English Queen (finally) to host Holocaust survivors (& other stories)

October 27, 2004

[Note by Tom Gross]

* This dispatch contains articles that are all updates to other items sent out previously on this list. They concern Holocaust-related items on Hungary, Holland the UK, the U.S., and Romania.

 

CONTENTS

1. Hungarians Protest
2. Pressure building on U.S. to settle claims that U.S. Army plundered Jewish property
3. Hungarian official resigns after Holocaust joke
4. A second Anne Frank: Diary of Jewish girl killed by Nazis found in Tilburg
5. Dutch soccer team Ajax proud to be called "the Jews"
6. English Queen to host Holocaust survivors
7. Finally, Romania fully acknowledges participation in Holocaust

There are summaries first, followed by the full articles.


SUMMARIES

HUNGARIANS PROTEST

[This is an update to the dispatch of October 15, 2004 titled The Jews are an 'inferior race,' says Diana, 26, Budapest.]

There are senior print and TV journalists from several central and east European countries on this email list. A well-known journalist in Budapest writes:

"To update you on your dispatch last week. The Diana Bacsfi episode has produced a very powerful counter-reaction across the Hungarian political spectrum – about 25,000 people took part in an anti-fascist demonstration here, including the prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany on October 15, the 60th anniversary of the Arrow Cross coup. There were so many protestors that the police sealed off central Budapest.

"It seems Bacsfi did Hungary a favor in a way, as all main parties came out very strongly against her Fascism/Nazi-nostalgia. I think it's worth noting that today Hungary has done itself quite proudly – we condemn anti-Semitism where we find it, and we should also praise those who take a real stand against it."

Tom Gross adds:

Hungarian police have now detained Diana Bacsfi, leader of the Magyar Jovo Csoport (Movement for a Hungarian Future). for disturbing the peace and for giving Nazi-style salutes in public. Police also suspect her group was responsible for pouring red paint on the memorial to Holocaust victims in front of the Novotel park in Budapest.

500,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz with the enthusiastic assistance of Hungarian officials, and 100,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in other ways including being shot and thrown into the Danube.

 

PRESSURE BUILDING ON U.S. TO SETTLE HOLOCAUST CLAIMS

(Associated Press, Miami bureau, October 11, 2004)

Bipartisan political pressure is building for the Bush administration to settle a lawsuit by Hungarian Jews who claim the United States plundered family riches that had been seized by the Nazis during World War II.

... In the waning days of the war, the Nazis sent 24 boxcars toward Germany, filled with gold, silver, paintings, Oriental rugs, furs and other treasures seized from Hungarian Holocaust victims. Nazis, Hungarians and Austrians stole from the train along the way. The U.S. Army eventually seized control of the riches, but American officers helped themselves to china, silverware and artwork for their homes and offices, according to the commission.

The lawsuit seeks up to $10,000 each for as many as 30,000 Hungarian Jews and their survivors... The train and cargo worth an estimated $50 million to $120 million were shrouded in official secrecy until the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets detailed it in a 1999 draft report.

... The United States pressured European governments and businesses in the 1990s to pay Holocaust reparations, and critics say the U.S. government should hold itself to the same standard.

... The Justice Department said last summer that the United States "bears neither the legal nor the moral responsibility" for the losses. In court papers, Justice attorneys said that Hungarian Holocaust victims, many of whom lost relatives to the Nazis and survived the war penniless, "lived generally prosperous lives" in North America...

 

NO LAUGHING MATTER

"Hungarian official resigns after Holocaust joke"
(Associated Press, Budapest bureau, October 18, 2004)

A parliamentary deputy with the governing Socialist Party said Monday he would resign from his post after being caught on camera making a joke about the Holocaust... Last week, while he was waiting to take part in an anti-fascist protest, Janos Zuschlag was caught on camera by the Hir TV news channel making a joke about Holocaust victims.

... Zuschlag apologized for his remarks... "I made a huge mistake, in part as a man and in part as a politician," Zuschlag said. But Zuschlag, who described his comments as "a mistake, but not a sin," said he would keep his post in the party's youth organization and run again for a parliamentary seat in 2006...

 

A SECOND ANNE FRANK? HELGA DEEN: 1925 - 1943

"Diary of Jewish girl killed by Nazis found in Tilburg"
October 19, 2004

An 18-year-old Jewish girl's diary which describes her last month of imprisonment during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands has been discovered. Echoing the famous Anne Frank diary, the new find tells of both the terror and the mundane aspects of life during the Holocaust.

Helga Deen describes her feelings of powerlessness and despair, but also writes in her diary of delousing, arguments between camp detainees, boerenkoolstamppot (kale stew) and infamous child transports.

Deen was eventually murdered, along with her father, mother and brother, by the Nazis in Sobibor death camp in Poland on 16 July 1943, newspaper De Volkskrant reported. The diary of another Jewish girl, Anne Frank, has sold more than 25 million copies and has been translated into 55 languages.

... the Tilburg Regional Archive was loaned Deen's diary earlier this year by the son of Kees van den Berg, who had a relationship with Deen during World War II... "I couldn't believe what I saw," archivist Gerrit Kobes said, adding that the book with 21 pages of diary entries and several pages of lead pencil sketches of the camp was unique... The Dutch Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) has also described the latest discovery as remarkable.

Deen was in her final year of school at the Rijks hbs in Tilburg when she was transported with her family to Camp Vught on 1 April 1943. She was housed in barracks 34B. In total, some 31,000 people (including 15,000 Jews) were held in Camp Vught between January 1943 and September 1944. It was the only SS concentration camp located outside Germany... Her diary will be put on display in Apeldoorn on Saturday 30 October at the National Archive Day.

 

DUTCH SOCCER TEAM AJAX PROUD TO BE CALLED "THE JEWS"

"Warm welcome for Maccabi footballers from Dutch 'Super-Jews'"
(Associated Press, Amsterdam Bureau, October 20, 2004)

Dozens of blue-and-white Israeli flags greeted Maccabi Tel Aviv as the visiting players stepped onto the field at Amsterdam's ArenA stadium. But most of the flags bearing the Star of David on Tuesday night were in the hands of Ajax supporters rooting for the home team, not for the visiting Israelis. In one of the odder quirks in the world of sporting fandom, die-hard Ajax supporters call themselves "Joden" or "Super-Joden" – Dutch for "Super Jews" – a nickname that reflects the team's and Amsterdam's Jewish roots.

... Visitors to the ArenA occasionally are surprised to hear hardcore fans belting out the Hebrew classic "Hava Nagila." The nickname for Ajax fans dates back to before World War II, when Amsterdam was home to many of the Netherlands' 140,000 Jews and the Ajax stadium was located near a Jewish neighborhood. Most Dutch Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and little remains of Amsterdam's old Jewish quarter. But the tradition survived.

... Fans of opposing teams sometimes shouted anti-Semitic slurs against Ajax, prompting Ajax fans to further embrace their "Jewishness" in stubborn defiance... Ajax managers insist there's nothing essentially Jewish about the club. The Israeli-looking flag is not the official emblem, and the team's real colors are red and white rather than Israel's blue and white. But the Star of David is popular on nonofficial club hats and scarves...

 

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

"Queen To Host Survivors"
(By Justin Cohen, TotallyJewish.com, October 18, 2004)

The Queen is set to host a reception for Holocaust survivors exactly 60 years after the liberation of Auschwitz. The St. James' Palace event, also to be attended by British veterans who liberated Nazi camps, will be just one of many commemorative events marking the fifth national Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January.

... A spokeswoman for the Queen said: "Next year's Holocaust Memorial Day coincides with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz... "The Queen is looking forward to meeting representatives of both survivors and veterans at the reception."

... Home secretary David Blunkett said: "Holocaust Memorial Day remains a day of huge importance to our nation not only because it allows us to remember those who fell victim to the Nazis, but also because it inspires and encourages us to act on the lessons of the Holocaust to challenge intolerance and racism wherever we find it today.

... Welcoming the announcement of the reception, Lord Janner [a prominent member of the British Jewish community] said: "The Queen's decision is moving, momentous and very appropriate. It is an honour for the survivors and for the memory of those who did not survive."

 

ROMANIA ACKNOWLEDGES HOLOCAUST

[This is an update to items on Romanian Holocaust denial in three previous dispatches I sent last year.]

"Romanian President Puts Shameful Holocaust Episode To Rest"
(By Michael Shafir, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, October 13, 2004)

Romanian President Ion Iliescu delivered an historic speech on 12 October at the parliament building in Bucharest when, for the first time, a Romanian head of state acknowledged in no ambiguous terms and with no "ifs and buts" his country's participation in, and responsibility for, the perpetration of the Holocaust.

Romania has come a long way since the days of May 1991, when legislators observed a minute of silence on the anniversary of the 1946 execution of Romania's wartime, Nazi-allied leader, Marshal Ion Antonescu, for war crimes. Such a shameful performance was repeated in June 1999.

The presidential address was given to mark – for the first time in Romania – Holocaust Day. In May 2004, a government decision established that the day would be marked on 9 October, but commemoration was postponed this year to avoid violating the Jewish Sabbath...


FULL ARTICLES

PRESSURE BUILDING ON US TO SETTLE CLAIMS

Pressure building on U.S. to settle claims that Army plundered Jewish riches
By Catherine Wilson
The Associated Press
October 11, 2004

Bipartisan political pressure is building for the Bush administration to settle a lawsuit by Hungarian Jews who claim the United States plundered family riches that had been seized by the Nazis during World War II.

Washington lawyer and Republican insider Fred Fielding is mediating the dispute as a federal judge in Miami considers a renewed Justice Department attempt to scuttle the class-action lawsuit.

"We're still talking," Fielding said last week. "As long as the parties are talking, there's a chance of a solution everybody can live with."

The train and cargo worth an estimated $50 million to $120 million were shrouded in official secrecy until the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets detailed it in a 1999 draft report.

In the waning days of the war, the Nazis sent 24 boxcars toward Germany, filled with gold, silver, paintings, Oriental rugs, furs and other treasures seized from Hungarian Holocaust victims.

Nazis, Hungarians and Austrians stole from the train along the way. The U.S. Army eventually seized control of the riches, but American officers helped themselves to china, silverware and artwork for their homes and offices, according to the commission.

The lawsuit seeks up to $10,000 each for as many as 30,000 Hungarian Jews and their survivors.

A hearing is set Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz in Miami on legal issues that need to be decided to determine whether the lawsuit goes to trial. She ruled against the Justice Department once before and last year accused higher-ups in the government of "dragging their feet."

John Kerry borrowed that line earlier this month in a statement calling for a quick and fair settlement.

On the opposite side of the political spectrum, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, wrote White House strategist Karl Rove on Sept. 30, urging that the Holocaust survivors receive restitution.

Three survivors wrote President Bush on Sunday, begging him to "step in and ensure that there is justice for the victims in the Hungarian gold train case."

White House spokesman Taylor Gross said the government is participating in mediation "to see if the matter can be resolved amicably. We want to be sure that the U.S. government acted properly in its handling of this property at the end of World War II."

The United States pressured European governments and businesses in the 1990s to pay Holocaust reparations, and critics say the U.S. government should hold itself to the same standard.

Sam Dubbin, attorney for the families suing the government, said: "This administration had the ability to settle this case and hasn't."

The Justice Department said last summer that the United States "bears neither the legal nor the moral responsibility" for the losses. In court papers, Justice attorneys said that Hungarian Holocaust victims, many of whom lost relatives to the Nazis and survived the war penniless, "lived generally prosperous lives" in North America.

 

HUNGARIAN OFFICIAL RESIGNS AFTER HOLOCAUST JOKE

Hungarian official resigns after Holocaust joke
The Associated Press
October 18, 2004

A parliamentary deputy with the governing Socialist Party said Monday he would resign from his post after being caught on camera making a joke about the Holocaust.

Janos Zuschlag – at 27, one of the youngest members of Hungary's parliament – apologized for his remarks, saying he had erred by joking about an issue which could offend or hurt people.

"I made a huge mistake, in part as a man and in part as a politician," Zuschlag said.

But Zuschlag, who described his comments as "a mistake, but not a sin," said he would keep his post in the party's youth organization and run again for a parliamentary seat in 2006.

Last week, while he was waiting to take part in an anti-fascist protest, Zuschlag was caught on camera by the Hir TV news channel making a joke about Holocaust victims.

Responding to a comment about how cold the weather was and that Holocaust victims probably had endured similarly low temperatures, Zuschlag said, laughing: "It wasn't cold for them anymore."

Zuschlag's remark – shown repeatedly on Hungarian television stations – were vehemently condemned by all political parties.

Istvan Hiller, elected as the Socialists' new chairman on Saturday, said Zuschlag's quip was proof that "irresponsibility and stupidity are not party-specific."

Zuschlag had been a parliamentary deputy since 1998. The Socialists will name his replacement within a few weeks.

 

DIARY OF JEWISH GIRL KILLED BY NAZIS FOUND

Diary of Jewish girl killed by Nazis found in Tilburg
October 19, 2004

www.expatica.com/source/site_article.asp?subchannel_id=19&story_id=12993&name=Diary+of+Jewish+girl+killedby+Nazis+found+in+Tilburg

An 18-year-old Jewish girl's diary which describes her last month of imprisonment during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands has been discovered. Echoing the famous Anne Frank diary, the new find tells of both the terror and the mundane aspects of life during the Holocaust.

Helga Deen describes her feelings of powerlessness and despair, but also writes in her diary of delousing, arguments between camp detainees, boerenkoolstamppot (kale stew) and infamous child transports.

Deen was eventually murdered, along with her father, mother and brother, by the Nazis in Sobibor death camp in Poland on 16 July 1943, newspaper De Volkskrant reported.

The diary of another Jewish girl, Anne Frank, has sold more than 25 million copies and has been translated into 55 languages.

Her diary which helped the world put a name and a recognisable face to the anonymous millions slaughtered in the Nazi genocide covers the time from when Frank, her family and friends went into hiding in July 1942 in an attic in Amsterdam to escape Nazi persecution.

They were eventually betrayed two years later and Frank died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945.

Some 60 years later, the Tilburg Regional Archive was loaned Deen's diary earlier this year by the son of Kees van den Berg, who had a relationship with Deen during World War II.

The diary along with several letters, a fountain pen, a sanitary towel and a lock of hair was enclosed in a traditional brown ladies bag. In it Deen tells of her last days in Camp Vught in the Netherlands before being transported to Sobibor.

"I couldn't believe what I saw," archivist Gerrit Kobes said, adding that the book with 21 pages of diary entries and several pages of lead pencil sketches of the camp was unique.

Documentalist Els van der Meer who specialises in researching Camp Vught described the diary as an exceptional discovery. She said the only other known diary of the kind is that of David Koker, which was published in 1977.

The Dutch Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) has also described the latest discovery as remarkable.

Deen was in her final year of school at the Rijks hbs in Tilburg when she was transported with her family to Camp Vught on 1 April 1943. She was housed in barracks 34B.

In total, some 31,000 people (including 15,000 Jews) were held in Camp Vught between January 1943 and September 1944. It was the only SS concentration camp located outside Germany.

And it was announced on 5 June 1943 that all the children would be transported away from the camp. The first train of children aged up until three departed the next day with their mother. Children aged four to 16 departed with their mother or father on 7 June 1943.

The trains travelled to the transfer camp Westerbork. In total, 1,269 Jewish children were deported from Vught via Weesterbork to Sobibor in Poland, where they were killed almost immediately upon arrival, the website www.nmkampvught.nl said.

Schoolgirl Deen secretly wrote her diary from 1 June, having promised her boyfriend she would record her experiences, the correspondence indicates. She writes in the diary to her "dearest". The diary, together with five letters, was eventually smuggled out of the camp.

In her last journal entry, a month after her arrival at Vught, Deen writes that her family were to be placed on another transport. She also writes a final letter on 2 July 1943: "What we have experienced these months is indescribable and for someone who has not experienced it, unimaginable".

Her diary will be put on display in Apeldoorn on Saturday 30 October at the National Archive Day. More information in Dutch can be found at: www.archievendag.nl.

 

WARM WELCOME FOR MACCABI FOOTBALLERS FROM DUTCH "SUPER-JEWS"

Warm welcome for Maccabi footballers from Dutch "Super-Jews"
The Associated Press
October 20, 2004

Dozens of blue-and-white Israeli flags greeted Maccabi Tel Aviv as the visiting players stepped onto the field at Amsterdam's ArenA stadium.

But most of the flags bearing the Star of David on Tuesday night were in the hands of Ajax supporters rooting for the home team, not for the visiting Israelis.

In one of the odder quirks in the world of sporting fandom, die-hard Ajax supporters call themselves "Joden" or "Super-Joden" – Dutch for "Super Jews" – a nickname that reflects the team's and Amsterdam's Jewish roots.

These days not many of Ajax's fans are Jewish, but the Super-Joden say they are committed to the nickname. "It's serious," says fan Boij Vogel. "It's about pride."

Some of Vogel's favorite supporter songs are "Jews, Jews (Will Be Champion)" and "Super-Jews, Ole Ole!"

Visitors to the ArenA occasionally are surprised to hear hardcore fans belting out the Hebrew classic "Hava Nagila."

The nickname for Ajax fans dates back to before World War II, when Amsterdam was home to many of the Netherlands' 140,000 Jews and the Ajax stadium was located near a Jewish neighborhood.

About 70 percent of the Netherlands' Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and little remains of Amsterdam's old Jewish quarter. But the tradition survived.

"Amsterdam was always known as the most Jewish Dutch city," said Dan Einhorn, who is writing his senior thesis at Amsterdam's Free University on Ajax's Jewish links.

In the postwar era, Ajax also had several star players who were Jewish, notably winger Sjaak Swart and midfielder Bennie Muller.

But Einhorn said Ajax supporters only began identifying themselves as "Joden" in the 1970s, when soccer boomed into a professional sport with a massive following.

Then as now, Ajax was the team to beat in the Dutch league.

Fans of opposing teams sometimes shouted anti-Semitic slurs against Ajax, prompting Ajax fans to further embrace their "Jewishness" in stubborn defiance.

That feeling still resonates today.

"Other clubs chant against us for being Jews, so we say: 'Bring it on,"' supporter Danny Visser said.

To this day, Amsterdammers affectionately refer to their city as "Mokum," derived from a Yiddish word for "place," and banners sold at booths around the stadium proclaim Ajax "The Pride of Mokum."

Ajax managers insist there's nothing essentially Jewish about the club. The Israeli-looking flag is not the official emblem, and the team's real colors are red and white rather than Israel's blue and white.

But the Star of David is popular on nonofficial club hats and scarves.

Neither is there a political connection, certainly not in today's climate. The Dutch government, once considered among Israel's staunchest allies, has been sharply critical of the Israeli government's policies toward the Palestinians in recent years.

But the enthusiasm of Ajax fans for all things Jewish remains strong, and it was no surprise that Maccabi's arrival for the Champions League match was treated as a happy occasion.

The positivity was not lost on Israeli supporters like Noam Frosding, who traveled 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles) from Israel to watch the match.

And even Maccabi coach Nir Klinge said if there is one place where it's OK for his side to lose 0-3, it's Amsterdam.

"There's a lot of sympathy for Ajax in Israel," he said before the match. "To be honest, I love Ajax."

Tuesday's match also included an appearance by 20-year-old right wing Daniel de Ridder, a Dutch Jew.

Historian Einhorn said De Ridder's religion is "no big deal," but he said Amsterdam's Jewish community has taken notice.

"Some do like it, of course, because it makes people feel connected with the team," he said. "We feel proud when a Jew makes it."

 

QUEEN TO HOST SURVIVORS

Queen To Host Survivors
By Justin Cohen
TotallyJewish.com
October 18, 2004

The Queen is set to host a reception for Holocaust survivors exactly 60 years after the liberation of Auschwitz.

The St. James' Palace event, also to be attended by British veterans who liberated Nazi camps, will be just one of many commemorative events marking the fifth national Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January.

Accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, the monarch will also attend Britain’s flagship event at Westminster Hall.

A spokeswoman for the Queen said: "Next year's Holocaust Memorial Day coincides with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. This coincidence will be of great significance to both the survivors of the Holocaust and those British servicemen that liberated them, particularly from Auschwitz.

"The Queen is looking forward to meeting representatives of both survivors and veterans at the reception."

Those attending the reception will be selected by organisations including the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Beth Shalom Holocaust centre in Nottingham.

Home secretary David Blunkett said: "Holocaust Memorial Day remains a day of huge importance to our nation not only because it allows us to remember those who fell victim to the Nazis, but also because it inspires and encourages us to act on the lessons of the Holocaust to challenge intolerance and racism wherever we find it today.

"The fifth national commemoration in London next year brings together survivors and liberators and it is especially fitting and meaningful for this national event that the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh will host this reception. I hope that as many people as possible will join in paying respects to these survivors and learning from their testimony."

Welcoming the announcement of the reception, Lord Janner said: "The Queen's decision is moving, momentous and very appropriate. It is an honour for the survivors and for the memory of those who did not survive."

 

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT PUTS SHAMEFUL HOLOCAUST EPISODE TO REST

Analysis: Romanian President Puts Shameful Holocaust Episode To Rest
By Michael Shafir,
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
October 13, 2004

Romanian President Ion Iliescu delivered an historic speech on 12 October at the parliament building in Bucharest when, for the first time, a Romanian head of state acknowledged in no ambiguous terms and with no "ifs and buts" his country's participation in, and responsibility for, the perpetration of the Holocaust.

Romania has come a long way since the days of May 1991, when legislators observed a minute of silence on the anniversary of the 1946 execution of Romania's wartime, Nazi-allied leader, Marshal Ion Antonescu, for war crimes. Such a shameful performance was repeated in June 1999.

The presidential address was given to mark – for the first time in Romania – Holocaust Day. In May 2004, a government decision established that the day would be marked on 9 October, but commemoration was postponed this year to avoid violating the Jewish Sabbath.

Iliescu as well as former President Emil Constantinescu have on several occasions come close to acknowledging this shameful period in Romanian history, whether it was on International Holocaust Day (27 January, the day of the 1945 liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp) or on other occasions. Yet previous presidential addresses had always distorted the significance of the day, were it only for the fact that they began by emphasizing "rescue" rather than "perpetration" in a chronological aberration aimed at stressing the alleged "Romanian exceptionalism" among Nazi Germany's wartime allies.

But not so this time. Iliescu told the audience that this "shameful chapter in our recent past...must be neither forgotten nor minimized." Furthermore, he pointed out that such soul-searching self-examination is needed in order for Romanians to put the past behind them and to allow them to march on the road to "building a future and building ourselves." This, he said, is never possible, if "tragic events, on which a long and unjustified silence had been cast," are not recalled and properly commemorated. What was truly remarkable in the president's speech was how he distanced himself from the dominating trends in Romanian historiography that tend to place the blame for the Holocaust on Nazi Germany or, at best, on alleged fringe elements in Romanian society such as the Iron Guard. Under the apparent influence of some of his advisors, Iliescu himself has done exactly that in the past. This time he bluntly acknowledged that anti-Semitic legislation in Romania dated back to 1937 and that even before the war began Jews were subjected to severe policies of discrimination and exclusion from Romanian society, as well as to forced labor.

The president went on to describe the January 1941 pogrom in Bucharest and the June 1941 pogrom in Iasi, insisting at length on the deportation of Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jews to Transdniester, which began on 9 October 1941. This is actually the reason why, at the insistence of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania and international Jewish organizations, the day selected to mark Holocaust Day is 9 October. The day thus symbolizes the state-organized Romanian participation in the perpetration of the Holocaust and not, as some had proposed in Romania, days marking pogroms or other dark events in which the role of state institutions is more difficult to precisely establish. It is for this reason that Romania would observe a day different from International Holocaust day, since Jews exterminated by Romanian authorities were not deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. That fate was met only by northern Transylvanian Jews, who at that time were under Hungarian rule.

Iliescu remarkably distanced himself from another self-exculpatory trend in modern Romanian historiography, one that emphasizes the second phase of the war, beginning in October 1942, when Antonescu gradually began to rescind the deportations and finally allowed those Jews who had survived the ordeals to return to Romania. He insisted that the change was not one of heart, but one reflecting developments on the battlefield: Antonescu began realizing that his country might lose the war and was hoping to thus hide the true dimension of the massacre. Yet, as he mentioned, over 250,000 Jews and more than 12,000 Roma had perished during the Holocaust. Here the president chose to stick to the lowest estimates of scholars, some of whom (as an official 11 October statement from the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest chose to use) assess the total to be more than 400,000, including Ukrainian Jews who perished at the hands of Romanian police and the military. The change in the tide of the war, he showed, explains the paradox of survival in Romania of a significant part of its Jewish population (some 400,000), whom Antonescu had originally decided to exterminate.

The speech also marks a great change for Iliescu, who had come a long way in his thinking himself. A rather careless remark he made in an interview with the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz" in July 2003 created an international uproar, with the Romanian president perceived as indulging in comparative trivialization of the Holocaust. Being at the end of his presidential mandate, Iliescu was apparently sensitive as to how he would enter history, including international history. In an effort to mend his image, he established an international commission on the Holocaust in Romania, headed by Elie Wiesel. The commission's conclusions are to be handed to the president next month. Earlier, the Romanian government had agreed with international Jewish organizations to establish a day for commemorating the Holocaust and to introduce into the school curriculum optional courses on the Holocaust. Indeed, according to Romanian media reports, the day was marked on 12 October in many Romanian schools. This, in fact, might be the most important aspect of the change – educating people about and giving them an awareness of the past.

Could Iliescu's speech and other increased attention to anti-Semitic episodes in the country's past uproot Holocaust denial in Romania? Uprooting might be too strong a word. There are Holocaust "negationists" (particularly among the elder generation) who did not and would not give up their effort to deny the obvious. And they direct their effort with tenacity at the young generation. On the eve of the Holocaust Day commemoration, one of those deniers, university professor Ion Coja, organized a "countermanifestation" in Bucharest, where he launched a new book with his well-known contentions. According to a government ordinance from March 2002, Holocaust denial is now a crime in Romania. Perhaps now acts should follow Iliescu's remarkable 12 October speech.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.