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Ceremony in Bucharest Pays Tribute to Romanian Jews Killed 50 Years Ago

An international array of government officials, diplomats, Jewish leaders and religious figures gathered Monday in the Romanian capital of Bucharest to pay tribute on a grand scale to the thousands of Jews who were tortured, deported or executed there beginning on this day 50 years ago.

Representatives of the governments of Romania, the United States, Germany and Israel took part in the ceremonies at the Choral Synagogue, the center of Romanian Jewish life.

The impressive turnout was an apparent show of unity against anti-Semites in Romania, who have come out in force in the past few months, producing anti-Semitic articles in the mainstream media and threatening the country’s chief rabbi, Moses Rosen.

It was a way of telling the Romanian government, which recently restored the name of wartime despot Ion Antonescu, that Jews will not allow the resurgence of anti-Semitism and will bring the attention of the entire world to bear if troubles should arise for the Jews there.

Among the hundreds in attendance were Richard Schifter, assistant U.S. secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs; Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Zvi Mazel, Israeli ambassador to Romania; Zevulun Hammer, Israeli minister of education; and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, a native of Sighet, a legendary Jewish city in northern Romania.

Also present was Patriarch Pectist, head of the Romanian Orthodox Church.

Rabbi Rosen made perhaps his most strident speech, unabashedly reminding the Romanians of their anti-Semitic past.

‘YOU KILLED US AND YOU MURDERED US’

Reviewing the history of Romania’s Jews and their relationship to the country’s non-Jews. he called out emotionally, “You killed us and you murdered us, and then you silenced us. Why not say it clearly and openly now?”

In front of the synagogue, a 10-foot bronze menorah on a stone pedestal was unveiled. Its inscription boldly states that Romanians bear equal responsibility with the Nazis for killing Jews during the Holocaust.

The inscription says that “the 400,000 Jews of Romania were killed during the Holocaust by the fascists, the Germans, the Romanians and the Hungarians,” Amir Shaviv, spokesman for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, reported in a telephone call from Bucharest.

A military ceremony accompanied the unveiling, with a Romanian military band playing.

Romanian President Ion Iliescu was not present, called to Prague to take part in the official dismantling of the Warsaw Pact. But he issued a powerful statement on the occasion, which was read by the president of the Romanian Senate, Alexandru Birladeanu.

Iliescu recognized the responsibility of the Romanian people to some of the murderous events of the Holocaust. He expressed “our homage to the Jewish martyrs, victims of fascism.”

“The attempt to physically exterminate a whole people, the Jewish people, can be reckoned among the greatest crimes of history,” he said.

The ceremony marked the 50th anniversary of anti-Semitic measures enacted by the Nazis and their collaborators on July 1, 1941.

The pro-Nazi Bucharest government, which had been seeking to make Jews the scapegoats for the failure of the Romanian-German forces to make progress in their invasion of adjacent Soviet Bessarabia, executed 500 Jews in the city of Iasi. Some 12,000 Jews are believed to have been killed in the pogroms that followed.

A ceremony was scheduled for Tuesday in Iasi, a Moldavian city previously renowned as the birthplace of Yiddish theater.

U.S. MONITORING RIGHTS SITUATION

U.S. Secretary of State James Baker sent a strong message of support for Romanian Jewry, which was read at Monday’s ceremony in Bucharest by U.S. Ambassador Allan Green Jr.

In the statement, Baker said the United States is following events in Romania closely, including the treatment of religious minorities.

“Respect for human rights and democracy are some of the criteria on which the United States will judge the developments in Romania,” he said in the statement.

Assistant Secretary Schifter spoke of anti-Semitism as a “mental illness.” But he said that when it becomes widespread, “there is reason for concern, reason to fear the damage it could do to the entire body politic of a country.”

Cardin of the Conference of Presidents said it is “the sacred duty of the Jewish people to remember” and to “warn against the repetition of atrocities against the Jews.”

Rabbi Arthur Schneier of New York’s Park East Synagogue and founder of the ecumenical Appeal of Conscience Foundation, said, “Scapegoating and Jew-baiting will not help resolve the serious issues facing the Romanian people.”

Raymond Epstein, vice president of the Joint Distribution Committee, brought greetings on behalf of the humanitarian agency, which has virtually sustained the Romanian Jewish community for the past 40 years.

And Nobel Peace laureate Wiesel said, “The Jewish people lost about 1.5 million children. How many Nobel prize winners were among those children?

“Some of them might have discovered the cure for cancer. Others might have enriched us with inventions,” he said. “And all that is lost in the Holocaust.”

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