Book Launch -- The Ransom of the Jews. The Story of the Extraordinary Secret Bargain between Romania and Israel
Participants:Radu Ioanid, US Holocaust Memorial Museum; Alfred Moses, Department of State (ret.); Mircea Munteanu, CWIHP
On June 1, the Cold War International history Project organized a book launch event for Radu Ioanid's recently published The Ransom of the Jews. The Story of the Extraordinary Secret Bargain between Romanian and Israel, published by Ivan V. Dee (2005). Author Radu Ioanid, the Director of the International Archival Projects at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum presented his findings. Former US Ambassador to Romania Alfred Moses commented on the book. The audience included officials from the Romanian embassy in Washington, Romanian and Romanian-Jewish émigrés, historians and students from the local universities.
Based on interviews, secondary literature, and a secret documents gathered from the Romanian archives, Radu Ioanid told the story of Jewish emigration from Romania beginning with the actions of the Jewish members of British Intelligence (MI9) during WWII. Shaike Dan, a Romanian born Jew who escaped into British Palestine, was parachuted into Romanian in 1944 to find the location of British and American prisoners held by the Romanian authorities and establish contacts to facilitate Jewish emigration to Palestine. With his primary mission completed soon after his landing, Dan established contacts with numerous Romanian officials and with members of the clandestine Romanian Communist party. The latter contacts would prove increasingly useful after the end of the War. Shaike Dan would again and again return as a central character in the story, the go-between the Israeli secret services and their Romanian counterparts and government officials.
After the end of the war, Romania's policy towards Jewish emigration closely followed the line established in Moscow. Moscow, believing that a Jewish state would be closely allied with the Soviet Union, encouraged emigration both from the USSR and from its satellite countries. While the Romanian government had exterminated close to 300,000 Jews in Moldavia and Trans-Dnister region (Southern Ukraine) while an additional 100,000 had been deported to Auschwitz by the Nazi government in Hungary after the August 1944 coup, Romanian still had a sizable Jewish minority. Between the end of the war and 1951, over 125,000 Jews emigrated first to British Palestine and, after 1948, to Israel. As the relationship between the Soviet Union and Israel deteriorated, Romania's position followed. Shaike Dan's contacts with the Romanian Communist Party had paid off, as he was able to secure the cooperation of the Party leadership for emigration by ever increasing numbers of Jews. However, Ioanid stressed, by 1952 emigration had been drastically reduced—in part because of Stalin's paranoia about Zionism—coming to a virtual standstill in 1953-1954. Emigration picked up again between 1955-1958, but at the order of hundreds of immigrants a year, rather then the thousands and tens of thousands previously allowed to leave.
As Soviet troops were withdrawn from Romania in 1958, the Romanian government formed an underground trade network in London where Jewish emigration to Western Europe was bartered for specific goods, primarily agricultural products such as high yield crops. Families would pay specific sums into a special account so individuals to be allowed to immigrate. That account, Ioanid said, was then used to purchase the goods the Romanian government sought. When the Jewish Mossad found out about the transactions, the channel was transformed from allowing emigration to Western Europe to allow emigration to Israel. As the system had been set up and the barter was functioning to the advantage of the Romanian government, numbers of Jewish immigrants once again shut-up in the high thousands. By 1961, 21,000 Romanian Jews were allowed to immigrate to Israel. Shaike Dan was again at the center of the events, using his contacts with officials in the Romanian party leadership to establish a connection to the Romanian government which would allow Israel to take over the process from the London "office." The barter had also shifted focus, this time the Romanians being interested in upgrading their oil drilling equipment, with Israel providing access to US technology otherwise embargoed to Communist block nations.
After Ceausescu's rise to power in 1965, the process stops briefly as Ceausescu had not known about its existence. Soon after, Ioanid said, it resumes, though Ceausescu changes it from barter to cash payments per able bodied individual (the state of Israel never paid for children and the old.) The funds would be funneled into secret accounts controlled by Ceausescu and the Secret Police – the Securitate. This ongoing transaction also meant that the Romanian state continued to maintain a close relationship with Israel. Bucharest refused to break diplomatic relations with Israel in 1967 as the other East European nations did following the Arab-Israeli war, and even upgraded its legation with Israel to the rang of embassy in 1968. While Ceausescu never traveled to Israel—he was an anti-Semite and very pro-Arab Ioanid said—almost every Israeli Prime Minister visited Bucharest. The cash transactions continued until the fall of Ceausescu in 1989. These transactions took the form of cash payments for the trade deficit with Romania incurred by Israel, and were at times complemented by arrangements for interest free loans (where Israel paid the interest on Romanian loans). The numbers of émigrés, however, never approached the levels of the late 1940's or even the early 1960. As the numbers of the Jewish community dwindled, the government only allowed, on average, between 1,500 and 2,000 Jews to depart to Israel (additional Jews departed to Western Europe and the US). Of the eastern block countries, Romania was the only one to carry out such a project. Hungary had done so briefly in the late 1940s for nominal fees to cover the emigration cost. Only Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Omar Qaddafi's Lybia and the Sudanese government had stuck such bargains with Israel.
Former US ambassador to Romania Alfred Moses had been a representative of the Jewish community in negotiations with the Ceausescu regime in Romania throughout the 1970s and was special council to President Carter. He begun by saying that, prior to arriving in Romania in 1994, he had never known about the idea that Israel had carried out such transactions with the Romanian state. He placed the book in the greater Cold War context, and suggested that Israel's actions amount to a mistake, on both moral an strategic grounds. Romania, he suggested, was more interested in Most Favorite Nation status, and in its relationship with the US. As MFN was tied to emigration, Jewish emigration was going to happen whether Israel paid or not. While agreeing that the Romanians would have had to allow immigration regardless of Israeli payment, Ioanid suggested that the arrangement nevertheless happened, and, aside from the benefits seen by both sides, it also offered Israel a way of maintaining its position in the communist block.
For more information, contact Mircea Munteanu at the Cold War Project.
About the Author
Radu Ioanid is director of International Archival Programs at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Born in Bucharest, he was educated in Romania and in France, and now lives in Bethesda, Maryland. He is the author of The Holocaust in Romania and wrote the Introduction to Mihail Sebastian's acclaimed Journal 1935—1944, both published by Ivan R. Dee.
About the Commentator
Alfred H. Moses has had a distinguished career in public service spanning more than three decades. He served as Special Advisor and Special Counsel to the President of the United States in the Carter White House, in which capacity he was Lead Counsel to the President in the Billygate hearings. In 1994 President Clinton appointed Ambassador Moses to be the American Ambassador to Romania where he served for three years. In 2002 Ambassador Moses was awarded Romania's Marc Cruce Medal by the President of Romania, the highest category awarded by Romania and the only American to have been so honored. Following his ambassadorial service, Ambassador Moses was again called upon by President Clinton to serve as his special Presidential envoy for the Cyprus negotiations. In 2000 Secretary Albright, lauding his Cyprus role, wrote, "The process you set in motion clearly represents the best hope for a comprehensive settlement since the 1992 UN Set of Ideas."
In the 1970s he represented the organized Jewish community in negotiations with the Ceausescu regime in Romania to facilitate the emigration of Romanian Jews to Israel. Mr. Moses was president of The American Jewish Committee from 1991 until 1994, when he resigned to take up his duties as ambassador. He has served as chairman of the Golda Meir Association and as a trustee of the Jewish Publication Society.
He has written and lectured extensively on Central European and Middle East issues with articles appearing in The New York Times, The Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, SAIS Review, The Christian Science Monitor, ABA Journal, Haaretz and The Jerusalem Report, among other American and foreign publications, and has lectured on European and Middle East issues under the auspices of the Council of Europe, U.S. State Department, Brookings Institution, The Aspen Institute, Princeton University, Dartmouth College, Yale Law School Alumni Association, Center for Middle East Peace, Hebrew University and the Cosmos Club.