The National Museum of Jewish History and the Holocaust in Romania, a project that President Klaus Iohannis said on Monday was unjustifiably blocked, would become a reality in a few years’ time, according to Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai.
The Israeli official also said that the idea of building such a museum in the heart of Bucharest is a strong message and a tool to educate young people, because the Holocaust was such a historic phenomenon in world history that we should not let be forgotten.
Nachman also told AGERPRES that Israel will provide assistance for this project if requested, and the future National Museum of Jewish History and the Holocaust would be similar to the one in Poland.
The Israeli minister paid a visit to Bucharest on Monday to attend a ceremony marking the National Holocaust Remembrance Day in Romania, and had a series of meetings with the chairs of the foreign policy committees of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, Rozalia Biro and Titus Corlatean, and with acting Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu.
Nachman said the ceremony to remember the victims of the Holocaust was “very moving” and that it was “a very nice gesture by the Romanian government to dedicate a day for the Remembrance Day of the Holocaust.”
He said that he generally found in Romania a very friendly atmosphere, which is the outcome of many, many long years of close relations, of mutual visiting, including a recent visit of the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, meanwhile replaced by Isaac Herzog.
Asked about the time horizon for the National Museum of Jewish History and the Holocaust to become a reality, the Israeli Diaspora minister replied “few years.”
“I asked the foreign minister [Bogdan Aurescu] how long it will take. He said a few years. He has just started the process with budgeting, next year budget. I don’t know how much the general budget is, how much it is going to cost. The problem, whatever it is, is not correct. It costs much higher. That’s life. But, first of all the very idea of the President to build such a museum in the heart of Bucharest is a message, a powerful message,” said Nachman.
He pointed out that the museum will be a tool to educate young people.
“What’s the challenge? The challenge is not with me, not that I remember Holocaust, but at least I remember Holocaust survivors; I met with them, I talked with them, I somehow touched them. My generation was the immediate generation after the Holocaust. But what about my children, and their children? I’m talking about generations to come. We have to do other things, just to hear the testimonies of eyewitnesses is not enough any longer, because this generation is fading away, people are in their 90s. But the Holocaust was such a historic phenomenon in world history that we should not let it be forgotten. It is my responsibility and my duty as a government minister (…) and I am working hard on that,” the Israeli official said.
On Monday, October 11, National Holocaust Remembrance Day in Romania, President Iohannis said that the project for the National Museum of Jewish History and the Holocaust in Romania had been delayed and was unjustifiably blocked, calling the situation unacceptable.
“I am urging government to take serious steps and take all steps to build this museum. It is imperative that we have this institution as soon as possible, as that will keep the memory of the Holocaust alive in the national consciousness and maintain a deep attachment to the fundamental values of humanity,” said Iohannis in his remarks.
Asked if Israel would be involved in this project of the National Museum of Jewish History and the Holocaust, Nachman said his government would provide assistance if requested.
“We don’t know if Romania will need help. Maybe they will need donations and they go around and raise money. That’s very possible. Maybe they will turn to Israel as well, I don’t know. I wasn’t asked about this, so I can’t give any answer, but of course we’ll be helpful, because we see the Holocaust Museum as an educational tool for the Romanian people, because millions of them do not even know what the Shoah, the Holocaust was; they do not remember what the Romanian people did during the Shoah, because in many cases it was police officers, soldiers and civilians who killed the Jews,” he said.
“This is a chapter that every single Romanian boy and girl should learn and know about. That is what we expect Germans to do, that is what we expect Poles to do, that is what we expect the Romanians to do, every single state in Europe where Jews were taken to their death,” Nachman said.
The Israeli minister also said that the state of the Jewish community in Romania, which reached just over 3,200 members at the latest census ten years ago, is not a singular one.
“Many Jewish communities are standing in a very similar place. There were a few hundred at a time, and now there are left only a few thousand. It’s true about the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary – more or less the situation is the same. There were 9.5 million Jews in Europe before WWII; six million were exterminated, and of the 3.5 million left, only two million emigrated, either died or emigrated. So we are left now with 1.5 million: that’s a tragedy not only for Jewish people, but for Europe too. I’ve seen in the recently published EU Strategic Plan to Combat Anti-Semitism, they themselves say that they would like to renew Jewish life in Europe, bearing in mind what was the contribution of Jews to European along history, in arts, in culture, in philosophy, in business,” he said.
The Israeli minister also added that the community is declining due to assimilation.
“When there are just a few thousand people, how many young people are there and whom are they going to marry? Probably most of them will marry non-Jews and that’s how they disappear, in terms of Judaism, of Jewishness. We can’t offer them anything; that’s their own decision (…) When I look around there are only 15 million Jews living all around the globe – seven are in Israel, eight are still in the world – but they are shrinking,” the Israeli official said.
Thus, for example, the number of Romanian Jews still in the country was only a small part of that of Romanians who immigrated to Israel, which is several hundred thousand. Nachman remembers that in the 1950s and 1960s many of the Romanian Jews had Romanian newspapers or Romanian radio programmes.
“Romanians fully integrated into the Israeli society, they speak Hebrew, their children speak Hebrew, they don’t need Romanian any longer. But if you talk to them about Romania, you see in their eyes how much they miss their country. They miss Romania very much. This is their homeland,” he said.
Asked if the EU’s first strategy to combat anti-Semitism and promote Jewish life, unveiled on October 5, would have a significant impact, Nachman said: “We’ll see; it’s a ten-year programme.”
He noted as a positive fact that the EU executive has committed itself to report on it every year.
“We can follow up and see if things are moving forward. It’s not only about Jewish life; it’s also about combating anti-Semitism. Everyone knows that anti-Semitism is going up. There’s a spike in anti-Semitism in this country, in Europe, and in the world due mainly to the social media. The social media became a very, I would say, comfortable and available, and accessible floor for anti-Semitism. People, anonymously, can carry messages that usually they are not allowed to, they are not able to. On social media, the traffic is huge and they take advantage of that,” said Nachman, according to Agerpres.
Photo: Facebook/David Saranga