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Editorial: Repudiate Iliescu´s anti-Semitism (JERUSALEM POST) 07/26/03) Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/A/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1059228986740
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It´s not a common occurrence for the Foreign Ministry to summon an ambassador and formally inquire about the utterances of his head of state in a newspaper interview. But that is precisely what happened to the Romanian envoy. His president, Ion Iliescu, had offended Jewish sensibilities on several recent occasions with comments that verged on Holocaust-denial and amounted to a collective cleansing of Romania of any culpability for its role in the mass slaughter of Jews in World War II.
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No long ago he incensed Israelis by pronouncing that there had been no Holocaust in Romania. On Friday he maintained in an interview with Haaretz that "the Holocaust was not unique to Jews in Europe. Many others, including Poles, died the same way. In Romania, Jews and Communists were treated equally." Iliescu a former Communist, who succeeded the assassinated Nicolae Ceausescu after the fall of Communism, was subsequently voted out of office and later reelected resorted to his family´s history to prove his point. "My father," he recounted, "was a Communist activist and was sent to a camp. He died at age 44, less than a year after his return." Iliescu´s tactic is typical of those attempting to rewrite history. They seize on a hardly relevant truth to distort the entire picture.
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Thus the Romanian president omits to mention that 420,000 Jews perished under Romanian wartime rule. Of these, 265,000 came from what was Romania in 1939. They constituted over 43% of the 608,000 Jews of Romania proper. The murder rate was far higher in territories annexed to fascist Romania, a staunch Nazi ally and Axis member.
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Another crucial fact he omits is the role of Romanians in perpetrating genocide. Iliescu ascribes war crimes to Romania´s erstwhile leaders, primarily Ion Antonescu and the Iron Guard, which carried out horrific pogroms, including the impaling of Jews on meat hooks. "It´s impossible," he argued "to accuse Romanian people and society of this." Historical fact, unfortunately, flies hard in the face of such protestations of innocence. Romania´s Jews suffered at the hands of Romanians rather than occupying Germans. Romanians rounded up Jews and sent them to labor camps or concentration camps like the infamous Targu-Jiu. Romanians deported a sizable portion of the country´s Jewish population to Transnistria, where most were annihilated.
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Moreover, the Romanian people never rose against its country´s Nazi- collaborationist regime, which predated the war, and never protested against the stringent anti-Semitic legislation, going back to the 1920s. In 1940 Romania adopted the Nuremberg Laws. Only the defeat of the Axis ended officially sanctioned anti-Semitism, though it didn´t uproot hate from indoctrinated hearts.
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Paradoxically, Communist Romania´s record vis-a-vis the Jewish state was better than that of other Soviet satellites. It was the only one not to sever diplomatic ties with Israel. It allowed aliya and its chief rabbi, Moshe Rosen, was a respected public figure. Post- Communist Romania is another story. While states like Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have made great strides, Romania has not. Unlike its neighbors, it continues to be gripped by poverty.
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It is the tragic experience of the Jewish people that anti-Semitism flourishes especially in trying times of economic crisis and social unrest. Disturbingly, neo-fascists have become a potent force in Romania and it may well be that Iliescu is pandering to dark sentiments again surfacing in his country.
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He didn´t shrink from intimating that Jews seeking restitution for confiscated property are attempting to "skin" Romanians "who are living today in distress." The villains of his piece aren´t those who murdered and robbed, but those he fears may demand minuscule symbolic compensation.
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It should be impressed upon Iliescu that European Jewry´s bitter fate is incomparable to any other injustice in history. In no other case was there a methodical, systematic, industrialized extermination in which every last hidden baby was hunted. By likening political persecution or any war atrocity to the Holocaust he, wittingly or not, joins forces with Holocaust-deniers. Jews, including many from the Romanian heartland, were stripped of the last shreds of human dignity, tortured, starved, enslaved, and eventually murdered. Those Jews were non-combatants. There was no military or political logic to the genocidal onslaught upon them.
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When he seeks to diminish what happened to Europe´s Jews in general and to Romania´s Jews in particular, Iliescu injures all of us. He has done it once too often for his pronouncements to be dismissed as unintentional slips. His statements obviously betray something far deeper.
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The independent Jewish state, risen from the Holocaust´s ashes, doesn´t have to take any of this. The situation in Romania is no less serious than when Joerg Haider joined the Austrian governing coalition a few years back. At that time we ostracized him and recalled our ambassador from Vienna. If even a few of the quotes attributed to Iliescu are correct, and Romania takes no steps to quell the evident resurgence of anti-Semitic fascism that he reflects, then the Romanian president should be isolated at least as vigorously as was Haider. (© 1995-2003, The Jerusalem Post 07/26/03)
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