230170 10/19/2009 5:42 09BUCHAREST702 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL VZCZCXRO3120 PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR DE RUEHBM #0702 2920542 ZNY CCCCC ZZH P 190542Z OCT 09 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9981 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE C O N F I D E N T I A L BUCHAREST 000702
STATE EUR/CE FOR ASCHEIBE AND EUR/OHI FOR CKENNEDY
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/19/2019 TAGS: PHUM, PGOV, RO SUBJECT: ROMANIA DEDICATES ITS FIRST-EVER HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL
Classified By: Ambassador Mark Gitenstein for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D).
1. Summary. The Government of Romania dedicated the country's first-ever Holocaust Memorial on October 8. Holocaust survivors, Jewish community leaders, foreign dignitaries and two former Presidents of Romania listened as President Basescu declared that the Romanian state bore responsibility for atrocities committed from 1940-44. A special solemn session of the Chamber of Deputies followed the ceremony. In a country still tinged with anti-Semitism and widespread prejudice against Roma, these events mark a watershed in Romania's willingness to deal with its troubled past. End Summary. 2. The austere ceremony on a sun-baked plaza consisted of a short religious reading followed by series of speeches. In attendance were Romania's three post-communist Presidents, cabinet ministers, the President of the Chamber of Deputies, leaders of the Jewish community, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, the President of the American Jewish Committee, a delegation from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, numerous Holocaust survivors, Ambassador Gitenstein and a large diplomatic contingent. 3. Addressing the audience, President Basescu stated unequivocally that the Romanian state assumed responsibility for the atrocities committed from 1940-44 and that those who remained silent shared responsibility. (Note: Between 280,000 and 380,000 people - overwhelmingly Jews and Roma - died in areas under the Romanian army control during this period. Tens of thousands of Jews also were killed in pogroms and other societal violence. Basescu did not mention these numbers, but we expect them to appear on a historical plaque to be added to the Memorial in the coming weeks. End note). Following Basescu's comments, the Director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum read a short message from Elie Wiesel, and a Jewish and Roma Holocaust survivor told of their suffering during that era. After the speeches Basescu helped unveil the dedication plaque and all attendees were invited to tour the cube-shaped structure, which contains tombstones and victims, first names etched into the concrete walls. 4. Later in the day, the Romanian Chamber of Deputies convened a special session to commemorate the dedication. Ambassador Gitenstein and Warren Miller, Chairman of the U.S. Commission to Preserve America's Heritage Abroad, each addressed the session. Other speakers included the President of the Jewish Federation of Romania, the Roma representative to Parliament, the President of the American Jewish Community, the Israeli Ambassador to Romania and the Director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Although attendance in the Chamber was light - the session took place on a Thursday afternoon, when most representatives are in their districts ) the session provided speakers with an opportunity to state for the public record in Romania the number of deaths resulting from the atrocities, an important task since local anti-Semites still dispute or minimize those numbers. 5. Comment. Basescu's remarks came with some political risk; he is involved in a heated re-election campaign with the far-right vote, approximately ten percent of the electorate, still up for grabs. Prior Romanian leaders, both during and after communism, have evaded admitting state responsibility for the deaths, and construction of this memorial had been delayed for years. For this reason, October 8 marks another step forward in Romania's maturation as a democracy. Just as the 2004 Wiesel Commission Report on the Holocaust laid bare the events that comprised a previously-concealed chapter of Romanian history, the unveiling of the Memorial provides common Romanians with a highly-visible and easily accessible public space to contemplate their dark past. End Comment. GITENSTEIN