Romania’s first Holocaust education center has opened on Sunday in the childhood home of Nobel Laureate, human rights activist, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
The “Holocaust Cellar,” located in the town of Sighet, will become a new feature of the Holocaust museum in the pre-war childhood home of Wiesel, which is located in the courtyard of the old Jewish Ghetto of Sighet, and will serve as a learning center dedicated to the 13,000 local Holocaust victims.
The opening is sponsored jointly by the Government of Romania, the City of Sighet, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the Romanian Jewish Federation and Limmud FSU. This is the first in a series of events that will mark 70 years since the expulsion of the last Jews of northern Transylvania to Auschwitz.
“I am honored and deeply moved that my cherished home in Sighet has become a place Romanians and others can learn about the crimes of the Holocaust, and how the Jewish community was wiped out,” said Wiesel. “The opening of the Holocaust Cellar supports my life’s efforts to ensure that humanity never forgets the evil that took place there and throughout Europe.”
The opening of the center was held on the day marking the 70th anniversary of the expulsion of the last Jews from northern Transylvania to Auschwitz. Overall, 131,639 Jews from Maramures County in Romania were deported to Auschwitz.
In 1944, two days after Passover, the Jews of Maramures County, in northern Transylvania, were rounded up and forced into 13 ghettos. Eventually, 131,639 Jews from Maramures County were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and most were exterminated. Between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust in Romania and the territories under its control. An additional 135,000 Romanian Jews living under Hungarian control in Northern Transylvania also perished in the Holocaust, as did some 5,000 Romanian Jews in other countries.
Among participants at the event will be Viktor Opaschi, the Romanian Minister of Religious Affairs; Irina Cajal, Deputy Minister of Education; Ben Helfgott, Vice President of the Claims Conference and leader in the UK Holocaust survivor community; Romanian parliament members; Chief Rabbi of Romania Rafael Sheffer; Cantor Yosef Adler; the Mayor of Sighet, Ovidiu Nemesh; Harry Marcus, head of the Sighet Jewish community and other leaders of the Romanian Jewish Federation; prominent journalists from Israel, the United States and Romania; the and members of Limmud FSU.
“The story of the Jews who lived in North Transylvania has not been widely told until now, and we’re proud to help begin this next chapter,” said Chaim Chesler, chairman of the Memory Committee of the Claims Conference. “The education center commemorates the terrible fate that befell the Jews of this area, and ensures their story will not be forgotten.”