Romania plans Holocaust courses
Fri June 25, 2004 10:23 AM ET
By Radu Marinas
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania plans to offer courses in Holocaust history to high-school students in a bid to face up to its dark Nazi past and prevent racism among youngsters.
The ex-communist Balkan state, an ally of Nazi Germany in World War Two, denied as recently as last year the Holocaust ever took place on its territory, despite evidence of the killings of hundreds of thousands of Jews.
Romania, where 20 percent of parliament seats are held by an ultra-nationalist party, joined NATO in April and hopes for European Union entry in 2007. Attitudes to the past have drawn protests from Israel and Jewish groups.
"It's a project of paramount importance for teenagers who need to learn about the horrors of the past, about the Holocaust in Romania," Education Ministry inspector Doru Dumitrescu told Reuters on Friday.
He said about 500 teachers had been trained with the help of experts from Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial to teach the courses, which will cover the history of the Balkan state's Nazi period, the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and Jewish history.
The courses of weekly one-hour seminars will be optional, but the ministry said it expected interest to be high.
The Israeli embassy in Bucharest welcomed the move, which is part of a series of measures agreed by Bucharest after last year's diplomatic row with Israel.
An international commission has been set up to shed light on the events of the Nazi era and a Holocaust Day has been declared for October 9, commemorating the mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and labour camps in 1941 by Romania's wartime leader Ion Antonescu.
"It's very important that Romania has finally understood the significance of teaching the Holocaust as part of its history," embassy spokeswoman Sandra Simovici said. "Only knowledge of the historical facts can ensure that such deeds are not repeated."
According to the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, about 320,000 of Romania's pre-war Jewish community of 750,000 perished in pogroms and labour camps on Romanian territory.
Another 100,000 Jews from Transylvania -- then under Hungarian rule -- were deported to Auschwitz where most died.