Dan Şova, a spokesman for Romania’s opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD), is paying the price for his poor grasp of history. On March 5th, discussing the Holocaust live on television, he said: “On the territory of Romania, no Jew suffered”. He added that “24 Jews died” as a result of the notorious government-backed Iasi pogrom of 1941. Most historians put the figure at 12,000 or more.
It didn’t take long for Mr Şova to feel the consequences. The PSD distanced itself from his comments, removed him from his post and dispatched him to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
Yet Mr Şova’s views are hardly unique in Romania. Any newspaper kiosk is full of books and other publications that echo his pronouncements.
Education is partly to blame. The Holocaust wasn’t part of Romania’s school curriculum until 1998, and until 2004 many textbooks followed the communist line that the killings were something that happened somewhere else. In 2004 the state-backed Wiesel Commission issued a report on the Holocaust, leading to an official acknowledgement that killings and deportations took place on Romanian territory. Since 2005 secondary-school students have been able to take a special Holocaust course.
Yet no history faculty at Romanian universities offers a course on the Holocaust, notes Felicia Waldman, a professor at the University of Bucharest’s Goldstein-Goren Hebrew Studies Centre. And so many history teachers graduate ill-equipped to teach the subject.
More worryingly, history is often taught with the nationalist assumptions that held sway before the overthrow of communism. Romanian children are, for example, still taught that they are the direct descendants of the Romans and Dacians, an approach some historians see as simplistic.
“The history that is taught is of the Romanian people, not of Romania itself,” says Ms Waldman. “Students are still taught about how hospitable the Romanian people have always been, and how they’ve been the victims of history, never acting as aggressors.” Young and old people alike believe that Ion Antonescu, the pro-Nazi wartime dictator, was a “friend of the Jews”.
The Centre for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism in Romania (MCA) estimates that 270,000 Romanian Jews and 36,000 Romanies (Gypsies) were exterminated under Antonescu. There are believed to be fewer than 9,000 Jews in Romania today.