2006-12-15 Iulian Muresan
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Romanian attitudes toward holocaust

Jews boarding the death train that journeyed from Iasi to CalarasiJews boarding the death train that journeyed from Iasi to Calarasi
Romania belatedly acknowledged its role in the Holocaust. It was only in 2004, that a committee for the investigation of the Holocaust crimes published an official report according to which between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews were exterminated by the Romanian army in the war zones of Bassarabia, Bukovina and Transnistria. These are the highest numbers in a country other than Germany. Before 2004, there was very little talk of the scale of Romania’s contribution to the Holocaust. But the last 3 years has seen a lot of campaigning aimed at making Romanians aware of those crimes. Radio Romania International’s Iulian Muresan reports from Bucharest.

A recent survey conducted by the Research Center on Interethnic Relations at Babes Bolyai University of Cluj, in central Romania shows these awareness campaigns have yielded results, but at the same they’ve had an adverse effect, reflected in the fact that, in the last three years, the number of Romanians who believe that the persecutions of the Jews are exaggerated, has grown from 27% to 31.5% Istvan Horvath, the coordinator of the survey entitled “The Interethnic Climate in Romania in the Run up to European Integration”, explains:

“What’s interesting is that this campaign on raising awareness has a double effect. On the one hand it’s increased the awareness of the population on the issue of the Holocaust, of Romania's contribution to the Holocaust, but on the other hand it's increased a bit the segment of the population which became more sensitive to negationist affirmations, so those beliefs that actually the Holocaust was not true or it's oversizedly presented.”

Round up of Jews during the Iasi pogrom, June 1941Round up of Jews during the Iasi pogrom, June 1941
According to the same survey, almost one third of Romanians also think that the suffering of the Jewish people is actually a punishment from God. Andrei Oisteanu is a Romanian historian of religions and cultural anthropologist who’s written a book entitled “Imaginary Jew vs. Real Jew, in Romanian and other Central – East European Cultures”.

“The accusation of deicide, that is, of having murdered Jesus Christ, is frequent at folkloric level, at the level of the rural population in Romania, unlike Poland for example where this accusation is present at all levels of the society.”

At present the Jewish community in Romania numbers around 7000, which is almost non-existent. Andrei Oisteanu says one the most frequent questions he’s asked, especially when traveling abroad is: “how is it possible for a country with no Jewish population left to still harbor anti-Semitic feelings?”

“This question is wrong. It somehow implies that anti-Semitism in a country with a more numerous Jewish community is reasonable and needs no explanation. Well, anti-Semitism is unreasonable anywhere. But, actually in a country like Romania, with almost no Jewish community left, anti-Semitism is more easily manipulated. You cannot claim that Jews have a devil’s horns and tail, I’m exaggerating, but not too much; you cannot claim that when Jewish people are present and everybody can see that they don’t have a devil's horn and tail. The presence of Jewish people in a country actually proves false all the misconceptions, prejudice and stereotypes about Jews.”

Jewish women under the guard of Romanian soldiers.  Kishenev, summer of 1941.Jewish women under the guard of Romanian soldiers. Kishenev, summer of 1941.
It seems that it’s not just in Romania that some people believe the Jews are responsible for all the evil in the world. Despite denial of Holocaust being a crime in several European countries, Romania included, and despite the pressure of Political Correctness ideologies across the Ocean, there are slips. For instance, several months ago, famous Hollywood actor and director Mel Gibson, drunkenly stated that the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. One of Romania's most respected journalists, Traian Ungureanu, however thinks the danger lies somewhere else:

“We should rather look to the government sponsored conference of Holocaust deniers organised in Iran these days, where indeed, what you see is a monster itself. I mean, it's prejudice, it's popular rage, blatant lack of education, stately sponsored and politically directed. This is the monster, not, let's say, David Irving who is serving his jail time in Austria, not Mel Gibson who gets drunk in Los Angeles and has a rant in front of a police officer. The real danger is the Arab inspired, the left inspired anti-Semitism, as you can see it in Iran for instance, or in the fashionable, left wing champagne socialism, left circles of Europe, where savvy anti-Semitism lives a bizarre resurgence nowadays."

Perhaps a good safety valve in this rather tense ethnic climate would be to go watch Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat. Some may find funny the scene in which Cohen, himself a Jew, asks a gun shop owner what would be the best gun to kill a Jew and receives a non-hesitant answer “I’d recommend a 9 mm or a Glock automatic.”

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