Selective Negationism of the Holocaust in East-Central Europe: The Case of Romania*
By Michael Shafir
Copyright (c) 2003. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W.
Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
Selective negationism is a breed between outright and deflective negationism (see "East European Perspectives," Vol. 4, Nos. 18-20 and 22). It is COUNTRY-SPECIFIC OUTRIGHT NEGATIONISM -- in other words, it does not deny the Holocaust as having taken place ELSEWHERE but excludes ANY participation by members of one's own nation in its perpetration. The fringe ceases to exist in selective negationism. It thus shares denial with outright negationism, and, at the same time, it shares particularism with deflective negationism. It shares with the latter its prominent function of externalizing guilt. And just as outright negationists might occasionally indulge in deflective denial, deflective negationists might embrace the discourse of selective negation (and vice versa).
At the risk of becoming tiresome, the reader is reminded that mobility from one category to the other is not a rare occurrence. When the Hungarian radical-right leader Albert Szabo claims that European Jews were not exterminated, having rather emigrated to the U.S., he is engaging in outright denial. But when Szabo denies that the "Nyilas" carried out the well-known murdering of Jews on the banks of the Danube River in Budapest in 1944 and adds that "a [genuine] Hungarian would not have left the shoes there" (Kovacs, 2002), he is obviously using the discourse of selective negationism. Likewise, a volume including "deflecting to fringe" argumentation in Slovakia may also carry the selective negationist claim that "not a single Jew left the Slovak state" for the extermination camps (Mestan, 2000, p.153).
However, nowhere in postcommunist East-Central Europe -- to the best knowledge of this author -- is selective negationism as blatant as in Romania. According to its champions, not only wartime leader Marshal Ion Antonescu is innocent of any crimes against the Jews, but even the Iron Guard has never touched a Jewish hair. The Romanian champions of selective negationism are not (as one might have expected) semi-educated marginals. Two of the most emblematic figures among them are university professors, one a historian specializing in modern Romanian history and the other teaching Romanian linguistics at the University of Bucharest. The Iasi-based history professor, Gheorghe Buzatu, is also a deputy chairman of the Greater Romania Party (PRM), deputy chairman of the Romanian Senate, and chairman of the Marshal Antonescu Foundation. Until September 2001, he was also director of a historical institute in Iasi that is affiliated to the Romanian Academy. He was forced to resign from the latter position after the publication, at his own initiative and under the institute's auspices, of a venomous, racist, and particularly anti-Semitic book by a fellow PRM deputy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23, 24, and 28 August 2001 and Mediafax, 11 September 2001). Ion Coja, the second emblematic figure of Romanian selective negationism, has traveled through many political parties, and at one point was even close to being designated a presidential candidate for the 1996 elections (see Shafir, 1996).
As Buzatu put it in an interview with the Movement for Romania weekly "Miscarea" (No. 7, 1-15 April) in 1995, "there has been no Holocaust in Romania during World War II" with the exception of Hungary-occupied Transylvania. Until recently, Buzatu (who edited or prefaced a number of volumes presenting the Iron Guard and its leader in a favorable light, see Treptow and Buzatu, 1994; Buzatu, Ciucanu and Sandache, 1996) was, however, willing to admit that the Guard had indulged in crimes, although in Ernst Nolte-like fashion presenting those as being a Romanian national reaction to the raise of Bolshevism and ITS crimes, to which Jews had been prominently associated (see Shafir, 1997, pp. 383-384). As he put it in an article in the PRM weekly "Romania mare,"-- "Crime Begets Crime" (Buzatu, 1995b). He has since, however, embraced Ion Coja's selective negationism. For Coja, the Iron Guard never committed any of the atrocities attributed to it. Indeed, it was not even anti-Semitic (see Voicu, 2000a, 117-123)! The January 1941 pogrom by the Iron Guard in Bucharest, Coja claims, has never existed. Its 120 victims, some of whom were hanged on hooks at the slaughterhouse with the inscription "Kosher meat" on them, are all an invention -- the best proof being that when the Communists took power nobody was put on trial although so many Jews were in the party leadership at the time. Jews might have died during the January uprising against Antonescu, but nobody has ever proven that the crimes were committed by the Iron Guard, he claims (Coja, 1997, pp. 156-169).
The assassination of historian Nicolae Iorga in those days was not committed by the Iron Guard either; it was rather ordered by the KGB, which had infiltrated the movement. And -- Coja hints heavily in a book published in 1999 -- it is a well-kept secret that the KGB was in the hands of the "occult." The same "occult" would eventually order the assassination of Nicolae Ceausescu, as indeed it would commission the liquidation of Romanian-born scholar Ioan Petre Culianu in the U.S. in May 1991 -- being aware that the scholar had discovered the secrets of its world domination (Coja, 1999). One more transmutation from deflective negationism (its Jewish variant) into -- this time around -- selective negationism. The performance, however, is quite unmatched elsewhere, although partisans of "conspiracy theories" (brilliantly analyzed by Voicu, 2000b in the Romanian case) are not missing in other East-Central European postcommunist polities.
In mid-2001, Buzatu and Coja chaired a symposium in Bucharest whose title -- "Has There Been A Holocaust In Romania?" -- was telling in itself. The symposium was divided into two panels: the first examining the "questionable" occurrence of the "Shoah" in Romania; the second the reasons for the existence of a "powerfully institutionalized anti-Romaniansim." As an outcome of the second panel, a Romanian League for the Struggle Against Anti-Romanianism, headed by Coja, was set up. The symposium's resolution was published, among other places, in the Iron Guardist journal "Permanente" (No. 7, July 2001) in both Romanian and "Pidjeonenglish." The document was signed "pro forma" by Coja and emblematically assumed the selective negationist posture. Its authors, it was stated, "want to make clear that we have nothing to do with those people and opinions contesting as a whole the occurrence of the Jewish holocaust [sic!] during World War II." It said that Jews "have suffered almost everywhere in the Europe [sic!] of those years, but not in Romania," and it added that "the testimony of trustworthy Jews" demonstrates that "the Romanian people had in those years a behavior honoring the human dignity [sic!]."
In support of their affirmations, the participants brought several "arguments." They started with presenting excerpts from what they claimed was the 1955 testimony of the former leader of the Romanian Jewish Community in Romania, Wilhelm Filderman, before a Swiss court. The document has never been produced, and whether it really exists is uncertain. The trial involved five Romanian exiles who had attacked the Bucharest diplomatic representation in Bern, briefly taken it over and, in the course of the attack, killed the legation's driver. The authorities launched in Romania and abroad a largescale campaign against the attackers and against those Romanian exiled personalities who testified in the attackers' defense. However, Filderman's name was never mentioned during that campaign (see Pelin, 1997, pp. 15-25).
Filderman is said to have told the court: "During the period of Hitler's domination of Europe, I was in permanent touch with Marshal Antonescu. He did all he could to ease the lives of Jews exposed to Nazi Germans' persecutions. I must underline that the Romanian population was not anti-Semite and that the misfortunes suffered by the Jews were the work of the German Nazis and the Iron Guard. Marshal Antonescu withstood successfully the Nazi pressure that was imposing hard measures against the Jews." Filderman added that, owing to Antonescu's "energetic intervention," the deportation of more than 20,000 Jews from Bukovina was stopped. Moreover, the Romanian leader had given Hungarian Jews "blank passports," thus "saving their lives and enabling them to escape Nazi terror," and it was due to Antonescu's "political strategies" that the assets of the Jewish people were placed under a transition administrative regime, "making them [seemingly] appear as lost, in order to conserve them and ensure their future restitution at the ripe time."
On its face, a shattering testimony. In fact, an obviously misleading one that is highly unlikely to have been made by a man familiar with all the details of those years' events. At Antonescu's orders, 90,344 Bukovinian Jews had been deported to Transnistria (Ioanid, 1997, p. 233). The 20,000 Bukovinian Jews allegedly mentioned by Filderman (in fact, 19,689) owed their lives to the intervention of Cernauti Mayor Traian Popovici rather than to Antonescu (Carp, 1994, p. 189). And, above all, the Germans were never involved in the physical deportation of Jews from Romania -- this being entirely a Romanian-handled matter -- so whom could Antonescu's "energetic intervention" possibly have targeted? There might, indeed, have been a Romanian involvement in the saga of some Hungarian Jewish escapes via Romania to Palestine, but this occurred toward the end of the war -- when the tide of the battle had turned against the Germans -- which prompted Antonescu's turnabout in his anti-Jewish policies with an eye to the Allies and possible postwar settling of accounts; and it is unclear to what extent the "Conducator" was at all informed on the matter, which was apparently carried out by members of the Romanian Embassy in Budapest, possibly with the knowledge of high-ranking staff in the Romanian Foreign Ministry. As for the safeguarding of Jewish properties with an eye to better times, it is sufficient to consult the many documents on Filderman's protests and interventions (see Benjamin, 2001) to realize that, at best, this reflected a lost memory (Israeli historian Jean Ancel, who is presently engaged in editing Filderman's memoirs for publication, has interviewed Filderman personal secretary Charles Gruber, who told him that a few years before his death Filderman suffered from Parkinson's disease and memory loss. I am grateful to Dr. Ancel for the information). But it is also sufficient to read the memoirs of Radu Lecca, the man in charge of "Aryanizing" Jewish assets (and who claims to have been the "savior of Romanian Jewry" after depleting it) to be edified as to what extent the claim holds up (Lecca, 1994).
That Filderman, who had been a classmate of Antonescu's, had been "permanently in touch with him" is true enough -- save the short period when Filderman himself was deported to Transnistria, from which he was allowed to return. Filderman sought to ease the plight of his brethren and wrote to (on several occasions even met with) Antonescu. But rather than showing Antonescu's alleged compassion for the plight of Jews, the strained relation fully revealed the "Conducator's" hatred of them and his belief that the Jews were now paying for having allegedly killed and abased members of the Romanian army during its retreat from Bessarabia after the 1940 Soviet ultimatum. A letter of response by Antonescu to Filderman, who was lamenting that Jews were being deported to "death, certain death...for no other fault than that of being Jewish " received a harsh rebuke from Antonescu, who, moreover, ordered its dissemination in the media, inciting even further the anti-Jewish sentiment after the outbreak of the war (Carp, 1996, Vol. 3, pp. 144-145, 191-192). At Antonescu's trial in 1946, Filderman testified, "The Antonescu governance resulted in the death of 150,000 Bukovinian and Bessarabian Jews," adding that "the actual number of victims might be larger." Antonescu said at the trial that, according to "my own calculations, no more than 150,000-170,000 Jews were deported" to Transnistria (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum/Serviciul Roman de Informatii, reel 31, pp. 267(270) and 16, respectively). But above all, as Lya Benjamin points out, the testimony attributed to Filderman fully contradicted his entire activity and correspondence with Marshal Antonescu and others during the war and in the immediate postwar period (Benjamin, 2001). And it also contradicted descriptions of Transnistria and the situation of Jews there in his own diary, which can be consulted in Yad Va'Shem in Jerusalem (Schafferman, 1986, p. 226).
What makes the accuracy of Filderman's testimony even more doubtful is the fact that it was first produced in Romania in 1994, in the introduction to a book edited in Iasi by Kurt W. Treptow, a U.S. historian who lives in Romania and who, together with Buzatu, became involved in the efforts to rehabilitate Antonescu and the Iron Guard. (Treptow would eventually be convicted to seven years in jail on pedophilia-related charges, which might be beside the point here but might well show the man's character, see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 25 October and 12 December 2002). Buzatu was the publisher of that volume, which was sponsored by the Romanian Cultural Foundation. It is from there that Coja first learned of Filderman's alleged defense of Antonescu (see Coja, 1999, pp. 298-299). But at the time, the document purported to be no less than Filderman's "Testament." It was also claimed in Treptow's preface that the document could be consulted at Buzatu's Iasi-based institute. When Jewish historian Lya Benjamin requested that Buzatu send her a photocopy, he promised to do so but later reluctantly admitted that the "document" was only a reproduction from a scandal publication, the weekly "Baricada." The tabloid claimed to have received the "document" from French-based Romanian historian Matei Cazacu, who emphatically denied it (see "Baricada," No. 26, July 1991 and Benjamin, 1995, pp. 42-43. I owe the information on Cazacu's denial to Lya Benjamin). Yet shortly after the "Has There Been A Holocaust In Romania?" gathering, where it had figured as "testimony," the alleged document resurfaced once more as "testament" in an article by Coja. The article was printed in the new "Marshal Antonescu Review," which is sponsored by the Dragan Foundation (Coja, 2001b). Is it, then, a testimony or a testament?
In his address to the symposium (Coja, 2001a) -- as well as in the "Marshal Antonescu Review" article -- Coja brought another "witness" to the stand of "Romanian innocence": former Romanian Chief Rabbi Alexandru Safran. Already in 1999, in his book on "The Grand Manipulator," Coja had hinted that "a rabbi" who is an "important Jewish leader "has written a dedication on a book offered to the son of executed war criminal Gheorghe Alexianu, exonerating his father from any guilt. Alexianu was governor of Transnistria, and Coja claimed the old Jewish leader has sworn Alexianu Jr. into silence for as long as he is still alive, because "the poor man fears the reaction of the community, of his own faith brethren." And the apprehension was justified, he added -- "witness that Filderman has also left his declaration exonerating fully and definitively Marshal Antonescu only in his testament" (Coja, 1999, pp. 299-300). The "old Jewish leader" was said to have offered Alexianu Jr. a book with a dedication "in the memory of your illustrious father, who during his entire life and professional activity, but particularly during the dark period of the war, has done so much, wholeheartedly and generously, for the [Jewish] community. He paid a terrible and totally unjustified price at the order of the Communists. May he be delivered from his whole suffering!" (Coja, 1999, p. 300 and 2001b, p. 52).
Suddenly, however, the alleged identity was revealed to be Safran's. No explanation was offered as to how the former Chief Rabbi had overcome his apprehension. Intrigued, the author of this study asked a relative of the 91-year-old rabbi now living in Geneva to clarify the authenticity of the claim. Instead of a response, Rabbi Safran, who was then almost immobilized by illness, directed me through his nephew to the relevant part of his memoirs. Alexianu, he wrote there, was "famous for his cruelty" (Safran, 1996, p. 86). Not long before he was called as a witness on behalf of selective negationism, Safran, in an interview published in Romania, described the situation of Jews in Antonescu's Romania as "desperate" and "hopeless," with options varying between "slow or rapid extermination." He described Marshal Antonescu as a person of "strange psychological makeup" that was "the reason for the cruelty of his decisions to deport, yes to massacre the Jewish population of Bessarabia" and repeated that the Jews in that part of Romania had been "massacred, pitilessly massacred" (Safran, 2001). Whatever was done with Bessarabian Jews at Antonescu's orders has, of course, been carried out by the governor of Transnistria. This was not, however, the first instance of Romanian negationists attempting to take advantage of Safran's age and remoteness from postcommunist Romanian realities. Back in 1997, Iron Guard admirer and apologist Razvan Codrescu was "citing" from Safran's memoirs to demonstrate that "Captain" Corneliu Zelea Codreanu had impressed Rabbi Safran to such an extent that he confined their meeting to his memoirs (Codrescu, 1997, pp.171-172). The two had never met (Voicu, 2000a:121) and Codrescu was in fact citing a forgery earlier published in the Iron Guardist publication "Gazeta de vest" in January 1991. Codrescu said in a footnote that the encounter's records had been reproduced ALSO in "Gazeta de vest." One would in vain, however, search for them in Safran's memoirs, from where they were said to have been taken.
Alexianu's postwar "liquidation," according to Coja's presentation at the symposium, had a simple explanation: He would have been "dangerous" for those leaders of the Jewish community in Romania who had "made for themselves a nice little 'gesheft '[business]" by pocketing money sent by New York Jews in response to their desperate (and obviously false) cries for helping the brethren deported to Transnistria. "They requested money, money and money again.... The money arrived to Bucharest, but there it stayed! In the pockets of some Jews who should have been executed after the war. In their place, Gheorghe Alexianu was the one executed!"
The signatories of the symposium's declaration also embraced Coja's position on the Iron Guard's nonparticipation in the Bucharest 1941 pogrom. As Coja had done in the past, they claimed that the Nuremberg wartime tribunal had investigated "all crimes against humanity" perpetrated during the war and that the Iron Guard had been investigated and cleared of "any guilt, any genocidal crime." The tribunal, of course, has never done so. It only judged and sentenced the German Nazi war criminals and neither investigated nor in any other way dealt with other nationals. Yet the declaration deemed that the Iron Guard's wartime record had not only been investigated in Nuremberg but that the tribunal had even pronounced a "verdict" on the movement's innocence. The Romanian selective negationists were hardly original, but it must be admitted that they went one step further than their peers from Slovakia. In that country, it is simply claimed that the Nuremberg tribunal had investigated and cleared of any suspicion Slovakia's wartime leader. According to these claims, after examining evidence, the tribunal had "refused to try Dr. Josef Tiso" (cited in Mestan, 2000, p. 159). But no word of a "verdict" in Slovakia.
The signatories then challenged those who hold a different view to "produce evidence" and went on to say that they "respectfully ask" that where such evidence has been produced in the past and challenged, it should be reinforced with new proof. Here they were obviously indulging in universal negationist postures and hoping to provoke the scholarly legitimating of negationism. The response has been provided long ago by Pierre Vidal-Naquet: "[O]ne can and should enter into discussion CONCERNING the 'revisionists'.... But one should not enter into debate WITH the 'revisionists'. It is no concern to me whether the 'revisionists' are neo-Nazi or extreme left wing in their politics: whether they are characterized psychologically as perfidious, perverse, paranoid or quite simply idiotic. I have nothing to reply to them and will not do so. Such is the price to be paid for intellectual coherence" (Vidal-Naquet, 1992, pp. XXIV-XXV. Author's emphasis). * This article is part of the study "Between Denial and 'Comparative Trivialization': Holocaust Negationism in Post-Communist East Central Europe" originally published in ACTA, no. 19/2002 and is reproduced with the permission of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
* This article is part of the study "Between Denial and 'Comparative Trivialization': Holocaust Negationism in Post-Communist East Central Europe," originally published in "ACTA," no. 19/2002 and is reproduced with the permission of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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