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Cablegate: Romania's Jews: Dying Off, but Not Forgotten

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RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSK RUEHSL RUEHSR RUEHVK
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DE RUEHBM #0616/01 2511056
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 081056Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9882
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 000616

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EUR/CE FOR ASCHEIBE, EUR/OHI FOR CKENNEDY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV RO
SUBJECT: ROMANIA'S JEWS: DYING OFF, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

SUMMARY

1. (SBU) As the Government of Romania prepares to inaugurate
the Bucharest Holocaust Memorial October 8, Romania's Jewish
community finds itself in a paradox. Anti-Semitism - though
still prevalent and in some ways ingrained in Romanian
society - has lost much of its virulence and overtness. At
the same time, the small and aging Jewish community is dying
out with diminishing hope for renewal. Cultural life for
Jews is becoming sufficiently barren that the chief rabbi in
Bucharest, a young father of two, may emigrate. End Summary.

MEMORIALIZATION AND REMEMBRANCE...

2. (U) Construction of the Bucharest Holocaust memorial is
on track after numerous bureaucratic delays. Dedication of
the concrete plaza and structure in a small downtown park is
scheduled for October 8, with President Basescu and
high-level government officials expected to attend. The
event will undoubtedly receive wide coverage and contribute
to Holocaust awareness. Although Holocaust denial in Romania
is limited to right-wing extremists, only in the late 1990's
did the country's education curriculum acknowledge Romania's
unique role as the only country besides Germany to implement
its own system of concentration camps. (Note: Authorities
deported approximately 150,000 Jews to Romanian-controlled
camps in the Transnistria region of present-day Moldova,
where 80,000-90,000 died. An additional 55,000 Jews were
killed in mass pogroms in Romania. End note). Today
awareness is on the rise; high schools offer an optional
course on the Holocaust, and an Embassy contact in Bacau
county administers a nation-wide teacher training program for
Holocaust studies.

...AND CONTEMPORARY SUFFERING

3. (U) Ironically, while more Romanians become more aware of
Jewish history, the 6,000 strong Jewish community in Romania
is suffering through a difficult period. The Jewish
Federation of Romania, the primary source of social
assistance for elderly Jews, has cut back programming. Until
recently, the Federation received almost all of its
assistance funds from the American Jewish Joint Distribution
Committee (JDC, known as "The Joint"). The JDC cut its
funding by two-thirds as part of a plan in which the
Federation would sell some real estate holdings to make up
the difference. However, the decline of real estate values
during the economic crisis led to a severe funding shortfall,
forcing the Federation to raise the minimum age for elderly
Jews to qualify for aid. The result: an increase in the
number of pensioners 60-plus years old in need of medical and
social assistance, yet too young to qualify for it.

4. (SBU) The slow pace of Jewish property restitution makes
matters worse. The executive director of Caritatea, the
Jewish foundation that files claims with the Romanian
Restitution Agency (ANRP) to recoup confiscated properties,
told us that outstanding claims have inhibited sales and
other transfers of Jewish-owned properties, preventing
much-needed access to cash. While the ANRP appears no slower
in processing Jewish claims than those of the general
population -- it has resolved about 300 of the approximately
2,000 claims filed by Caritatea -- the process has not always
worked as it should. For example, in the northeastern city
of Iasi, local authorities assigned hundreds of acres that
used to belong to the local Jewish community, including part
of a cemetery, to other petitioners as replacement for their
non-returnable properties. Such swaps are permissible under
Romanian law, but in this case the authorities did not take
into account that the Jewish community had active claims on
the same plot of land. The dispute now sits in court.

5. (SBU) Another concern is an aging leadership unwilling or
unable to groom a younger generation of leaders. In separate
conversations, the president of the Committee to Monitor
Anti-Semitism and Bucharest's chief rabbi explained the
generation gap as resulting from different historical
experiences. Romania's older Jews suffered through a Fascist
regime, the Holocaust, 40 years of communism and a tumultuous
transition to capitalism. For them, Romania's younger, more
urbane Jews -- some of whom came of age in a relatively
prosperous, free Israel - have not paid their historical
dues. In other communities, however, there is no
identifiable younger generation. Septuagenarian Jewish
leaders in Bacau County said the small community there
overwhelmingly consisted of individuals 60 or older.

6. (SBU) Back in Bucharest, home to half of Romania's Jews,
cultural life suffers. In recent years attendance at
religious and secular events has sharply declined, especially

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among the youth, the Bucharest rabbi said. He fears that the
bonds of community will weaken further when the current crop
of leaders dies off. Only 30 years old and the father of
two, the rabbi surmised he may emigrate to offer his children
a chance to grow up within a community, lest Romania be left
with only empty buildings and memories.

7. (SBU) Comment. Ironically, even as Romanians are slowly
coming to grips with the Holocaust and the insipid
anti-Semitism that continues to plague their country, the
shrinking Jewish population here may be reaching the point of
no return. By the time Judaism is finally able to enjoy a
tolerant and accepting environment in Romania, there may be
few Jews left to benefit from it. End comment.
GITENSTEIN

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