well-educated, but as a former sea captain one would have expected him to at least know a little geography and history. Has it escaped him that there is as yet no country called Palestine, but that another country, admittedly small, nevertheless exists on Syria's border - one called Israel? It is a pity that the Foreign Ministry did not see fit to respond sharply to these remarks. It is still not too late.

Cellu Rozenberg is a historian who specializes in national security.

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