Study: More Than 280,000 Jews Killed in Romania in WWII

An international panel headed by Nobel-prize winner Elie Wiesel yesterday said pro-Nazi Romanian authorities killed hundreds of thousands of Jews and tens of thousands of Gypsies during World War II.

Last year, President Ion Iliescu acknowledged Romania's role in the Holocaust - the first such official admission. He set up a panel last year with a mission to study the Holocaust in Romania after years of denial by Romanian authorities that the country's wartime leaders were responsible for mass killings of Jews. The 33-member committee presented him with a 400-page report of its findings.

The experts, from Romania, United States, Israel, France and Germany, concluded that Romanian authorities were responsible for the deaths of between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews and more than 11,000 Gypsies.

Another 132,000 Romanian Jews were killed by pro-Nazi Hungarian authorities who controlled parts of northern Romania during the war, the report said.

Yesterday, Iliescu said Romania assumes responsibility for actions taken by its leaders during World War II.

"The Holocaust tragedy was possible due to the complicity of leaders of state institutions" who zealously carried out the orders of Romania's pro-Nazi ruler Marshal Ion Antonescu," Iliescu said yesterday, pledging to help educate the Romanian public about the Holocaust after decades of denial.

Wiesel, himself a Holocaust survivor, said "The atrocities must not and cannot be forgotten," adding that the investigation into the past was overdue and that there was not enough public information detailing the experience of Jews in Romanian-run death camps in Trans-Dniester, a Soviet Union region occupied by Romania during the war.

"I didn't know there was so much brutality, that the anti-Semitism was such a pure anti-Semitism, with nothing to do with racism or economics," said Wiesel. "Why did it take so long for me to learn that?"

Wiesel praised Iliescu's efforts to bring the facts to light and said such investigations should be replicated in other countries such as France, Germany and the United States.

The Israeli government, in a letter read by its ambassador to Bucharest, praised the committee's work and the Romanian president's initiative in setting up the committee and urged Romania to do more to educate its citizens about the Holocaust.

Iliescu said the report would be published and its findings publicized "so that such tragedies will never happen again."

Under communism, children were taught that Germans were the sole perpetrators of the Holocaust, while Antonescu was considered a war criminal who merely followed Adolf Hitler's orders.

After communism fell in 1989, Antonescu became a hero to some Romanians who praise him for having gone to war against the Soviet Union after it invaded parts of Romania in 1940.

Last year, a dispute broke out between Romania and Israel after the government and Iliescu made statements that Israeli officials interpreted as minimizing the Holocaust. Iliescu later backtracked and the government created the Memorial Day for the Holocaust.