Romania’s prime minister has fired an official tasked with fighting for justice for the political prisoners of the communist regime for questioning the scale of the Holocaust.
Premier Florin Citu dismissed Octav Bjoza as chairman of the Association of Former Political Prisoners and Victims of Dictatorship from 1945 to 1989, a position he’s held since 2009.
The development came after the organization questioned the size of the Holocaust in a statement on March 12.
”To question the dimensions of the Holocaust and to try and make the Jewish community responsible for bringing communism to Romania is not just an attempt to mystify history, but dangerous for democratic values,” the prime minister wrote on Monday.
Victims of communism
His removal was praised by some but also drew ire. The 82-year-old, a former political prisoner, is admired for his unwavering fight for justice for the victims of communism.
Tensions arose earlier over a law that gives pensions to the descendants of the victims of the communist regime as a form of moral reparation.
The law was later modified to exclude the descendants of people who had been convicted of crimes against humanity or who had been a member of a fascist group or the Legionnaires, a fascist movement.
Mr Bjoza reacted angrily saying that the law would unfairly punish anyone that had been condemned by the communist regime as a fascist or Legionnaire. The communists sometimes used the term „fascist” or „Legionnaire” to smear or loosely describe opponents.
However, Mr Citu said it was unacceptable for Mr Bjoza to use his position to “plead for the successors of the war criminals to receive benefits from the Romanian state (which) is an insult to those who suffered because of the horrors of communism and the Holocaust.”
Responding to his dismissal, Mr Bjoza denied being anti-Semitic.
“A democratic and civilized country such as Romania is remains firmly committed to condemning the Holocaust and any form of ethnic, social or religious discrimination,” the prime minister said.
„Octav Bjoza’s slip of the tongue and unacceptable statements about the ‘relativization’ of the Holocaust are incompatible with the position of a government official,” Alexandru Muraru, a government advisor in charge of fighting anti-Semitism and preserving the memory of Holocaust and communism said.
Lawmaker Silviu Vexler, who is the leader of the Jewish community, on March 8 called the original law which wants to give pensions to former Legionnaires, their descendants, the descendants of war criminals and those who were in Nazi organizations “a horrific humiliation for the victims of the Holocaust.”
The Elie Wiesel International Committee for the Study of the Holocaust published a report in 2004 saying that Romanian authorities were responsible for the deaths of 280,000 to 380,000 Jews and 11,000 Roma from 1940 to 1944.
His removal also drew criticism. He is respected for his unwavering dedication in shedding light on the atrocities committed by the communists and his intransigence.
Florin Roman, a lawmaker and member of the prime minister’s Liberal Party, said: “It looks like we are cursed because we don’t know how to treasure real moral values, except when we don’t have them anymore.”
Historian Marius Oprea said Mr Bjoza had been „sacrificed” on the „altar of high-level party and state interests.”
In 2014, President Klaus Iohannis decorated Mr Bjoza to honor his unflinching anti-communist stance. He received a second award from the president for his efforts to fight communism in 2019.
Romania had about 500,000 political prisoners under the Communist regime that was in power from 1947 until 1989, about one-fifth of whom died while in detention, according to historians.