Wiesenthal Center criticizes Peres

President thanks Romania for saving Jews; doesn't condemn WWII deeds.

Peres 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Peres 311
(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 Friday.
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 Antonescu.
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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 Holocaust historian.
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.
Before returning 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 Holocaust.
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 emphasized.
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.