Monday, October 5, 2009

Romania: Holocaust Monument to be Dedicated in Bucharest

Romania: Holocaust Monument to be Dedicated in Bucharest
by Samuel D. Gruber

The Government of Romania has announced that a Romanian National Holocaust Memorial will be dedicated in central Bucharest on Thursday, October 8, on the occasion of Holocaust Commemoration Day. The memorial, designed by artist Peter Jacobi, will commemorate the hundreds of thousands of Jews, Roma and other Romanian victims of the Nazis and their Romanian allies and collaborators.

The erection of the monument was announced several years ago as a result of intense criticism of Romanian government leaders' denial that there had been a Holocaust in Romania, and their efforts to distance past Romanian governments from Jewish and Roma suffering. Under Communism and in the post-Communism years official policy was that the Germans were the perpetrators of the Holocaust, and that Romanian leader Antonescu was not involved, this despite the destructive policies of Anotonescu's regime.

As a result, an international commission headed by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, was established to provide the factual basis for Romania to re-evaluate this period of its history - a history which has been frequent neglected, distorted or denied during the decades of Communist rule. Wiesel is a native of the town of Sighet, now part of Romania.

One result of the Commission's recommendations, included in the its 400-page report, is that President Traian Basescu laid the cornerstone for the new memorial in 2006. He is expected to attend the dedication of the near-complete monument this week, together with Holocaust survivors and dignitaries from several countries.

The Romania Ministry of Culture, Religious Affairs and National Heritage described the monument as "a contemporary expression of a memorial, the bearer of a message, a visible sign, an active space with which the public can interact freely." It consists of five symbolic sculptures symbolizing representing the suffering of Jews and Roma. There is a central memorial site and two installations using Jewish gravestones that from local cemeteries that had been desecrated. Attending the dedication from the United States will be Warren Miller, Chairman of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, and Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of International Affairs of the American Jewish Committee, who also serves as the OSCE representative on combating anti-Semitism.

Previous Monument Erected by Jewish Community in 1991

Until now, the only other monument to Holocaust victims in Bucharest is a memorial erected in 1991 by the Jewish community in front of the Choral Synagogue, the center of Romania’s Jewish communal life.

At that time, in a public ceremony, Romania’s chief rabbi and other representatives of Jewish groups publicly denounced the Romanian involvement in massacres of Jews during the Holocaust, and the country’s subsequent silence about the matter.
The ceremony took place in the wake many anti-Semitic episodes following the fall of dictator Nicolai Ceacescu.

The inscription on the monument, which was erected in front of the Bucharest’s Choral Synagogue, explicitly refers to “German, Romanian and Hungarian fascists” as the perpetrators of the murders of 400,000 Romanian Jews.

The stark bronze monument, in the form of a giant menorah set on a marble base, was unveiled to the accompaniment of a military band. Separate from the main monument, along a wall flanking the forecourt where the monument stands, is a listing of the various places of death and the numbers of people killed in each place. At that time, Elie Wiesel unveiled the plaque commemorating the murder of 150,000 Jews in Transylvania, where he was born.

Weisel was quoted in the New York Times as saying “I address my words to the leaders of this country. I hope you know that your representatives have great difficulties in the world to mobilize sympathy, political and economic support for you. Your image is not the best. You must know that. You must know that unless these anti-Semites are shamed in society, you will suffer. You will be isolated.

Neither the Romanian president nor prime minister attended the event, though both sent word of sympathy and support.

18 years later, this week's ceremony is intended to rectify the situation. It remains to be seen whether this will be merely a temporary symbolic gesture, or whether it will have lasting meaning in Romania.

Other Monuments in Romania

There are several other monuments to Holocaust victims scattered through Romania. A prominent figural monument to the deported in Dej by sculptor Izsák Márton was erected in the 1980s or earlier. Few other monuments, however, appear to be prominently sited. Several are in Jewish cemeteries. These include a memorial to the deported in Cluj and a monument at the cemetery in Podul Iloaei, to those who died on the Death Train from Iasi. There are no longer any Jews in this town but the cemetery and monument are well maintained. There is also a monument to the victims of the Iasi Death Train in the Jewish cemetery in Roman.

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