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PAGE 10A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 31, 2014 r Romania has come a long way on Holocaust remembrance, but denial persists Flash90 Romanian President Traian Basescu, left, and Israeli President Shimon Peres reviewing an honor guard in Jerusalem, Jan. 20, 2014. By Cnaan Liphshiz BUCHAREST, Romania (JTA--Touring the U.S. Ho- locaust Memorial Museum in 2005, Romanian President Traian Basescu was unpre- pared to confront some pain- ful truths. Facing a photograph show- ing pro-Nazi Romanian troops offloading their Jewish coun- trymen from cargo trains, Basescu was shocked and saddened. For decades, his country's educational sys- tem had obscured the truth of Romanian complicity in the deaths of their Jewish countrymen. Now here he was in Wash- ington seeing hard evidence to the contrary. "For over 50 years of communism, we have been taught that Romania did not do that, that this was not real, that we were not involved in the Holocaust," Basescu told JTA in an in- terview at the presidential palace Friday ahead of a three-day visit to Israel. "Yet there I was, facing reality." A former senior official in the merchant marine un- der the communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, Basescu, 62, wrapped up his three-day visit to Israel on Tuesday. In the region he met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority Presi- dent Mahmoud Abbas. But itwas the visit to Wash- ington nine years ago that convinced Basescu to ramp up Holocaust commemoration efforts. Under his leadership, Romania has owned up to its Holocaust record more directly than ever--progress that has facilitated its integra- tion into the European Union and helped forge lucrative ties with Israel. The same year as his visit, Romania set up the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of Holocaust. Since the institute's establish- ment, more than 100 schools have launched Holocaust education programs, several national monuments have been erected, an official me- morial day was designated and laws were passed on restituting lost Jewish property. Yet failures in the restitu- tion of property and persistent Holocaust denial--even in academia and government-- have tarnished the country's reputation and threaten to eclipse the efforts by Romania to correct the effects of Ceaus- escu's denial policy. "Most Romanians believe the Holocaust happened, but many still think Romanians did not perpetrate it," Liviu Rotman, a historian at the University of Bucharest, told JTA. "To them it was the Hungarians or the Germans, but never Romanians, despite a wealth of evidence." Some 750,000 Jews lived in Romania prior to the Ho- locaust; approximately half were killed. Romanian troops also were responsible for the massacre of tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews in Transnis- tria, the Romanian name for Ukrainian territory occupied by Romania during the war. In 2012, a politician who denied that Jews had suf- fered in Romania during the Holocaust was appointed to a ministerial post despite protests by Jewish groups. The politician, Dan Sova, later apologized and said his statement was the result of ignorance. A few months later, a Romanian member of the European Parliament denied the Holocaust on television. The following year, a promi- nent historian said it was a "huge lie" that large numbers of Jews were killed in areas under Romania control dur- ing the Holocaust, leading to his firing from a teaching post at a German university. And last month, a Romanian state television channel was fined for broadcasting a Christmas carol celebrating the burning of Jews. Romania has paid a price internationally for the inci- dents. The United States and Israel condemned the Christ- mas carol episode. And last year, the Ukrainian Jewish Committee cited Romania's supposed refusal to acknowl- edge responsibility for the killings of Ukrainian Jews in opposing its bid to chair the International Holocaust Re- membrance Alliance, a con- sortium of some 30 countries including the U.S. and Israel. One Ukrainian Jewish Committee official told JTA in October that the objec- tion might evaporate were Romania to donate money to support Ukrainian Jewish causes. The American Jewish Committee supports Roma- nia's bid. In the interview, Basescu made no attempt to minimize the problem. "Mistakes are still being made in statements and dec- larations today and must be criticized in a much stronger way than praises about the positive developments," Bas- escu said. "The positive de- velopments are normal, they must be done. But the errors, especially by politicians, must be stigmatized." But Basescu's own record with racism is not immacu- late. He has apologized re- peatedly for a 2007 incident in which he was heard on tape calling an aggressive journalist a "stinking gypsy." In the interview, Basescu makes a point of noting that his commemoration efforts are also for "that other minor- ity affected in the Holocaust, the Roma." On restitution, Romania's record also is not without blemish. The country has given the 10cal Jewish Com- munity the equivalent of $33 million in cash and stock, a sum that represents a fraction of the hundreds of millions in assets stolen from the Jewish community that the state has promised to return. "Over the past year, there has been a slowdown in resti- tution connected to economic problems in Romania," said Nachliel Dison, the acting director general of the World Jewish Restitution Organi- zation. "So the government is giving us the runaround, bogging down the process in court and negotiations to reduce the payment due." Basescu said his country may have been overly confi- dent when it undertook res- titution obligations just prior to a real-estate market crash in the first quarter of 2013. But the Romanian leader said he remains committed to returning actual confiscated property--not a monetary substitute--but perhaps only once the economy recovers a little. "It is an extremely difficult process," Basescu said, "but it is our ambition to apply this principle." Despite low unemployment figures, Romania is one of the European Union's poorest members and suffers from a drain of skilled labor. One way of improving the economy, Basescu said, is through trade with Israel, an exchange that last year reached $400 million. On the Israel trip, Basescu said he hoped to consolidate Romania's ties to Israel, par- ticularly in scientific fields, and connect to the 500,000 Romanian speakers in Isra- el-one of the largest Roma- nian Diasporas in the world. Some of them are child- hood friends who visited with Basescu in 2009 during his last presidential visit. "They come to see me at the hotel," Basescu said, "and we catch up." MLK Day: Recalling an early Zionist protest against racism By Rafael Medoff JNS.org For American Jews, the birthday of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is an occasion to recall the impres- sive Jewish contributions to the movement for African- American civil rights--from Jewish Freedom Riders such as Schwerner and Goodman, to the rabbis who marched with Dr. King, to the Jewish attorneys who spearheaded the NAACP's legal battles against discrimination. It may surprise some to learn that one of the earliest Jewish protests against rac- ism in America was lodged more than half a century before Rosa Parks and Bull Connor--by the militant Zionist leader Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky. The year was 1910. Jabo- tinsky was just beginning to emerge as one of the most dynamic young leaders in the Russian Jewish com- munity and the early Zionist movement. His articles in the Russian and Jewish press were attracting a following and provoking debate. As an essayist, philosopher, and poet, Jabotinsky cast his eye on a wide array of topics, beginningwith Jewish affairs but often ranging much fur- ther. On July 18, 1910, in the pages of the Russian periodi- cal Odesskie Novsoti, he fixed his gaze upon a remarkable event in far-off America. His article was titled "Homo Homini Lupus," or "Man is As a Wolf to Other Men," an allusion to a Roman proverb about human cru- elty. The excerpts that follow were provided by Jabotinsky scholar Yisrael Medad, of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.  Development Corporation for Israel  Israel Bonds Largo, Florida 33773 Reva Pearlstein Monica DiGiovanni A  sitant Director Re gifeed Repr e.:,etatve 727-539-6445  800-622-8017 t a m p a.,isr celbond .com v, ww. r ael bond ..ca rn The event that seized Jabotinsky's attention was a July 4 boxing match in Reno, Nevada, between Jack Johnson and Jack Jeffries. Johnson was the reigning heavyweight champion of the world, and only the second African-American to hold that title. Jeffries, who was white, had been heavyweight champion previously but had refused to fight Johnson and retired. Now, in 1910, Jeffries came out of retirement for what was billed as the Fight of the Century. Throughout the country, excited crowds gathered outside the offices of local newspapers, to hear the blow-by-blow read aloud from the teletype machine. What shocked Jabotinsky was what happened after the fight. Johnson knocked Jeffries down twice, and in the 15th round, Jeffries threw in the towel. Within hours, white mobs were attacking blacks in more than 50 cit- ies around the country. At least 20 people were killed in the riots. "Since it was the black man that won and there was a suspicion that other blacks in the land would feel proud, the white citizens of the great republic could not tolerate this," Jabotinsky wrote. "They sought to quash black pride and fell upon blacks in a proportion of 50-to-1, smashed heads, trampled people and acted cruelly even to women and children." He quoted press reports describing how in some cit- ies, African-Americans "were ripped to pieces and hundreds were injured and crushed." In the South, "where the difference between blacks and whites is more strongly pronounced, the number of blacks that were hurt prob- ably has reached several thousand." Jabotinsky emphasized that the violence had not oc- curred in a vacuum. It took place against a backdrop of systematic discrimination and mistreatment. "In the United States, the most free republic on earth, there are ten million citizens suffering a shocking lack of rights simply because of the color of their skin," he wrote. Jabotinsky was outraged that although nearly 50 years had passed since slavery was abolished, there remained a pervasive inequality that was more severe than "anywhere else in the cultured world, even if also we included in this flexible definition Russia and Romania... Theaters are closed to the black man, as are hotels, railway cars, and schools. He is assigned spe- cial railway cars and narrow, separate compartments on trains. Schools for black chil- dren are cheaply constructed, inadequate, and dirty. The political rights of the 'free and equal' black citizen are non-existent." Moreover, voting proce- dures in the South had been rigged to keep blacks from participating. "This system is fixed, permanently, and is practiced before the entire world. The president and congress know about this and no one would even think to shrug his shoulders, for such is the system, accepted as it is as part of matters of state," Jabotinsky wrote. Jabotinsky also noted the irony that many white men, "even the most extreme of the south, place their chil- dren without compunction in the care of a black nanny and will eat heartily in a restaurant with that nanny next to him feeding his child. But if a black woman would enter there and sit at a table in the corner oppo- site, as an equal, the white man will raise a ruckus. He will gather around a crowd, announce a boycott of the eatery, break some windows and will assault the uppity black woman. This is not a physical aversion, but a con- scious refusal to recognize The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies Ze'ev Jabotinsky the member of the other race as a person." "So very wise was the philosopher who proclaimed Homo Homini Lupus, that a man acts towards his fellow- man worse than does a wolf," Jabotinsky concluded. "For in America, there is plain and simple hate of one race against another--a devious hate, right before our eyes, arbitrary, without reason and without cause." Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The DavidS. Wyman Insti- tute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C., and coau- thor, with Chaim I. Waxman, of the "Historical Dictionary of Zionism."