Overview

Romania, under pro-Nazi dictator Ion Antonescu, joined the Axis alliance in November 1940 and collaborated in the persecution and extermination of Jews.  Quantifying the deadly impact of the Holocaust on Romanian Jews is complicated due to the numerous border and population shifts prior to and during World War II (WWII), with most experts evaluating population totals and deaths by area.  For instance, in the summer of 1940, Romania was forced to cede territory to Hungary and the Soviet Union that contained more than half of its approximately 750,000 Jews.  Following the June 1941 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Romania seized back the ceded Soviet territories and occupied a larger area in Ukraine, to which it deported well over 100,000 Romanian Jews.  Some 250,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews died in areas under Romanian control between 1941 and 1944.  In 1942, the Romanian regime initially agreed to turn over to Nazi Germany the 300,000 Jews still within Romania, but then refused to do so, resulting in their survival.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) estimates that 220,000 Romanian Jews died in the Holocaust, which includes at least 90,000 Jews deported by Hungary from northern Transylvania.  Other Romanian sources, such as the International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, estimate a higher number – between 280,000 and 380,000.  Of the 25,000 Roma deported to Transnistria, at least 11,000 perished.

The World Jewish Congress (WJC) estimates that between 9,300 and 17,000 Jews live in Romania today.  In the 2011 census, 3,271 individuals declared themselves to be Jewish.  The main organization representing the country’s Jewish community is the Federaţia Comunităţilor Evreieşti Din România (Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania).

In 1997, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania and the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) established the Caritatea Foundation, which assumed responsibility for preparing and submitting claims to the National Authority for Property Restitution (ANRP) for confiscated Jewish property.  According to the Foundation, however, the process is complicated by ambiguities in Romania’s restitution laws, a general preference for courts to settle cases, short deadlines for documents, and overly bureaucratic procedures.  Claimants may be directed to government-managed archives to obtain required documents, but the archives generally require long processing times that often result in missed submission deadlines.

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

Private property seized during the Holocaust included farmland, forests, food processing plants, mills, distilleries, homes, apartments and buildings.  Romania passed laws to reverse the confiscation of Jewish and Roma property soon after the fascist regime was deposed in August 1944.  Legislation included Law No. 641/1944 (regarding the abolition of anti-Semitic measures) and Law No. 607/1945 (regarding the annulment of certain contracts that transferred property during exceptional circumstances).  Since the country’s 1989 revolution, some claimants have pursued court cases to seek restitution of private property under Law 641/1944, which entitles Jews to seek restitution of certain properties confiscated during the Holocaust.  There is no known statistical data covering restitution cases filed under Law 641/1944, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the courts have granted restitution or compensation in only a small percentage of these cases.

Claims by some foreign citizens relating to war damage and nationalization were settled through bilateral agreements with foreign governments (e.g., United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom).  Restitution began to take place after the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, although post-Communist restitution laws effectively often excluded Holocaust-era confiscations.  Laws enacted in the 1990s for private and communal property restitution sometimes overlapped or conflicted and were not well enforced.

In the last decade, Romania has passed several broad laws on private property restitution.  Following a decision by the European Court of Human Rights, Romania passed Law No. 165/2013 to rectify systemic problems with its restitution program for private property confiscated by the Communist regime.  In 2016, subsequent legislation prioritized the processing of private property claims made by Holocaust survivors and resolved technical issues that had been delaying the return of certain Jewish communal properties.

The 2016 legislation was adopted during the tenure of then-Prime Minister Cioloș. Proposals that could help unblock or expedite the processing of remaining private and communal property claims, as well as proposals to make the application for a pension program less burdensome to Holocaust survivors who no longer have Romanian citizenship, are under review in discussions with the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania and the WJRO.

During the Holocaust, the regime seized cemeteries, synagogues, schools, hospitals, and other types of Jewish communal or religious property.  Under Romanian law, the Jewish community is entitled to receive compensation for buildings and land confiscated or nationalized between September 6, 1940, and December 22, 1989.  The Caritatea Foundation has obtained restitution or compensation for 40 percent of the communal properties it identified.  Lack of access to archival documents and the destruction of some archival collections limited the Foundation’s ability to file claims for all the identified communal properties before the 2006 deadline.  Romania’s National Authority for Property Restitution reports a much higher percentage of successful claims (up to 90 percent).

Legislation passed in 2016 clarifies the Caritatea Foundation’s rights to 55 Jewish communal properties, such as schools and burial societies that were incorporated separately from properties owned by the country’s pre-Holocaust central Jewish communities.  This 2016 legislation also resolved a technical issue that had delayed 40 of the Caritatea Foundation’s claims for properties that the Jewish communities were compelled to “donate” to the state during the Communist era.

Romanian law established a point system for compensation in private and communal property cases where restitution was not possible.  Religious groups can use the points only to bid on other properties in auctions organized by the National Commission for Real Estate Compensation.  The Commission validates compensation decisions of other local or central authorities, including those of the Special Restitution Commission within the National Authority for Property Restitution, which decides on restitution claims filed by religious denominations and national minorities.  As is done with private property, these laws establish a 240-day period during which claimants must submit additional evidence in their cases when requested by the entity in charge of resolving their restitution claim.  If a claimant cannot meet the deadline, the administrative authority may reject the case.  The authority may extend the deadline by an additional 120 days if the claimant can prove he/she made a concerted effort to obtain the evidence (usually in the possession of other state authorities), although was unable to do so.

The 1947 Treaty of Paris requires Romania to return heirless and unclaimed property to the Jewish community.  Romania enacted legislation in 1948 (Law No. 113) designed to implement the Treaty by transferring property belonging to victims of racial or religious persecution to organizations that would benefit remaining members of the community.  According to a 2016 report by the European Shoah Legacy Institute, the law “was never fully or meaningfully implemented.”

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

During the Holocaust, government officials, including representatives of the National Bank of Romania, were responsible for the confiscation of artwork, jewels, foreign currency, bank accounts, and share certificates, as well as for the forced conversion of Romanian currency and forced sale of precious metals at lower exchange rates or prices.  Law 641/1944 allowed for the restitution of movable property confiscated during the Holocaust.  However, historians and representatives of the Jewish community report that the government has not implemented these provisions.  These sources assert that valuable objects were either withheld by corrupt officials or transferred to the National Bank of Romania.  The Jewish community has raised this issue, but the Bank asserts that no records are available.  Historians speculate the evidence was likely destroyed.  Experts from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany assert that Romanian cultural institutions do not conduct provenance research on their art collections.

Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property

The Department is not aware of any outstanding issues with Judaica and Jewish cultural property.  Some ceremonial objects and Torah scrolls that were preserved are currently located in the Jewish Museum in Bucharest.

Access to Archival Documents

The Caritatea Foundation has reported that lack of access to archival documents makes supporting restitution claims particularly challenging.  In many cases, the Foundation was not able to obtain required documentation from the National Archives demonstrating proof of ownership in time to meet the deadlines imposed by restitution laws.

In February 2019, Romania’s parliament adopted a bill declassifying documents related to the Jewish community that are in the custody of the National Archives and the archives of the general secretariat of the government for the period 1938-1989.  As of mid-2019, resources were not yet in place to identify and select relevant documents for declassification.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

Romania joined the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2004 and held the chairmanship in 2016-2017.  A key achievement during its chairmanship was the adoption of the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism in May 2016, followed by Romania’s national adoption of the definition in May 2017.  The IHRA website (www.holocaustremembrance.com) provides details about post-Terezin Declaration developments in Romania, including the preservation of killing sites and the acknowledgement of the Romanian role in the Holocaust.

The government commemorates National Holocaust Remembrance Day on October 9, marking the day in 1941 when the Romanian authorities began deporting the country’s Jews to Transnistria.  Schools and some public institutions also commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27.  In May 2019, government representatives participated in the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland.  Plaques are present at train stations located in areas from where Jews were deported during the Holocaust.  Memorial sites relevant to the country’s Holocaust history are also present in several cities.

The Elie Wiesel Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, located in Bucharest, has carried out research on the Holocaust since 2005.  The Institute implements a range of commemorative and educational projects, including training for teachers and educational resources for schools and exhibitions.  The Ministry of Education organizes a national student contest every two years dedicated to the memory and history of the Holocaust.

Not all textbooks include accurate information about the Holocaust in Romania, and teaching Holocaust history is mandated only in the seventh grade.  The high school course “History of the Jews – The Holocaust” is optional, and few students choose to take it.  In March 2019, the Ministry of Education, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Wiesel Institute agreed on an arrangement that lays the groundwork for introducing high quality, historically accurate lessons on the history of the Holocaust and the Jewish people in Romania into the public school curriculum.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Wiesel Institute also hold regular trainings on the country’s Holocaust history for police officers.

In June 2019, the Wiesel Institute requested that the Romanian government approve the transfer of a lot adjacent to the Grigore Antipa Museum of Natural History in Bucharest to build a museum dedicated to the Holocaust.  This request was not approved, but in September 2019, Romania’s parliament passed a bill transferring a building in downtown Bucharest to the Wiesel Institute for use as a museum.

The Wiesel Institute has reported cases of local authorities who allowed streets, organizations, schools, and libraries to be named after persons convicted of Holocaust-related war crimes or crimes against humanity.  Most public history museums do not include information on the country’s Holocaust history in their permanent exhibitions, and exhibitions at some of these museums praise Ion Antonescu, the pro-Nazi dictator who governed Romania from 1940 to 1944 and, after the war, was convicted of war crimes and executed.

The Welfare of Holocaust (Shoah) Survivors and Other Victims of Nazi Persecution

Romanian and foreign citizens who were persecuted based on ethnic or religious criteria between 1940 and 1945 are entitled to a monthly pension.  The amount of the pension varies, depending on the type and length of persecution endured.  A law that went into effect in July 2019 allows Holocaust survivors who reside in foreign countries and are eligible for compensation in Romania to prove that they were victims of racial and ethnic persecution based on official documents released by institutions of the country of residence.  The law also exempts Holocaust survivors residing in foreign countries from physically submitting their applications for compensation at the pension offices in Romania and allows them to use other means of communication in order to apply.  For survivors who left at a young age and do not speak Romanian, submission of the application and additional documents in Romanian creates barriers.  Roma survivors have also experienced challenges.  Historians and Roma civil activists reported that a significant proportion of the remaining Roma survivors who applied for pensions were denied because of administrative barriers and requirements.

Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report: Romania
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