On October 8, the eve of Yom Kippur, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis announced plans for the country’s first Holocaust museum.
The announcement comes 16 years after Romania first acknowledged its role in the Shoah, following a decades-long cover-up under the communist regimes of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej and his successor, Nicolae Ceaușescu. Many countries under the USSR had similar policies of denying complicity, although Romania, while occupied by Soviets for years, was not a part of the Soviet Union.
The museum, which Reuters reports will place an emphasis on Romanian Jewish history and culture, will be overseen by the Elie Wiesel Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, a government organization named for of one of the country’s most notable survivors.
The museum will occupy an 8,000 square-meter building in Bucharest constructed by a tire company between 1943 and 1946. In the first year of its construction, Romania was allied with the Germans; the country switched sides in 1944, when the Red Army arrived on its doorstep.
A year after Romania acknowledged its complicity in Nazi mass exterminations, an international commission headed by Wiesel, who died in 2016, found that between 750,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews were killed in Romania or territories held by Romania in the 1940s, many during pogroms.
Some of these massacres were orchestrated by Romania’s homegrown anti-Semitic movement, the Iron Guard, but those with the heaviest toll came courtesy of Romanian dictator Ion Antonescu, who began his campaign by instructing his army to purge the Jewish population of the city of Iași in 1941, leading to the deaths of over 10,000 Jews. The regions of Bessarabiaand Bukovina saw similar numbers perish that same year during German and Romanian forced deportations of Jews to the Transnistria concentration camps. In Transnistria, some 90,000 more died.
“The history of Jewish Romanians, their contribution to the country’s development and the tragedy experienced during the war… represent a legacy which was hidden from us for decades,” Iohannis said in remarks Tuesday, according to German news outlet Deutsche Welle. The speech was delivered to leaders of the local Jewish community, members of the Wiesel Institute and Holocaust survivors.
Romania’s current Jewish population hovers between 8,000 and 10,000, a fraction of its pre-war total of 750,000. In 2018, Wiesel’s childhood home was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti, prompting the Romanian Foreign Affairs Ministry to condemn “anti-Semitic gestures,” as well as any behavior that “promotes intolerance and xenophobia.”
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org