Memorial event pays tribute to victims of anti-Jewish Bucharest pogrom

The Federation of the Romanian Jewish Communities (FCER) organized on Thursday an online commemorative event to pay tribute to the victims of the anti-Jewish legionary pogrom in Bucharest (January 21 - 23, 1941). The participants deplored this tragedy, voiced concerns about the rise of anti-Semitic trends in Romania and in Europe, and emphasized the need for the state authorities and the entire society to engage in making sure that such horrors never happen again. FCER president, deputy Silviu Vexler, said that 80 years ago the streets of Bucharest saw the "beginning of a massacre - a moment that can be characterized as an instance of absurd, meaningless hatred based on ethnicity alone." "80 years ago, the commanders of the Legionary Movement ordered the beginning of what will become known in the following years as the Bucharest Pogrom. Now, when we sift through the documents, we see everything that happened and cannot understand the unimaginable hatred, the unimaginable violence, the agony and torture unleashed in the streets of Bucharest back then. Perhaps the most significant aspect is that there was indeed no discrimination in the killings: young and old, women, men and children were slaughtered. They all had just one thing in common: they were all Jews," said the representative of Romania's Jewish community in Parliament, adding that even decorated veterans, Romanian heroes who had fought for the country in the First World War were among the victims of the legionaries in those days. Silviu Vexler then recounted that the Coral Temple and the Great Synagogue were saved from total destruction "only by will of fate or of God". "One of the reasons why the Coral Temple is still standing today, although it was attacked during the Legionary Pogrom in Bucharest, is fate: when the legionaries came to set it on fire and destroy it, they didn't bring enough gasoline, so that they just vandalized it, but the building survived. The Great Synagogue survived because the temple cleaning lady, who was a non-Jew, was having supper there before going home. And when the legionaries came to destroy the temple, this old woman came out and stood up to the attackers, telling them that what they were about to do is neither Christian nor human, and she finally succeeded in talking them out of it. That's how the two temples survived to this day, thanks to fate or to the will of God. (...) I have come to the conclusion that, more than ever, this commemoration is essential because of growing anti-Semitic currents in Europe and, regrettably, in Romania too lately, because of the excessive attempts to rehabilitate the legionary movement and its main representatives, to rehabilitate Ion Antonescu or other war criminals," the deputy said. Attending the event were Deputy Prime Ministers Dan Barna and Kelemen Hunor, Senate and Chamber of Deputies heads Anca Dragu and Ludovic Orban, along with many other guests. Dan Barna renounced his previously prepared speech and shared instead something from his own experience with a neighbor from his childhood commune Poiana Sibiului, whom he very much respected as a boy, but about whom he had just now found out, by reading some of his annotations on a book, that he was anti-Semitic. "Our neighbor was a doctor, a well-respected personality. He had a fabulous library. (...) Recently his grandchildren sold the house and I entered that library. I bought a trunk of books. (... ) Last night I opened the package to arrange the books on shelves. Among them I found Mihail Sebastian's 'The Accident', annotated by the doctor. (...) His ideas were exactly in line with the rhetoric of the establishment back then and all the respect I had felt for him as a child was lost in an instant. He was a nationalist, and he had fallen prey to those stupid ideas that unfortunately are still around. When we as a state succeed in supporting historical research initiatives and make them known to future generations, I believe we can better make sure that the future generations don't risk falling prey to enmity, to hateful rhetoric against our fellow people," said Dan Barna, who also mentioned that he received the invitation call from FCER just as he was reading the doctor's notes, which he thought was not a mere coincidence. Deputy Prime Minister Kelemen Hunor said that the Bucharest pogrom is a black spot in history. "What happened then is horrific. Sure, history is known, almost all the elements are known and I'm sure other information will emerge, but it's important that we are all aware that such events have been possible because the authorities allowed them to happen, because they didn't take firm-handed and determined action, and also because there was no solidarity from the citizens. (...) Unfortunately, even in these years, in the 21st century, the voices of anti-Semitism and xenophobia are coming back and can be strongly heard sometimes," Kelemen Hunor said. He went on to explain that the democratic forces must set a red line that cannot be crossed. "What can we, the democratic, responsible forces, do? Clearly state that there is a political sanitary cordon which cannot be crossed, that there is a red line that cannot be stepped over, that any manifestation of this kind, any statement that harms human dignity, that harms a minority must be immediately rejected. I believe that we all carry a huge responsibility in this period and that it will increase even more, and I am also convinced that the Romanian society will never allow such atrocities to happen and we won't repeat history, that we will learn from history and we will form a society where trust and respect are highly revered," he said. The Chairs of the two Houses of Parliament evoked in their addresses the cruelty of those moments and also cautioned that anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racism remain topical dangers. Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) Marcel Ciolacu said that honoring the memory of the victims of these atrocities is a sacred duty. "Undoubtedly, apart from the deep emotional charge, memory helps us to better understand the past, to learn its much needed lessons so that such horrors never repeat. Unfortunately, the present proves that extremism and fundamentalism are difficult to root out. On the contrary, the challenges posed by the pandemic carry the potential of intensifying them. That is why it is all the more necessary to unite our efforts towards good understanding and coexistence, solidarity, harmony and social peace. Let us not forget that hate and division have never brought benefits," said Ciolacu. Leader of Parliament's national minorities group Varujan Pambuccian stressed that "the Bucharest pogrom is part of the Holocaust, and we must understand this and take responsibility for it as part of our history." "It is part of the Holocaust that was the most horrific event modern world has been through, and that led to changes which we may today consider irreversible in terms of the fate of peoples, the world map and many things that were brought into existence by nationalists back then. After 80 years of democratic evolution, Romania which had grown to be the Greater Romania all of a sudden became small Romania, communist Romania, it became Romania yoked by a dictatorship that had nothing in common with the Romanian spirit. (...) Nationalism does not mean to hate, to despise other nations but on the contrary, to cooperate, to do everything you can for your nation to prosper in a concert with all the other nations of the world, and not against anyone. If we don't talk about these things, if we don't talk about the Alba Iulia spirit, we risk repeating history again," the deputy warned. During this period, the State Jewish Theater does its duty of honor to post and broadcast online events, texts, dramatic moments and readings, excerpts from the performances dedicated to these events, said theater director, actress Maia Morgenstern. "The Jewish State Theater fulfills its duty of honor every year, at every event, that of recalling, educating, creating, offering the public, even in this complicated, difficult, painful, upsetting period, the shows, the events whose primary aim is to pay homage and to keep them alive in the consciousness of the viewers, of those who learn together with us what our history has meant. In fact, in my family there have been painful, tragic events, I carry deep scars I don't feel at ease to talk about, and yet I'll have to because in this way I will honor the memory of those who had to pay with their lives, without any other guilt," said Maia Morgenstern, who next read some emotional testimonies from the volume "The City of Slaughter. The Journal of Legionary Rebellion and Crime" by F. Brunea Fox. Secretary of State Marius Balu delivered a message on behalf of Defense Minister Nicolae Ciuca. "I bow to this tragedy that had a powerful impact on the entire humankind. This episode represents a culmination of anti-Semitic practices in Romania, a culmination of the evolution of events in those times, characterized by an oppressive atmosphere typical of a nationalist legionary state. (...) It is our duty to keep alive the memory of all the victims. Today, 80 years after those appalling events, I join in our common commitment to remember the past, to understand how it happened and make ensure that this never happens again. (...) We will never stop condemning those who have sown hatred and waged crimes. We must be aware that there is no greater risk of weakening a society and a democracy than by passively accepting such diseases, which we must not allow to become contemporary with us," the DefMin said in his message. Secretary of State for Denominations Victor Opaschi characterized the events of 1941 as an outburst of barbarity and crime that reached a climax on January 21-23, and which saw the Jewish population in Bucharest robbed and massacred, and important Jewish places of worship set on fire. "The signal for the wave of violence that shook the public opinion had been given on November 26 - 27 1940 by the crimes in Jilava and the barbaric assassination of two of the most valuable Romanian scientists - Nicole Iorga and Virgil Madgearu. We must never forget what that delirium of intolerance and anti-Semitism - as writer Marin Preda called it - has meant for the history of twentieth-century Romania. The Jews experienced the most abominable horrors precisely because they were targeted as the people that have given humanity the highest idea of man, considering him created in the image and likeness of God. (....) The murderers and synagogue arsonists claimed to be the bearers of the evangelical message of love of the neighbor. (...) The memory of the suffering the Jews of Romania have been through and especially the promotion of a pedagogy of dialogue are particularly important for making sure such things never happen again," underlined Victor Opaschi. Secretary of State for Inter-ethnic Relations Lacziko Eniko said that "the legionary movement was the Romanian contribution to what would become one of the most impetuous evils that ever occurred in man-made civilization - the Holocaust." "The tragic event we are commemorating today is also recorded in history under the name of legionary rebellion. This name seems to have turned the victims killed in those days with unimaginable brutality into mere collateral victims of a critical situation where two opposing camps clashed and the result was the execution of a third party that had nothing to do with the original state of play. No, this interpretation dissolves exactly the painful truth of this historical fact," the official said. A moment of prayer was observed during the event and messages were sent in from several Israeli officials. A commemoration of the victims of the anti-Jewish legionary pogrom was also organized on Thursday by FCER and the Jewish Community in Bucharest at the Monument of the Pogrom Martyrs. AGERPRES (RO - author: Catalina Matei, editor: Mihai Simionescu; EN - editor: Simona Klodnischi)

Continue reading on: