September 20, 2018

Israel’s Quest For Romanian Jews in the “Golden Era” of Communism

It has been a few years since I have warily read Radu Ioanid’s The Ransom of The Jews, which tells the tale of how Israel had to pay off the Romanian secret service in order to open its borders so Jews can leave – peculiarly the state of Israel had to pay off Ceausescu in order to allow for thousands to make aliyah in the 1960’s and 70s. Of course, back then I placed the book aside, once again reaffirming my long standing belief in the inexplicable nature of anti-semitism in Romanian history, but recently I have once again encountered this confounding story, only to make me ponder on the very nature of international power politics.

The tragedy of Romanian Jewry, albeit has become quite known amid the discipline of history in recent years, has not been extended to show the egregious anti-semitism that was present in post-war Romania. And of course, how could it, when the universalism of Communism and socialist doctrine disallowed for any sort of xenophobia? The truth remains however, that even the short lived years under the famous Ana Pauker and afterwords, life for Jews in post-war Communist Romania, as it was for everyone in the country, was not terribly good.

It did not however start with Ceausescu, the last ‘Stalinist’ of Europe, but rather under Gheorghiu-Dej who began to let Jews to leave the country at a rate of three to four thousand per head, depending on the age and education of the individual. The transactions set up by the Romanian Secret Police at the time, and a man named Jacober – a Hungarian Jew who helped many escape the repressive regime of Romania. The Israeli State, along with private funding, allowed for thousands to escape.

The precipitous nature of Romania’s economy however, along with so many other Warsaw Pact countries lacked any real agricultural infrastructure, or real economic efficiency. Gheorghiu-Dej who desperately needed a sustainable agricultural and industrial output, and actually decided to allow the Israelis to built large farms across Romania, which propelled it to number four exporter of of certain farm animals later on, in exchange for allowing people to immigrate to Israel.

It was under Ceausescu's reign that the ‘sale’ of Jews, as it was called by him and others, that reached its epitome. Over the course of his rule, he would allow Jews to leave the country for vasts amount of money that he would neatly stash away in his Swiss bank accounts, through the Securitate. However, the interesting thing is that he cut the same deal with the FRG which paid exorbitant sums for ethnic Germans to leave the country – particularly from the substantial German minority in Transylvania.

It should not be a surprise that Ceausescu once said “Jews, Germans, and oil are our best export commodities” as his intention was always not only to exploit the Romanian people, but other countries as well in his quest to fill his personal treasury, from where his wife Madam Ceausescu bought herself stylish furs and jewelery – around the same time millions in the country were deprived of the most basic foodstuffs.

The number of Jews that left Romania after the Second World War, after approximately 375 thousand were murdered under the Antonescu regime was not always exact, nor fluid. Until 1951 over 100,00 left, as in the time leading up to the establishment of the PCR, and its early years there were not enforced rules. Yet once Ana Pauker was disposed, the numbers were far smaller. In fact, Zionists were persecuted through the regime, and many were placed in the early labour camps that were built for the construction of the Danube-Black Sea Canal.

Although this is a pervasive fact that is usually misconstrued in Romanian popular culture, the realities surrounding its nature are far more saddening. It remains to be seen how this one story, can only help to illuminate the truly totalitarian and deplorable system that took hold of Romania for nearly half of the 20th century.

Today there are over 400,000 Romanian Jews that live in Israel, and the interesting thing is that they have retained some precepts of the culture as well. In Romania however, now there are only approximately 23,000, many of whom are over the age of 65. We should acknowledge why Jews left Romania: to find a much better life and a new hope in Israel- a democracy, and safe haven from the despotic nature of Eastern Europe. The truth remains that even after the Shoah, Europe was by no means free of anti-semitism, as the world is by no means free of it today.