Monday, Focsani, Romania
Yesterday, we arrived in Focsani, Romania. We are traveling with another couple involved in ministry. Our goal is to get a good grasp of the pre- and post-Holocaust Jewish communities in Romania.
When Elie Wiesel died last year, I was reading his obituary and discovered that he was Romanian. I also learned about the Wiesel Commission. Here, from Wikipedia, is the core of the findings:
International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, which was established by former President Ion Iliescu in October 2003 to research and create a report on the actual history of the Holocaust in Romania and make specific recommendations for educating the public on the issue. The Commission, which was led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel as well as Jean Ancel, released its report in late 2004. The Romanian government recognized the report’s findings and acknowledged the deliberate participation in the Holocaust by the World War II Romanian regime led by Ion Antonescu. The report assessed that between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews were murdered or died under the supervision and as a result of the deliberate policies of Romanian civilian and military authorities. Over 11,000 Romani were also killed. The Wiesel Commission report also documented pervasive anti-Semitism and violence against Jews in Romania before World War II, when Romania’s Jewish population was among the largest in Europe.
This was a huge revelation, as the true history of the Holocaust in Romania had been suppressed during the communist period, and few Romanians were aware of the extent of involvement in the Holocaust by Antonescu and many others in the military, government, and broader society.
By studying the history of Focsani, we learned that there used to be 8 synagogues and 3 cemeteries. In 1899, the Jewish community comprised 25% of the population. As of 2004, there are 70 Jewish people in Focsani.
Only one of the synagogues remains and it is the one pictured above. The cemeteries are now lost. The tombstones from one of the cemeteries were placed engraving side down and used as steps for one of the churches!
Why is it important for us to know and see these places and events? We are in Romania regularly to tape our television shows and also hold conferences. It is important for us to know the people, their history, and the history of the Jewish Romanians who now live in Israel.
It is a very hard, sad history, but we are glad to know it and help to make sure it isn’t forgotten.
Later this week, Baruch will be teaching a conference in Constanta, Romania.