Romanian Royals Ask Israel's Help to Block Restitution for Ex-king

Michael I stripped Jews of rights in 1940; next generation says they don't want 'blood money.'

A Romanian royal couple is trying to enlist Israel's help in their campaign against a decision taken last week by the Romanian parliament to pay restitution to the former King Michael I, now 85, who stripped Jews of their rights in 1940. The property of the king's family had been nationalized under the communist regime.

Prince Paul and Princess Lia of Romania, who have been in a dispute with Michael for years, claim that they do not seek the money for themselves.

"European courts have ruled that 62 percent of the assets belong to us, the true heirs of the Romanian royal family. And yet, we are not interested in this blood money. We are calling for the establishment of an international investigative commission that will look into this affair and award the money to Jewish causes," Prince Paul said in a press release issued Saturday.

The couple has recently appealed to several Israeli politicians, including Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and MK Gila Gamliel (Likud). Shalom said he would consider raising the matter during the meeting today with his Romanian counterpart, Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu, who is visiting Israel.

Historians and Holocaust researchers do not consider King Michael responsible for Holocaust-era crimes against Romanian Jewry, but the royal couple claim that documents in their possession prove otherwise. They have obtained letters of support from prominent Jewish figures, among them Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld, Britain's Lord Janner, and U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein.

The 19-year-old Michael I was crowned in September 1940 after his father, King Carol II, fled the country. A week after his coronation, Michael signed the law that turned Romania into a pro-Nazi dictatorship under Ion Antonescu. During the first months of his reign, Michael signed laws which stripped Jews of their property and civil rights. He did not try to prevent the expulsion of Jews from northern Romania or the pogroms against the Jews of Bucharest and Iasi.

According to Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, some 420,000 Romanian Jews perished during Antonescu's rule. In August 1944, the young king played a crucial role in the success of a coup, when he deposed Antonescu. Michael was forced to give up the throne and leave the country in 1947, under pressure from the country's communist regime. The royal family's property was nationalized shortly thereafter.

Michael spent the Cold War years in Britain and Switzerland, earning a living as a farmer, test pilot and stock broker. In the late 1990s he regained Romanian citizenship and began a campaign to restore the royal family's property. In 2001, after the reelection of Ion Iliescu, Michael was accorded the status and benefits of a former head of state.

Last Wednesday, Romania's lower house of parliament approved an agreement granting the former king compensation for part of the royal property. The law formalizing the agreement was previously approved by the upper house, but it required the president's signature to be validated. Under the agreement, Michael stands to get some 30 million euros.

Prince Paul and his wife, Princess Lia, who is visiting Israel, say that Michael is a Nazi war criminal responsible for crimes against Romanian Jews in the Holocaust. They point to the anti-Semitic laws the king approved, and photographs showing him performing the raised-arm salute. So far, they have managed to persuade several Romanian parliament members to work for cancellation of the compensation agreement.