Romania's central bank on Thursday said it would not withdraw from circulation a coin featuring an image of a prime minister who stripped Jews of their citizenship before World War II, stressing it had not intended to send an anti-Semitic message.
The coin depicts the late Patriarch Miron Cristea, who led the Romanian Orthodox Church from 1925 to 1939 and was prime minister from 1938 to 1939. A commission set up by the National Bank to reconsider it said it was minted only as one of five to commemorate Romania's five patriarchs at the request of Romania's influential Orthodox Church.
The bank said in a statement that "the set of coins were decisively and intrinsically linked ....to an institution which had an essential role in defining and developing the national and cultural identity of Romania."
The bank added it did not want to "transmit a xenophobic, racist or anti-Semitic message with the collection."
Radu Ioanid, who runs the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's international archives in Washington, had called for the withdrawal of the coin commemorating Cristea. He was not immediately available for comment.
As prime minister, Cristea was responsible for revising the citizenship law, stripping about 225,000 Jews - or 37 percent of the Jewish population - of citizenship.
The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish campaign group, responded angrily to the decision to mint the coin.
"We are shocked and disappointed that the National Bank of Romania has decided to honor Miron Cristea, even after consideration of his anti-Semitic actions and statements," wrote ADL's chairman, Abraham Foxman, in a letter to Romanian President Traian Basescu.
"As Prime Minister on the eve of World War II, Miron Cristea called upon Romanians 'to fight the Jewish parasites' and stripped 225,000 Jews of their Romanian citizenship," Gofman wrote. "Having been a Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church does not excuse his anti-Semitism and the crimes he committed against Romanian Jews."
He added: "We hope the effort to promote Holocaust education and remembrance among the Romanian people can benefit from the National Banks lapse of judgment."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now