Professor Felicia Waldman (PhD 2001) who is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Letters, University of Bucharest, was the second gust speaker at the Research Forum during the spring semester. Waldman coordinates the Faculty’s Center for Hebrew Studies and edits its academic journal, Studia Hebraica. She is also an Affiliate Professor of the University of Haifa. Her expertise covers Jewish mysticism, Holocaust education and public policies in Romania and the Romanian Jewish heritage. She published 4 authored and 3 co-edited books and over 40 articles and took part in many international research projects on these topics. She is a member of several international academic societies and deputy head of the Romanian Delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Her most recent books are Romania, Israel, France: Jewish Trails, Honore Champion, Paris, 2014 (co-edited with Danielle Delmaire and Lucian Zeev Herscovici) and Tales and Traces of Sephardi Bucharest, with Anca Ciuciu Tudorancea, Noi Media Print, Bucharest, 2016.
Waldman’s presentation topic was Holocaust remembrance in post communist Romania. Waldman opened her talk by explaining what happened during the Holocaust in Romania. The essential point to understanding the Holocaust in Romania is that the fate of the Jews in each province was very different. Jews in the newly annexed territories of Bukovina and Bessarabia tended to be less assimilated and less established and met a more tragic fate than the Jews in old Romania as they were deported to Transnistria. A local fascist party called the Iron Guard or the Legionary Movement was involved in the Romanian government during WWII but the country was under the dictatorship of Ion Antonescu. There was a history of anti-Semitism in Romania long before WWII but according to Waldman the reasons for it were mostly economic. Jews were not given Romanian citizenship until 1923 but they were stripped of it in 1937. The Romanian government under Antonsecu persecuted and murdered Jews on their own initiative independently of Nazi demands. Due to the dearth of organization and record keeping it is difficult to know how many Jews perished during the Holocaust in Romania but historians estimate the number of victims from 280,000-380,000. Approximately 50% of the Jewish community survived the Holocaust due to their ability to bribe corrupt officials and as a result of Antonescu reversing his decision to allow the Nazis to deport Romanian Jews to death camps in Poland. According to Waldman, Antonescu did not make this reversal on moral grounds but because he was tired of Nazi Germany making demands of him and it became clear to him that the Allies would win the war and he was considered with his reputation and the need to negotiate with the Allies.
The second half of Waldman’s talk was focused on Holocaust remembrance in Romania from the post war period to the present. The communist regime that gained power after the war was focused on self-legitimization and rewriting history to focus on liberation against Nazi fascist. Ant-Semitism and the Holocaust disappeared from this narrative. In 1965 after Ceausescu came to power a change occurred. The historical narrative became less Marxist-Leninist and more nationalist. As a result, Antonescu was resurrected as a hero of Romania. His fascism and anti-Semitism was downplayed and blamed on the Nazis. The term the fate of Romanian Jews was used which is representative of the denial of a Romanian Holocaust. The Romanian government was shown in a positive light as an entity that tried to save Jews while the murder of the Jews was blamed on Nazi Germany.
The rise of extremist and right wing parties in the post-communist era continued the revival of Antonescu and the Iron Guard. In 1998 the Ministry of Education attempted to reform the education system and mandated Holocaust Education for the first time. Teachers were able to choose from a few approved textbooks, however many of them contained misinformation. In 2001 Romania promised to pass a law banning Holocaust denial and the cult of war criminals in order to become a member of NATO, not out of moral conviction. The law was not applied and no one was punished under the law. In fact, the Academy of Sciences declared that the Iron Guard is not a fascist party under the law. In 2002 the definition of the Holocaust that was issued only includes Nazi Germany as the perpetrator and thus continues to deny the Holocaust in Romania. Waldman stated that the authorities in Romania generally say the right thing but do nothing. However, the International Commission became the official position in 2005 and it seems that in recent years Romania has made progress to a more historically accurate remembrance of the Holocaust that accepts Romanian responsibility. It was interesting for our students to hear about the history and changing memory of the Holocaust in a country that generally gets less attention.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/