Menu JTA Search

Trifa Surrenders His Citizenship Papers to U.S. Officials; Action Halts Denaturalization Proceedings

Five years after he was indicted on charges of concealing his ties to the fascist Rumanian Iron Guard when he applied to enter the U.S. and when he gained American citizenship in the 1950s, Rumanian Orthodox Archbishop Valerian Trifa of Grass Lake, Michigan has surrendered his citizenship papers to U.S. officials.

Trifa’s action halts denaturalization proceedings against him. Federal officials will now have to begin deportation proceedings against him. If successful in that action, Trifa could be deported to Rumania where he could be tried for inciting a January 1941 pogrom by Iron Guardists in Bucharest which took the lives of hundreds of Jews.

Trifa, 65, contends he has been denied due process in the case because the Federal government waited 30 years to bring charges against him. A defense motion based on that argument was over-ruled last year by Federal Judge Cornelio Kennedy in Detroit.

TRIFA EXPLAINS HIS MOVE

Trifa said he surrendered his citizenship papers in order to keep his case from becoming “a power struggle between my church, my American government and my country of origin.” He denied that giving up his papers was an admission of guilt.

Attorneys for Trifa say the prelate has spent more than $100,000 for legal fees, most of the funds raised by his church’s 35,000 members in the U.S. Dr. Charles Kremer, an 83-year-old retired New York dentist, has led the fight for action on the Trifa case for more than 25 years. Kremer said he was pleased that Trifa had surrendered his papers, but added that he was “determined to continue the fight.”

Peter Alter, of Detroit, vice chairman of the National Law Committee of the Anti-Defmation League of B’nai B’rith, called for Federal officials to begin deportation proceedings as soon as possible.

DEPOSITION LED TO SURRENDER

Rabbi Rubin Dobin, chairman of an American Anti-Nazi Association in Miami, Florida, believes that Trifa surrendered his papers after seeing testimony obtained from a Miami eyewitness to the Jan. 21, 1941 Bucharest pogrom. Rafael Gabaiie, 83, was located in Miami last January by Debin’s group for the Justice Department.

Because Gabaiie was too old and feeble to travel, William Crane, senior criminal investigator for the Justice Department, went to Miami Beach along with a Justice Department attorney, Eugene Tiroff, in charge of the Trifa case, on Jan. 25.

Gabaiie’s deposition, according to Dobin, stated that Gabaiie grew up with Trifa in Rumania and went to the Bucharest church where Trifa was speaking on Jan. 21, 1941. According to Dobin, Gabaiie said the church was filled with Iron Guardists who were given weapons from two automobiles driven by Nazi SS members. Gabaiie reportedly watched Trifa lead the pogrom and kill several individuals.

Last week, an assistant U.S. attorney and a court reporter from Detroit went to Rumania to take depositions from witnesses in the U.S. case against Trifa. The case, which had been assigned to Judge Horace Gilmore, had been in the pretrial stage since May 1975.

TRIFA’S ROLE IN THE U.S.

While in the U.S., Trifa has been a controversial figure. There were allegations that he forcefully took over the Rumanian Orthodox Episcopate of America and brought in Iron Guard cronies as priests. The archdiocese under Trifa took over a local parish in Detroit after a bitter court battle between the parish and the archdiocese.

As an anti-Communist, Trifa was invited in the late 1950s by then Vice President Richard Nixon to give the invocation before a session of the U.S. Senate. Trifa has contended in the past that the charges against him have been fomented by the Communist regime in Rumania and that he would not get a fair trial in Rumania. Observers believe that Trifa will use this argument in any deportation proceedings brought against him.

(In New York, Phil Baum, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said “Now that Trifa can no longer seek refuge behind his claim of citizenship the way is open to depart him from this country which he entered illegally in the first place. We trust that will take place soon. This event is one of the first indications of the efficacy of our government’s decision to create a special investigation unit within the Department of Justice.”)

NEXT STORY