Romania’s foreign ministry on Monday said the Holocaust should remain “a lesson of national and international history which should never be forgotten,” a message that stands in contrast to the low level of public awareness about the country’s role in the Holocaust.
The statement came as more than 200 Holocaust survivors and their families joined delegates from world governments at the Auschwitz concentration camp on the 75th anniversary of its liberation. Jewish groups have urged Germany to do more to combat antisemitism which is on the rise across Europe.
Some 1.1 million people died there during World War II, and 90% of those murdered were Jewish.
Monday marks Holocaust Memorial Day as well as the day 75 years ago that Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz, in German-occupied Poland, and 7,000 prisoners were freed. Almost half of these people would later die as they were too ill, starving or exhausted to survive.
“Romania expresses its solidarity with the survivors of the atrocities of Wold War II,” the foreign ministry statement said, pointing out “a growth in intolerance, xenophobia, and antisemitism.”
A study conducted in October-November 2019 by the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania revealed one in three Romanians were aware the Holocaust occurred in Romania, but fewer people know that hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported to their deaths from Romania to Nazi-controlled areas outside the country, such as Trans-Dniester in the Soviet Union.
Romania made Holocaust denial illegal in 2015, making public denial of the systematic slaughter of Jews by Nazi Germany punishable by up to three years in prison. Public awareness about the Holocaust however remains low.
Between 280,000-380,000 Jews were killed on Romanian-held territory during World War II. Romania’s Jewish population plummeted from 800,000 before the war, to fewer than 10,000 today.
Antisemitism persists in Romania, with a study taken in 2015 and 2017 finding just 39% of Romanians would accept a Jewish person as a family member.
Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu recently warned about rise of Holocaust denial around the world in recent years at a meeting of the International Alliance for Memory of the Holocaust which is chaired by Luxembourg.
The 34 countries who took part recommitted to step up efforts to counter antisemitism at a meeting to mark 20 years since the adoption of the Stockholm Declaration.
The Stockholm Declaration set the precedent for governmental responsibility for Holocaust education, remembrance and research as well as the fight against antisemitism.
“The foreign ministry supports “diversity, human rights and fundamental freedoms which are an essential condition for building and developing any democratic society,” the statement said.
This weekend, in memory of the Holocaust, a series of film and documentaries were screened at the Romanian Peasant Museum Cinema.
The productions included feature films and animations which told the stories of people who survived the Holocaust and their families and the next generations.
The event was organized by the Elie Wiesel Institute for the Study of Holocaust in Romania, in partnership with the Romanian Peasant Museum Cinema.