Right-wing Romanian political party calls Holocaust education a ‘minor issue’, drawing strong rebuke

BUCHAREST (JTA) — A right-wing political party has caused a stir in Romania for calling teaching about the Holocaust, which was recently made compulsory in high schools there, a “minor issue.”

The populist Alliance for the Union of Romanians, or AUR, released a statement on Monday accusing the government of relegating “fundamental subjects” such as “exact sciences, Romanian language and literature and national history” in favor of “minor topics”, such as “sex education” and “Holocaust history”.

By this, the government is trying to “undermine the quality of the education system in Romania,” the statement read.

The AUR holds a total of 43 seats in the Senate and in the lower house of the Romanian parliament with 466 seats. Holocaust history became a compulsory subject in Romanian schools in November.

Israel’s Ambassador to Romania, David Saranga, argued on Twitter that the AUR’s statement falls under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, which the Romanian government has adopted in 2017.

Speaking to RFI Romania, the government’s special representative for the fight against anti-Semitism, Alexandru Muraru, hinted at the possibility of banning the AUR, calling the party a “threat to the Romanian constitutional order”.

The Elie Wiesel Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania also condemned the AUR, accusing its leaders of hiding “behind parliamentary immunity” to avoid prosecution for the statement.

AUR co-leader Claudiu Tarziu responded to Saranga in an open letter published on Wednesday.

“We are Christians, so we cannot be anti-Semites,” wrote Tarziu, who denied calling the Holocaust a “minor issue.” The senator acknowledged the “sinister horrors” inflicted on Jews by “the Nazi regime”, but did not mention Romania’s responsibility for the mass murder.

According to official Romanian statistics, between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews were murdered or died in the territories under Romanian administration during World War II.

The AUR shocked most of the country by winning 9% of the vote in the December 2020 national elections, entering parliament for the first time. Some of its leaders have defended the record of historical figures who served under the regime of Romanian dictator Ion Antonescu – an ally of Hitler – or who were part of the fiercely anti-Semitic Iron Guard, a revolutionary fascist movement.

Helen D. Jessen