The “Holocaust Cellar,” the first Shoah education center in Romania, will be launched on Sunday in the Romanian city of Sighet, where Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel was born in 1928.
The Cellar will be a new feature of the Holocaust museum in Wiesel’s former home, in the courtyard of the old Jewish Ghetto and will serve as a place of study dedicated to the 13,000 local Holocaust victims.
“I am honored and deeply moved that my cherished home in Sighet has become a place Romanians and others can learn about the crimes of the Holocaust, and how the Jewish community was wiped out,” said Wiesel. “The opening of the Holocaust Cellar supports my life’s efforts to ensure that humanity never forgets the evil that took place there and throughout Europe.”
The opening is sponsored jointly by the Romanian government, the City of Sighet, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the Romanian Jewish Federation and Limmud FSU.
This is the first in a series of events that will mark 70 years since the expulsion of the last Jews of northern Transylvania to Auschwitz. Among the events this weekend will be a concert memorializing Holocaust victims on Saturday night.
In 1944, two days after Passover, the Jews of Maramures County, in northern Transylvania, were rounded up and forced into 13 ghettos. Eventually, 131,639 Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and most were murdered.
Between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews died during the Holocaust in Romania and the territories under its control. An additional 135,000 Romanian Jews living under Hungarian control in northern Transylvania also perished in the Holocaust, as did some 5,000 Romanian Jews in other countries.
“The story of the Jews who lived in north Transylvania has not been widely told until now, and we’re proud to help begin this next chapter,” said Chaim Chesler, chairman of the Memory Committee of the Claims Conference. “The education center commemorates the terrible fate that befell the Jews of this area, and ensures their story will not be forgotten.”
Among those participating in the weekend events will be Romanian Religious Affairs Minister Viktor Opaschi, Deputy Education Minister Irina Cajal, Sighet Mayor Ovidiu Nemesh, Romanian Chief Rabbi Rafael Sheffer and Cantor Yosef Adler, Harry Marcus, head of the Sighet Jewish community, Ben Helfgott, vice president of the Claims Conference and a leader in the British Holocaust survivor community, members of Limmud FSU and prominent journalists.
Wiesel, perhaps the world’s most famous Holocaust survivor and the author of 57 books, will be interviewed from the United States in a video link-up. His best-known book, Night, is based on his experiences in the Auschwitz, Buna and Buchenwald camps.
The Nobel Committee, in awarding him the peace prize in 1986, called him a “messenger to mankind,” saying that through his struggle to come to terms with “his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler’s death camps” as well as his “practical work in the cause of peace,” Wiesel had delivered a powerful message “of peace, atonement and human dignity” to humanity.
He and his wife, Marion, established the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity soon after he received the Nobel prize, “to combat indifference, intolerance and injustice through international dialogues and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding and equality.”