The virus of antisemitism is alive and well in Eastern Europe, and so is the denial of the Holocaust. It is particularly disconcerting that a younger generation in Romania, and more than likely everywhere else in the world, should be infected with this virus, and is -- or claims to be -- ignorant of the real treatment of Jews in the 20th century.
Dan Sova, a 39 year old Romanian lawyer and Social Democrat, who has been a Senator in the Parliament since 2008, was promoted to the position of Minister for Parliamentary Relations by the Prime Minister Victor Ponta on August 6 after saying on a television broadcast on March 5, that "no Jew suffered on Romanian territory (during the Holocaust) thanks to Marshal Antonescu." Two days later Sova was removed "temporarily" from office as speaker of his political party. He has also said that "only 24 Jews were killed during the Iasi pogrom (of June 28-29, 1941) by the German army."
Both statements by Sova were false and malicious. Ion Antonescu, the pro-Nazi dictator of Romania during World War II was "leader of the state," prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister, and self-appointed Marshal. He joined the Tripartite Pact of Germany, Italy, and Japan against the Allies in November 1940, two months after it had been signed. He also established close personal contact with Hitler. It was Antonescu who on June 27, 1941, ordered the commander of the military garrison of the town of Iasi, in northeast Romania, to "cleanse" the city of its Jewish population. The action was not instigated by the Nazis but by the Romanian authorities and the Romanian army on their own initiative.
It is estimated that during the two days of the pogrom in Iasi, between 13,000 and 15,000 Jews were massacred in the streets or else died in the death trains on which 100 Jews were herded into each boxcar; most died of thirst, starvation, or suffocation. The actions of the Romanian regime in the Holocaust led to the deaths, not of 24 Jews, but a number estimated to be between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian Jews -- most likely the larger number, in the territories under its control.
It was not Nazi policy that triggered the massacre of Jews but the Romanian government itself -- with the enthusiastic participation of the military, and the endorsement of the broader society, similar to the better-known participation of the French Vichy regime and French authorities during the war.
In the period after World War II, from 1945 to 1989, Romania was under Communist control, first by the Soviet Union and then as an independent country; information about the country's actions during the war was largely suppressed. Few Romanians were aware of the involvement of their country during the Holocaust. Perhaps the kindest thing to be said of Dan Sova is that his schooling did not include any information about the Holocaust. It is difficult, however, to believe that a young lawyer educated at the University of Bucharest could be so ignorant. When criticism arose of his promotion on August 6, four days later he confessed that his remarks on the Holocaust were "completely wrong." It would be nice to take at face value his plans to make concrete actions on the matter, one of which will be a course of lectures on the Holocaust.
No matter the degree of sincerity in Sova's apologies and regrets, a few lessons could be drawn from his case: there is a critical need to keep on discrediting Holocaust deniers, ranging from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran to Ernst Zundel, a German who lived in Canada. Education, especially of the young, about the Holocaust is urgent and essential to put an end to the falsehoods of distortions of history by individuals such as David Irving in Britain, Robert Faurisson in France or Louis Farrakhan in the U.S. Both the young and the old should continue to be informed of the assertions of the deniers -- the allegations that the Diary of Anne Frank was a hoax because parts of it were written with a ball point pen, or that Auschwitz was too small to have been an extermination camp -- to be able to refute them.
The ignorance of Dan Sova shows how important it is to reject the argument that too much attention has been given to the Holocaust, and that 20th century historians have over-emphasized Jewish suffering. On March 17, 1990, for example, Pat Buchanan wrote in the New York Post about what he called "so-called Holocaust survivor syndrome," which he said involved group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics. It is painful that some Holocaust deniers, trying to make the case against the existence of Israel, have argued that Jews should be regarded not as victims but as victimizers. The Catholic Bishop Richard Williamson, who in November 2008 denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers (although he did say that between 200,000 to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps) also declared that the Holocaust was a Jewish invention so that "we would prostrate ourselves on our knees before them and approve their new state of Israel." As Deborah Lipstadt has written, these people accuse Jews of using "the world's sympathy to displace another people so that Israel could be created."
One can admit that Nazi Germany was not the only perpetrator of villainous and criminal behavior. The twentieth century abounds with similar criminal acts. One should acknowledge and deplore, especially, threats of genocide, the treatment of Armenians, people in Cambodia, Tibet, Mali, Nigeria, the Balkans, Sudan, and the Congo. Yet, the Holocaust was unique in its scope and number of casualties. It remains unique in spite of the cavalier denial or minimization of it by ignorant and bigoted people like Dan Sova.
Michael Curtis is author of Should Israel Exist? A Sovereign Nation under Attack by the International Community.