Romania unveiled a new Holocaust memorial in Bucharest on Thursday, saying the nation was now facing up to its role in the killing of Jews and Gypsies during World War Two after decades of official denial.
In a somber ceremony on a busy thoroughfare in the capital, President Traian Basescu commemorated over the estimated quarter of a million victims of Romanian authorities allied to the Nazis.
"The Romanian state and Romanian society reaffirm their decision to assume the blame for the past and to uncover the historic memory in the spirit of truth," Basescu said.
A wartime ally of Adolf Hitler and later a Soviet satellite, Romania has started to come to terms with its role in the extermination of Jews only in recent years, admitting for the first time in 2003 that it took part.
According to a 2004 report by a commission headed by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews were killed by Romanian civilian and military authorities in Romania and areas it controlled during the war.
Many of them were slaughtered in pogroms such as the 1941 killing of almost 15,000 Jews in the northern city of Iasi, or murdered in labor camps or on death trains. The commission also found out that 25,000 Gypsies were deported from Romanian-controlled territory and at least 11,000 died.
After Romania switched sides in 1944, communist regimes did little to uncover the killings while nationalist governments after 1989 kept them under wraps.
"It was a manipulation of history," said Radu Ioanid, historian from Washington's Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Ioanid's research on the history of Romanian Jews has unveiled schemes by Bucharest governments to demand payment in cash and goods from Israel in exchange for allowing the emigration of Jews to the Jewish state in the 1950s and 60s.
Romania was home to 750,000 Jews before the war, but only 10,000 remain today.
Sensitivity to the Holocaust and the knowledge of the issue has at times been patchy. Earlier this year a mayor of seaside city of Constanta grabbed newspaper headlines when he appeared in a World War Two German army uniform at a fashion show.
"It is very good this Memorial of the Holocaust was built, but I had no idea that the Romanian authorities were actually involved in the events," said Anica Nicolae, a 48-year-old laboratory technician from Bucharest.
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