(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Simon Wiesenthal Center criticized President Shimon Peres for failing to
condemn Romania for its role in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews
during the Holocaust in a speech he made while visiting the country on
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In 2004, a historical commission set up to study Romania during
this period found that the country was responsible for the deaths of 280,000
Jews and 11,000 Roma during the war under the regime of pro-Nazi Marshal Ion
Efraim Zuroff, director of the center in Israel, issued a
statement hinting that Peres should have mentioned this.
“His failure to
condemn the horrific crimes of the Antonescu regime against the Jewish people
are likely to have very dire consequences, especially in Romania and elsewhere
in Eastern Europe, where there is a growing tendency in post-Communist societies
to deny or minimize the highly significant role played by local Nazi
collaborators in the annihilation of the Jews,” said Zuroff, who is also a
During that time, Romanian administrators allowed
the nation to become “a gigantic killing field for Jews,” said Zuroff, whose
center is the world’s major Nazi-hunting organization.
to Israel on Friday, Peres, accompanied by an Israel Air Force delegation headed
by its chief, Maj-Gen.
Ido Nehushtan, visited the new monument erected in
Bucharest in memory of the 400,000 Romanian Jews who perished during the
Peres laid a huge blue and white wreath in Israel’s national
colors at the site and stated that the monument represented historical anguish
over the loss of Romanian Jews during the Holocaust which he called the darkest,
unparalleled period in history.
Peres acknowledged that dealing with
history was not an easy task. On one hand, Romania had played host to a
relatively large Jewish population, had allowed Jewish life to flourish and had
permitted Holocaust survivors to leave Romania and participate in the creation
and building of the State of Israel. On the other hand, during World War II,
Romania not only permitted but aided and abetted the murder of tens of thousands
of Jews on its soil.
But the Romania of today is different, Peres
Today it is a democratic country with a government that is
fiercely opposed to any form of anti-Semitism, he said. Peres also lauded the
Romanian authorities for taking responsibility for Romanian atrocities during
the war, and declared present-day Romania to be a true friend of Israel. Peres
made it clear that while recognizing the transformation of Romania, Israel and
the Jewish people would never forget the prewar glory of Romanian Jewry, nor the
agonies that Jews suffered during the war. Israel would not forget the bitter
lessons that were learned from that era, he said.