New Statue of Nazi Collaborator Sparks Concern for Romania’s Jews

A memorial to a Romanian Nazi collaborator has been erected near Bucharest to the dismay of Jewish groups, who fear the emergence of a wave of anti-Semitism in Romania.

At least one statue of wartime despot Ion Antonescu has been seen near the capital in recent weeks.

During Antonescu’s dictatorial rule, from 1940 to 1944, more than 250,000 Jews died in territories controlled by Romania.

Antonescu’s precise role in these deaths has been debated for years, but Jewish groups agree that Antonescu, who was executed in Romania as a war criminal in 1946, cared little — if at all — about his country’s Jews.

“The Jewish population is deeply worried and concerned” about the increasing xenophobic and anti-Semitic displays, Chief Rabbi Moses Rosen, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania, said in a statement.

The chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Miles Lerman, presented Jewish concerns to Romanian Ambassador Aurel Munteanu in a meeting here last week.

“I have met with the ambassador to express our concern about the re-idolizing of Ion Antonescu,” Lerman said after the meeting.

Several streets and squares throughout Romania have been dedicated to Antonescu in recent years, sparking fears among the approximately 17,000 Jews in the country that anti-Semitism was on the rise on a widespread scale.

One statue, erected in the town of Slobozia near Bucharest, is of particular concern because it was financed by local police and supported by at least one right-wing politician in the Romanian government.

‘KEEP UP THE PRESSURE’ ON ROMANIA

Jewish groups have not charged Romanian President Ion Iliescu with responsibility for the statue, although they would like him to do more to combat anti-Semitism.

“We don’t question or accuse President Iliescu of any support of the statue. He just hasn’t done enough so far” in denouncing it, said George Spectre, associate director for international, governmental, and Israel affairs at B’nai B’rith.

Washington sources also believe that the Romanian government should do more to disassociate itself from anti-Semitic activity. What the administration might do, if anything, to curb such activity in Romania is unclear.

Alfred Moses, vice president of the American Jewish Committee, voiced his concerns directly to Iliescu two days before the statue near Bucharest was erected and was reassured it was not going to be put up.

“We ought to keep up the pressure,” Moses said.

The memorial’s erection on Oct. 22 came one day after Congress voted to grant most-favored-nation status to Romania, thereby giving the country certain trade privileges. Congress is known to take human rights activity into account when deciding a country’s trade status.

But observers here discounted talk of any link between the congressional vote and the appearance of the statue.

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