(JTA) – The World Jewish Congress (WJC) praised Romanian President Klaus Iohannis for enacting a law that makes it illegal to deny the Holocaust.
“We congratulate President Iohannis for his strong stand against fascism, anti-Semitism and racism,” WJC President Ronald Lauder said in a statement Thursday, after Iohannis signed into law legislation passed recently by Romania’s parliament. “Only by fighting Holocaust denial and fascism at the highest levels can a nation effectively counter the troubling spread of anti-Semitism across Europe,” said Lauder.
The law, which is now part of Romania’s penal code, punishes Holocaust denial and the promotion of the fascist Legionnaires’ Movement with prison sentences of up to three years.
“We urge other European leaders to show the same kind of bold leadership and send a clear message: that fascists and Holocaust deniers are not only committing morally reprehensible acts, but also crimes punishable by law,” Lauder said.
The failures to restitute Jewish property and persistent Holocaust denial, even in academia and the government, have tarnished the country’s reputation. In 2012, a politician who denied that Jews had suffered in Romania during the Holocaust was appointed to a ministerial post despite protests by Jewish groups. The politician, Dan Sova, later apologized and said his statement was the result of ignorance.
A few months later, a Romanian member of the European Parliament denied the Holocaust on television. The following year, a prominent historian said it was a “huge lie” that large numbers of Jews were killed in areas under Romanian control during the Holocaust, leading to his dismissal from a teaching post at a German university.
“Most Romanians believe the Holocaust happened, but many still think Romanians did not perpetrate it” in Romania, Liviu Rotman, a historian at the University of Bucharest, told JTA. “To them it was the Hungarians or the Germans, but never Romanians, despite a wealth of evidence.”