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Selling Romanian Jews

by: Baruch Cohen, Ynetnews - Last updated: 2005-05-24

Ransom of the Jews

Ransom of the Jews

The well-kept secret of the “sale” of Romanian Jews under the post-war communist Ceausescu regime is a fascinating story, written by the energetic and knowledgeable Radu Ioanid, Director of International Archives at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Ioanid was also a principal partner with Elie Wiesel in publishing the recent report on the “International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania”. In addition he is credited with numerous articles and essays, including “The Sword of the Archangel: Fascist Ideology in Romania,” and “The Holocaust in Romania.”

Ransom of the Jews is the result of years of intensive research through thousands of documents and interviews with surviving participants, mainly Israeli Mossad intelligence agents and businessmen involved in the episode. Stories ranged from then-Romanian Foreign Minister Ana Parker, to the chief Rabbi of Romania Moses Rosen, and numerous other players.

Due to World War II, the extreme shortage of foreign currency (American dollars), and inefficient management, Romania’s economy during
the late 1940s was devastated. According to Ioanid, the idea of selling Jews to Israel started in late 1949 and early 1950, with a ransom of between USD 50 to USD 100 per Jew. Between late 1949 and the end of 1989 (after dictator Ceausescu’s overthrow in Romania), close to 300,000 Romanian Jews were sold to raise American dollars for the cash-strapped country.

Romania had the greatest post-war population of Jews in Europe. Out of a population of almost 800,000 Jews before the war, 350,000 survived the Nazi inflagration. With the rise of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1965, the selling of Jews emerged as a priority. By 1978, writes Ioanid, payments reached between USD 2,000 to USD 50,000 per person.

According to Ioanid, “It was in 1974, Dan and Yanai (members of Israel’s liaison in charge of this operation) brought suitcases of cash. One of these suitcases, containing USD 1 million, was lost in the Zurich airport, only to be found intact two days later!”

Ceausescu steadily raised the price of each Jewish emigrant. At times, the going rate ranged from USD 826 to USD 10,000 per person. For younger and better-educated Jews, the price went higher and higher. The sky was the limit, says Ioanid: “In special cases Romanian authorities asked for as much as USD 250,000 per person."

The Ransom of the Jews is an incredible story. This is a tale of one of the late twentieth century’s most tragic exchanges of humans for money, driven by sheer greed and disregard for human values. It was a cruel, deplorable and mischievous campaign, involving the selling of thousands of women, men, and children, old and young.

Tellingly, Ioanid writes: “The Romanian government has, to this date not extended an apology to the government of Israel nor to the Romanian Jews (who were) oppressed and sold.”

The book is a shattering document, a story superbly told, as well as an opportunity to learn about the vicious character of the anti-Semitic face of Romania’s Communist leaders. It should be translated into Hebrew, so that the second and third generations of Romanian Jews in Israel, will know how their grandparents and parents were treated by their “homeland.”

I might have been one of the slave Jews sold by Romania’s government. I hold a “passport” – a piece of paper called Certifcat de Calatorie (Certificat de voyage) Valabil (valable) - Sase luni, una calatorie, ducere. (Available - six months, one voyage out). Dated: 16, January 1950.

The certificate includes my spouse Sonia and daughter Monica. Once out of Romania and living in Israel we were free to start a new life!

Baruch Cohen is a Holocaust survivor and Research Chairman for the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research

Reproduced with permission and copyright: Ynetnews