Romanian Jews reacted with outrage Tuesday to news of the appointment of a controversial left-wing legislator who has previously been accused of Holocaust denial to a ministerial position. Senator Dan Sova was announced as minister for parliamentary relations.
The politican declared in an interview in March that “no Jew suffered on Romanian territory, thanks to Marshal Antonescu”, shortly after becoming spokesman for the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD). He added in the televised exchange that “historical data show(s) that a total of 24 Jews were killed during the last pogrom by the German army”.
Despite close ally Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta distancing his party from the comments, insisting they were not in line with official policy, this latest appointment has ruffled feathers of Jewish communal figures in the country, whose wartime authoritarian leader Ion Antonescu is renowned to have colluded with Nazi Germany.
Although Ponta removed Sova from his role as spokesman in response and sent him to America for an educational visit to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, declaring at the time that “all those who have a wrong perception of history should see for themselves the reality, the evidence, the photos”, Sova notably declined to apologise for his comments. Holocaust denial is a criminal offence under Romania law.
President of the Jewish Community in Bucharest, Erwin Simensohn, said Romanian Jewry were “infuriated” by this latest instance of whitewashing Romania’s collusionist past. “Only in Romania can you deny the Holocaust and then be appointed as a government minister,” he raged.
Slamming the PSD’s move to send the senator to Washington to correct his rhetoric as “completely naive”, he added: “As far as we are concerned, this is unacceptable. We are loyal to Romania, and we will work with any government. We will make every effort to support projects that are beneficial to Romania. But we won’t sit idly by when a person like that is appointed as minister.”
Historians estimate that between 13,000-15,000 Jews were killed in a single pogrom by the German army in the Romanian city of Iasi in 1941 in one of the worst lone massacres of the Holocaust. According to an international historians’ commission headed by Nobel Prize winning author Elie Wiesel, between 280,000-380,000 eastern European Jews died in Romania and its territories during the Second World War.
The Centre for Monitoring and Combatting Anti-Semitism in Romania described Sova’s appointment as “an affront made to the memory of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust”.
Between 1940-1942 80 anti-Jewish regulations were passed by the Iron Guard in Romania, at the start of a virulent anti-Jewish campaign that involved the torture and beating of Jews and looting of their businesses. Antonescu himself ordered the mass deportation of Jews in 1941, although many were in fact instantly killed on home turf.
The Wiesel Commission found that despite the fact that at least 290,000 Romanian Jews survived the Holocaust, they were subsequently subjected to a wide range of harsh conditions, including forced labour, financial penalties, and discriminatory laws, which led to mass emigration after WWII, primarily to the newly-formed State of Israel. According to the Wiesel Commission: “Of all the allies of Nazi Germany, (Romania was responsible) for the deaths of more Jews than any country other than Germany itself.”