Ghosts of Nazism Haunt New Romania, Coaxing Jewish Vote to Ruling Party

Ghosts, mainly imported from abroad, of Romania’s anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi past haunted this country’s small and rapidly shrinking Jewish community during the recent election campaign.

It impelled Jews to vote heavily for the ruling National Salvation Front, which won Sunday’s elections by a landslide.

But fears are still alive that Romania may be on the edge of a new wave of anti-Semitism.

Most Jews who spoke to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency accused the opposition National Peasants Party of maintaining links to supporters of the prewar fascistic Iron Guard now living in the United States and Canada.

They charged that Iron Guard supporters in North America sent tons of anti-Semitic literature and pamphlets to Romania recently.

Jewish community leaders said they had unofficially asked the customs authorities to seize openly racist material coming into the country, especially from North America. The deposed Communist government of Nicolae Ceausescu did not sanction publication of Iron Guard literature.

Most of it appeared to have been printed in Detroit by former supporters of the late Archbishop Valerian Trifa, who headed the Romanian Orthodox Church in the United States.

The Romanian-born Trifa, an Iron Guardist and Nazi collaborator, led the first pogrom against Jews in Bucharest in 1941. It was one of the bloodiest events of the Holocaust.

Trifa was stripped of his U.S. citizenship and deported after his Nazi past was revealed. He died in Portugal, never tried for any crimes.

Jews here charged that Peasants Party publications, which include more than a dozen daily newspapers, published anti-Jewish barbs and innuendos during the election campaign, aimed at Front leaders of Jewish origin.

For example, Front ideologist Silviu Brucan, a Jew, was attacked on the eve of Election Day for being neo-Communist and of “foreign origin.”

MANY JEWS IN SALVATION FRONT

There are Jews and people of Jewish origin in the top ranks of the National Salvation Front.

Many, though not Jewish, have close ties to the Jewish community, which they helped during Ceausescu’s long reign. Prime Minister Petre Roman’s father and grandfather were Jewish, which accounts for some of his campaign posters being pasted over with Stars of David and slogans such as “Roman the Jew.”

President Ion Iliescu’s second-in-command, Gelu Voican-Voiculescu, is not Jewish but nevertheless a keen student of Jewish culture, including the Talmud. He is known from television as the man with a small white beard and khaki uniform who conducted Ceausescu’s trial and oversaw his execution and burial.

Despite the ongoing turmoil, he made a point this year of attending the second seder at the table of Romania’s chief rabbi, Moses Rosen, and dutifully recited the Haggadah.

Another prominent member of the regime who is close to the Jewish community, though not a Jew, is Aurel Dragos Volcan, Romania’s ambassador to the United Nations.

A former law professor believed slated to become foreign minister, Volcan has one of the country’s largest private libraries of Judaica, consisting of about 6,000 volumes. At the beginning of the anti-Communist uprising last December, Volcan showed up at Rosen’s home, offering to post army guards at Jewish institutions.

Although the best-known Jew in the government is Deputy Prime Minister Brucan, two others who hold ministerial portfolios are Aurel Darius Muntean and Paul Cornea.

But those are not the only reasons Jews voted for the Salvation Front. They told JTA that Iliescu gave them a sense of stability. They also said living standards have already improved.

Jews were also acutely sensitive to the personality differences between Iliescu and his rival, Ion Ratiu, the 72-year-old businessman who heads the Peasant Party.

Iliescu, a short, squat man, campaigned in his shirt sleeves and seemed to most Romanians, including the country’s 20,000 acknowledged Jews, to be a guarantee against unknown and possibly dangerous political adventures.

Ratiu, who lived the last 50 years in Britain, where he made a fortune in shipping, speaks with a faint British accent and invariably appeared in a silk suit and polka-dot bow tie. He is a living caricature of the prewar landed aristocracy, which was the cradle of Romanian anti-Semitism.

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