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Most of Romania’s Jews were massacred during World War II, but not Bucharest’s Jews; Here’s why…

Briceva, Bessarabia, Romania, 1941,
Deportation of Jews

By ROBERTA SERET, PH.D. Anti-Semitism had always been part of Romanian culture long before the war, but it was in 1927 with the establishment of the Iron Guard, Romania’s fascist party, that their practices publicly centered on eliminating all Jews in Romania by torture and death squads.

In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, reflecting on the treatment of the Bucharest Jews during this time, I realize that this part of history may not be well known. I feel it is important to revisit the facts. In my forthcoming novel, “Gift of Diamonds”, a survival story beginning in 1960s Romania, where Communism was rampart, I intersperse the evils of Communism with Fascism. Both heinous forms of government used similar horrors of destroying people with torture and death squads. In Romania, it began with Fascism.

King Carol ll, the royal-dictator (1930-1940) included in his government fascist practices, beginning by signing a law that was influenced by the Nuremberg racist protocols that defined who was to be considered Jewish. He tightened his dictatorship against Jews until 1940 when he was forced to abdicate and left for Portugal with his Jewish mistress, Magda Lupescu. General Ion Antonescu eagerly took power in September 1940, formed an alliance with the Iron Guard and tightened restrictions on the Jews.

Romanian death train edited 1

The Iaşi death trains are estimated to have killed between eight and fourteen thousand Jews in the summer of 1941. Over 100 people were stuffed into each car, and many died of thirst, starvation, and suffocation aboard two trains that for eight days travelled back and forth across the countryside, stopping only to discard the dead (as photographed).

 

One year later, he destroyed the organization after a heinous act in January 1941: the Iron Guard had lists of rich Jews and hunted them in their homes. They tortured them until they signed over their houses and properties. Then they shot them in the forest. Others were taken to Bucharest’s slaughterhouse, where they were hung on butcher’s hooks, still alive to be tortured more. Their bellies were cut open and their entrails hung around their necks. Their dead bodies were hanged on hooks with a sign under each body, “Kosher meat.”

And still, the Iron Guard legacy of anti-Semitism and torture continued to influence Antonescu’s dictatorial regime during the war.

Anti-Semitism ravaged the Jewish population throughout the country, especially in areas outside the capital as in Bukovina, a territory previously owned by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and in Bessarabia, acquired from Russia, as well as in Moldavia and sections of Transylvania. All Romanian Jews received rights of citizenship in 1923, but in 1940, that citizenship was taken away from all Jews except those living in Bucharest. The Jews residing outside the capital were persecuted, rounded up and forced into death trains. Genocide was the goal. Those who survived were sent to Transnistria, a camp where typhus and starvation slaughtered more than 200,000, including 50,000 children.

Strangely, the Bucharest Jews were spared. Their population of 100,000 were not forced to wear yellow Jewish stars, or to live in ghettos, or to be deported. The question is who protected them? Paradoxically, it was General Ion Antonescu, himself, with assistance from Romania’s Chief Rabbi, Alexandru Safran, and the respected president of the Jewish communities, Wilhelm Filderman, with the Queen mother of Romania, Elena. Why did Antonescu, the fascist dictator, get involved to help?

Antonescu was aware that after losses on the Eastern Front in the battle of Stalingrad (August 1942 – February 1943), when he had allied his army to the Germans, that the Axis power could lose the war. At this time, Antonescu had in place the intention of stripping the Bucharest Jews of their citizenship and deporting them to camps. But Queen Elena and her son, King Mihai, intervened and organized formidable resistance against the dictator. Rabbi Safran and Filderman joined forces with the Royal family.

Antonescu was a rabid, violent anti-Semite. Even Adolph Eichmann had warned Antonescu that he was being “too cruel and sloppy with his Jews.” And yet, he didn’t want to appear to the outside world as being a monster. Consequently, he met regularly with Queen Elena and Rabbi Safran to discuss which Jews on their list should be spared. The Queen had warned the fascist leader that she was determined, “If the Romanian Jews were sent to Auschwitz, she would march next to them.” It was at this time that Antonescu realized the tide of war was turning against Germany, and that the Bucharest Jews could represent for him an insurance policy in case of a post-war trial for “crimes against humanity.” The Bucharest Jews, alive, could serve as collateral for his own survival.

In addition to a judicial justification, Antonescu began negotiating a financial deal without either Hitler or Eichmann ever knowing – to sell the Bucharest Jews and send them to Palestine. But the British, who controlled Palestine at that time, didn’t want to upset the Arabs. Even though Ben-Gurion, the leader of Israel, wanted the Bucharest Jews to build up the new country, the British told Antonescu, no. They called it a slave trade, unethical to sell people.

Antonescu persisted in trying. He had another idea, a business concept to trade and sell human lives: Jews for exit visas. His plan was to extort cash from American and world Jewish organizations for the sale of Romanian Jews. Such a scheme could simultaneously placate his government officials by their receiving from exiting Jews, a windfall of abandoned homes, gold, paintings, jobs, and businesses.

A key figure in this market was Henry Morgenthau, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, under President Roosevelt. Since 1934, he was the only Jew in Roosevelt’s cabinet and was active in bringing to the president various rescue plans to stop the annihilation of European Jews. Despite criticism about a slave trade extortion plan, the committee for a Jewish Army of Stateless and Palestinian Jews, a Zionist organization in New York, with the help of Morgenthau, placed an ad in The New York Times on February 16, 1943 saying, “For sale to Humanity, 70,000 Jews, Guaranteed Human Beings at $50 a piece.” There was no interest. No potential buyer came forward. And President Roosevelt hesitated to push the plan forward. It was an election year and not a popular idea. The rescue plan fell through, and with it the lives of 70,000 souls and thousands of children.

Morgenthau, tirelessly negotiated with Antonescu, while stalling for an end to the war. As negotiations continued, on August  23,1944 King Mihai, residing in the Royal Palace in Bucharest, organized a coup d’état against General Antonescu, who had been imprisoned by the king. In the process, the king and his new government declared war on the Axis powers and asked the Romanian Army not to resist the Red Army. One week later, on August 31, 1944, the Soviets entered the capital. An armistice was signed with Moscow on September 12,1944, and the Soviet occupation remained in Romania. Two years later, on June 1,1946 in Bucharest, Antonescu was executed by a military firing squad for war crimes. He had been responsible for the death of 300,000-380,000 Romanian Jews during the war.

The irony of history is that the Russians saved the Bucharest Jews. In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I remember the horrific numbers:

In 1930, Romania had a Jewish population of 725,000-750,000.

In 1945, 290,000-360,000 Jews had survived.

In 1940 there were 95,072 Jews living in Bucharest.

In 1945 there were 100,000-150,000 Jews living in Bucharest, which included Jews from other sections of the country who had sought safety in the capital.

ROBERTA SERET, Ph.D. is the founder and executive director of the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) at United Nations, International Cinema Education Organization and the Director of ESL and Film for the Hospitality Committee of the United Nations. She is an adjunct instructor at New York University in Film. Her work in the United Nations Global Classroom has been praised by various influential Americans, including Michelle Obama, Mike Bloomberg, and Caroline Kennedy. The Transylvanian Trilogy is her first fiction series, with Gift of Diamonds now available and Love Odyssey releasing March 23, 2021.


 

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Features

New book chronicles what were arguably the most important – and controversial Olympic Games in history

Review by BERNIE BELLAN With the 33rd Summer Olympics set to take place in Paris from July 26 to August 11, I thought it an opportune time to tell readers about a book that was released earlier this year and which provides a sweeping view of what were arguably the most controversial Olympic Games ever held – the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.
Written by two writers, Glenn Allen and Richard Kaufman, who have spent most of their careers writing and producing films, PLAYED: The Games of the 1936 Berlin Olympics combines fiction and non-fiction in a thrilling, yet somewhat confusing manner.
Although Jewish readers are likely to find themselves focused on the rampant antisemitism that pervaded the games – given the determination of Hitler to use the Olympic Games as a masterful propaganda tool, this book is sure to appeal both to fans of the Olympic Games and students of history.
There are many heroes mentioned throughout “PLAYED,” including such well known names as Jesse Owens, who embarrassed Hitler to no end by winning what was then a record four Gold medals in various track events. But there were many other heroes as well, especially Alan Gould, who was the Associated Press Sports Editor, and who wrote many columns calling for a boycott of the games; and William Dodd, the US Ambassador to Germany from 1932-1937, who was warning of the dangers posed by the Nazi threat long before it became all too apparent to politicians, including President Franklin Roosevelt – who adopts quite a sanguine attitude toward the Nazi threat in this book.
And then there are the villains, chief among whom was the despicable Avery Brundage, President of the American Olympic Committee, who was determined to be appointed to the International Olympic Committee (of which he was later to become its president, from 1952-72). It is no coincidence that it was Brundage who was not only the key figure in overcoming resistance to the notion of the US boycotting the 1936 games, it was Brundage who was also central to the 1972 Munich Olympics carrying on even after the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes.
I admit that I knew quite a bit about Brundage’s unsavoury reputation even before reading this book, but the degree to which he connived to make sure America would be represented at the games when there was fierce opposition to exactly that position from many of the leading figures in the sports world in the US at the time is truly shocking.
But, while the historical record provides ample evidence of the extent to which Hitler and his henchmen were determined to use the Olympics as a showcase for Nazi superiority, while reading this book I couldn’t help but wonder just how much fiction was mixed with fact.
In the press release I was sent about the book, it was noted that “Based on real stories and real people involved in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, PLAYED plunges readers into a compelling, fictionalized account of the insanity and hysteria that unfolded across Germany, the United States and in much of the world from 1931 through 1936.”
I couldn’t help myself from questioning: Just how much is fact and how much is fiction in this book? Of course, given that the authors use their imaginations to conjure up the dialogue in the book, I kept thinking to myself – especially as I was reading about how sexually aggressive many of the female characters in this book were: Is this a case of two screenwriters using their past experiences writing movie scripts as an excuse to infuse something that might be passed off as a largely historical account with a great big dollop of licentiousness in order to attract readers?
Two of the major female characters: Martha Dodd, daughter of US Ambassador Dodd, and Eleanor Holm, a champion US swimmer, certainly led carefree sex lives – at least if you were to believe the accounts given in this book. Dodd, in particular, is such a fascinating character, because not only was she quite willing to go to bed with many Nazis (and it seemed – anyone who asked her), including Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstatengel, described as Hitler’s henchman – who would eagerly dispatch anyone Hitler wanted rid of, in time Martha Dodd ended up in the arms of a Russian spy – who himself was ordered executed by Stalin.
As for Holm, even though she was a champion in the swimming pool (in backstroke events), she hardly led a disciplined life as an athlete. In PLAYED, at least, she is one hell of a “player” – and this was well after she was married!
Unfortunately for Holm, however, one man who lusted after her – and whom she detested, was Avery Brundage. Now, I did try to find out whether the account given by Kaufman and Allen of what happened between Holm and Brundage when they were both on the same ship headed to the Berlin Olympics with the entire American team of athletes and officials, was in any way true. (In the book, Brundage attempts to rape Holm, but given her athleticism, she manages to deliver a solid kick to his nether regions – leaving him writhing in pain. The next day, he decides to kick her off the US Olympic team.) According to Holm’s own account, however, the reasons for her being booted off the team had to do with her not wanting to go to bed when she was told to do so. (I much prefer the PLAYED version – and if they ever make a movie from the book, I’m sure audiences would be much more interested in watching Holm do to Avery Brundage what a lot of women would probably fantasize about doing to men.)
Of course, the parts of the book describing some of the leading Nazis, including Hitler himself, along with Joseph Goebbels and Herman Goering, are luridly detailed – as one would expect any description of them to be, but one character who comes off quite favourably – much to my shock, is Leni Riefenstahl, the famed German filmmaker, who had already established a notorious reputation as a propagandist in her famous documentary about the 1934 Nuremburg Rally, “Triump of the Will.”
Rather than painting her as a tool of the Nazis though, the authors offer quite a sympathetic – even admiring portrait of someone who was wedded to her craft. According to this book, Riefenstahl actually fell in love with a member of the US Olympic team by the name of Glenn Morris, who goes on to win Gold in the decathlon competition. (Again, however, there is one unforgettable scene where Morris, after winning his medal, runs over to Riefenstahl, rips off her blouse, and kisses her breast. Is this a Hollywood screenwriter’s fantasy? Who knows?)
There are also many stories of Jewish athletes in this book – some of which are tragic. The female high jump champion in Germany at the time was someone by the name of Gretel Bergmann. Bergmann had gone to England prior to the Olympics knowing full well that she would not be allowed to compete for Nazi Germany. In the book, Putzi goes over to England and threatens Bergmann that she will have to return to compete for Germany, otherwise her family – who had still remained in Germany, will face severe consequences. When Bergmann reluctantly returns to Germany, Brundage points to her becoming part of the German Olympic team as a sign that the Nazis have softened their stance toward Jews, but once the American do agree to participate and cross the ocean to Germany, Bergmann develops a mysterious “injury” that prevents her from actually being part of the German team.
The book is full of such stories – so many, in fact, that your head will be spinning trying to keep track of all the characters mentioned in the book.
Still, if you want to enjoy a rollicking read that may or may not have many parts that are wholly concocted from the writers’ imaginations even though they’re writing about actual events, then you might want to give PLAYED a shot.
As for this year’s version of the Olympics, while there isn’t nearly the same dramatic tension surrounding them as there was prior to and during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the cheating, skullduggery, and propaganda that permeated the 1936 games has forever tarnished the reputation of the Olympic Games and, while it’s a different type of antisemitism that we’re seeing on the world stage these days, we’re all holding our collective breaths wondering how Israeli athletes are going to be treated in Paris – the same way Jews were wondering how Jewish athletes were going to be treated in Nazi Germany in 1936.

PLAYED: The Games of the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Published 2024 by WordServe Publishing
419 pages

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Features

A Jewish Perspective on the Hidden Gems of Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta

Nestled along Mexico’s Pacific coast, Nuevo Vallarta and its neighboring city, Puerto Vallarta, have become popular destinations for travelers seeking sun, sea and cultural experiences. For Jewish travelers, exploring these cities offers a unique blend of relaxation and discovery; from pristine beaches to vibrant local culture, here’s a perspective on the hidden gems these destinations offer.

Traveling to Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta

Barceló Puerto Vallarta: A Tranquil Haven

Among the myriad of accommodations in the region, the Barceló Occidental Nuevo Vallarta (with bookings at https://www.barcelo.com/en-ca/occidental-nuevo-vallarta/) stands out as a serene retreat. Situated on Mismaloya Beach, this resort combines traditional Mexican architecture with modern amenities. Its all-inclusive packages cater to families, couples and solo travelers, providing an ideal base for exploring both Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta.

Exploring Nuevo Vallarta

Embracing Nature at El Cora Crocodile Sanctuary

Nature enthusiasts will appreciate El Cora Crocodile Sanctuary, located a short drive from Nuevo Vallarta. This sanctuary not only preserves native wildlife but also offers educational tours that delve into the region’s ecosystem. For Jewish travelers, it provides an opportunity to connect with nature while appreciating Mexico’s biodiversity.

Cultural Insight at the Marina Vallarta

The Marina Vallarta, known for its upscale ambiance and waterfront dining, offers a glimpse into local life. Jewish travelers can explore boutique shops and art galleries while enjoying a variety of international cuisines. The marina’s lively atmosphere during sunset, with boats bobbing gently in the marina and street performers entertaining passersby, creates a memorable experience.

Discovering Puerto Vallarta

Historic Exploration in the Zona Romántica

Puerto Vallarta’s Zona Romántica, also known as Old Vallarta, beckons history buffs and culture seekers. Cobblestone streets wind through quaint neighborhoods lined with colorful colonial architecture. Jewish travelers can visit the Zona Romántica’s eclectic art galleries, boutique cafes and the iconic Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, offering a glimpse into the city’s rich cultural heritage.

Artistic Marvels at the Malecón

A stroll along the Malecón, Puerto Vallarta’s oceanfront promenade, reveals a treasure trove of sculptures and open-air art installations. From the whimsical Seahorse sculpture to the thought-provoking Millennium sculpture series, each artwork tells a story of Mexico’s artistic spirit. Jewish travelers can engage with local artists and appreciate the vibrant cultural tapestry that defines Puerto Vallarta.

Culinary Delights

Savoring Kosher-Friendly Cuisine

While kosher options are limited in Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta, some restaurants and resorts offer kosher-friendly menus upon request. The culinary scene in both cities blends traditional Mexican flavors with international influences, ensuring there is something to satisfy every palate. Jewish travelers can indulge in fresh seafood ceviche, traditional tacos al pastor and refreshing aguas frescas while soaking in the coastal ambiance.

Community Engagement

Connecting with Local Jewish Communities

For Jewish travelers interested in community engagement, both Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta host small Jewish communities. Synagogues and Jewish community centers welcome visitors seeking spiritual connection and cultural exchange. Engaging with local Jewish communities provides a deeper understanding of Mexican-Jewish heritage and fosters meaningful connections across cultures.

Final Note

Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta offer Jewish travelers a blend of relaxation, cultural exploration and natural beauty. Whether basking in the sun on pristine beaches, exploring historic neighborhoods or savoring culinary delights, these cities provide a rich tapestry of experiences. With accommodations like the Barceló Puerto Vallarta offering comfort and convenience, travelers can immerse themselves in Mexico’s Pacific coast while appreciating its hidden gems from a unique perspective.

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Features

Gambling Statistics Shine Light on Canadian Gambling Culture

Explore pivotal statistics that highlight Canada’s gambling culture. Get a concise overview of the trends shaping the nation’s betting landscape.

Canada’s gambling culture is as diverse as its landscape, and recent statistics shed light on this thriving sector. From coast to coast, Canadians engage in various forms of betting, each with its own set of trends and numbers. This article delves into the data, uncovering the patterns and preferences defining gambling nationwide.

Canadian Gambling Statistics

User penetration refers to the percentage of consumers engaging with a product or service beyond the expected audience. Despite a 47% decline in 2023, the online gambling industry is projected to expand.

By 2027, it’s forecasted that the gambling market will cater to 20.38 million individuals. This trend suggests an increasing preference among Canadians for online gambling over traditional brick-and-mortar casinos.

The industry boasted a 97% return on investment in 2022, outperforming land-based casinos, which only saw a 61% return. With the rising interest in online betting, Canada’s online casino industry is experiencing the highest user penetration rate.

What Is the Average Expenditure on Gambling by Canadians?

Many enjoy the thrill of the occasional game of chance. The fact that you can retain all of your earnings, as there are no taxes on gambling profits in Canada, adds to the allure of gambling. In Canada, winnings are subject to taxation only for professional gamblers with a sustained winning streak.

In recent years, the trend toward online casinos has changed. The pandemic-induced closures of land-based casinos accelerated this change. It’s a profitable industry, as 60% of Canadians say they spend money gambling each month.

Canadian gambling statistics:

  • Six out of ten Canadians have gambled.
  • The monthly average expenditure for gaming and gambling in Canada is $6.75.
  • A month’s worth of gaming expenses is reported by 63% of males and 57% of women.
  • According to 73% of Canadians, gambling-related issues have gotten worse in their region.

The Increasing Attraction to Online Casino Gambling in Canada

An increasing number of Canadians are using online casinos, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. They offer various benefits regular casinos do not and are more convenient. Over time, land-based casinos’ revenue has decreased due to the growing popularity of online gambling sites.

The pandemic shutdowns accelerated the drop. For instance, the land-based casinos in Alberta no longer make as much money as they once did. Consequently, the Albertan government opened an online casino, and other governments quickly adopted similar strategies.

Casino Games at Online Casinos in Canada

Online casinos in Canada offer various games that cater to different preferences. Some of the most popular casino games at Canadian online casinos include:

  • Slots: These are the most common and varied, with themes ranging from classic fruit machines to the latest online slot games with advanced graphics and features.
  • Table Games: Classics like blackjack, roulette, craps, and baccarat are available in multiple variations.
  • Live Dealer Games: These provide an immersive experience, allowing players to interact with real dealers and other players in real time.
  • Video Poker: A favourite for many, combining elements of slots and poker in a unique format.
  • Progressive Jackpots: Games that offer the chance to win life-changing sums of money with a single spin.
  • Canadian Legalities for Online Gambling Sites
  • Casinos are legal in Canada, but each province and territory has the authority to establish its gaming regulations and issue online gambling website licences. Saskatchewan is the only province that does not host multiple online gaming sites.
  • Authorities in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba issue licences without a specific requirement, but these online casinos must operate exclusively within their respective provincial borders. Online gaming sites seeking to operate beyond these borders need a special agreement.
  • In Canada, only land-based casinos face penalties; foreign operators can only function by obtaining local licenses. Although offshore casinos cannot legally target Canadian players, they can accept them.
  • Statistics on Gambling Addiction in Canada
  • While the majority of gamblers do so without experiencing issues, there are hazards and health issues associated with it for some people. Because of this, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) carries out studies and creates resources aimed at assisting Canadians in making wise decisions regarding their gambling, both generally and, in particular, high-risk scenarios, like when they’re using alcohol or other drugs.
  • Here are some key statistics on gambling addiction in Canada for the year 2024:
  • 64.5% of Canadians aged 15 or older actively participated in gambling activities within the past year.
  • 1.6% of Canadian gamblers, representing approximately 304,400 individuals, face moderate-to-severe gambling addiction risks.
  • Canadian males reported higher gambling participation and addiction risks compared to females.
  • Indigenous Canadians showed a higher tendency to gamble (72.4%) and experienced greater susceptibility to gambling problems (4.5%) than non-Indigenous people.
  • In Canada, responsible gambling is promoted through various programs and initiatives, ensuring that individuals engage in betting activities within their means and maintain control. The emphasis is on providing resources and support to prevent gambling addiction and encourage safe, enjoyable gaming experiences.
  • Reflecting on Canada’s Responsible Gambling Journey
  • The statistics we’ve explored offer a revealing glimpse into Canada’s gambling culture, highlighting both the widespread appeal and the responsible practices of Canadian bettors. As the industry evolves, it reflects the country’s commitment to balancing entertainment with economic benefit and social responsibility. The future of gambling in Canada seems poised to be driven by informed choices and a clear understanding of the risks and rewards involved.
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