American Jewish leaders are watching to see whether the new Romanian president follows up on his predecessor’s moves to finally confront the nation’s Holocaust crimes. Recently uncovered Romanian legal journals -- shielded from public view for the sixty years following the fall of the Nazi government in Romania -- point to the deep Nazi collaboration of then-King Michael.
Outgoing President Ion Iliescu two months ago admitted for the first time that as many as 380,000 Jews died at the hands of Romanian authorities as he accepted a historic report by the Commission on the Holocaust in Romania.
But recently, Iliescu’s prime minister, Adrian Nastase, lost the presidential election to the center-right mayor of Bucharest, Traian Basescu.
Leaders of the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith and the U.S. Holocaust Museum – who worked with Iliescu to reverse 60 years of Holocaust denial in Romania – hope his bold initiative will go forward.
“Part of the negotiations with President Iliescu were that he publicly accept the Commission’s recommendations,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee.
“But we know of other cases where Romania has said very positive things but has been lacking in follow-through.”
Key recommendations were to build a national Holocaust memorial and to record the name of every victim. The Commission was chaired by Nobel Laureate and Romanian native Elie Wiesel.
Dr. Radu Ioanid of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington said the group knew it was “vital to finish the report before Iliescu’s term was up” to ensure it’s initial acceptance. Now, he said, Holocaust education has to spread to the populace.
Daniel Mariaschin, B’nai B’rith’s International vice president, agreed, saying: “We’ve had generations of Romanians who never learned the truth of what happened. There were nearly 850,000 Jews there in 1940; now, it’s about 11,000. In another 20 years, there will be very few people around to tell the story.”
Another hot issue involves restitution for Jews who lost property. Baker said Romania actually has a strong law requiring restitution, but implementation has proved difficult.
Ironically, at the same time President Iliescu was accepting the Holocaust report, he was pushing property compensation for ex-King Michael, who was put on his throne by pro-Nazi General Ion Antonescu. The ex-king, still alive and living in Switzerland, actively collaborated with Hitler and wrote him congratulatory notes on his military victories. After the Nazi’s put him on the throne, the king issued decrees confiscating all Jewish properties; outlawing the rental or leasing of Romanian drugstore properties to Jews; segregating all Jewish school children from “regular” Romanian children and banning Jewish lawyers from signing legal documents or pleading in court except for state-approved Jewish clients. On September 14, 1941, the king signed an order making Romania an official “Legionnaire Country” – read Nazi-owned. That same day the dictator Antonescu made King Michael a general in the Romanian Army.
The ex-King’s defenders like to say that Michael was then a young man in his 20’s and ought not to be held accountable for his actions. Yet, the King of Denmark was two years younger than Michael at the time and stood by his Jewish subjects by defiantly wearing a Star of David.
Remarkably, a few months ago out-going Romanian President Iliescu got cabinet approval to pay $20 million to Michael, who left Romania in 1947 after two years of cooperation with the Soviets. But the royal deal was rejected by the Romanian legislature, and it remains to be seen if the new administration will revive it.
The ex-King is also embroiled in a potential scandal involving his son-in-law, a slick effete former Romanian actor named Radu Duda, who married the King’s daughter Margarita a few years ago and has assumed considerable regal airs and refers to himself as “Prince Radu." (Radu Duda is known to his detractors in Europe as “Zippedy Duda”)
The German royal family the House of Hohenzollern has branded Duda an imposter and threatened in recent weeks to take him to court to strip him of the title “Prince Radu von Hohenzollern” which he used, for example, when posing for the “Royalty Issue” of Vanity Fair magazine two years ago.
According to Royalty Monthly magazine, Prince Frederick Wilhelm, head of the Hohenzollerns, denies Duda’s claim that he was given the rank by special decree. Critics charge that Duda has used the title “for personal monetary gain,” as well as to befriend England’s Prince Charles and to get himself appointed to sensitive NATO committees.
Royalty Monthly also reported that Duda “is alleged to have had the rank of lieutenant in the Secret Police” during Romania’s notoriously brutal communist era.