Title: The Ransom Of The Jews – The Story Of The Extraordinary Secret Bargain Between Romania And IsraelWednesday, March 23rd, 2005
Author: Radu Ioanid
Foreword by Elie Wiesel
Publisher: Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, IL
From the very beginning of the Zionist enterprise, Israel has been instrumental in delivering entire endangered Jewish communities. One such community was that of the Romanian Jews.
Radu Ioanid, of The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., researched the rescue of hundreds of thousands of Jews whom Israel ransomed from the Romanian government during the 1950′s and 60′s. Although Romania’s leaders, including Gheorghiu-Dej and Nicolae Ceausescu, ran maverick governments within the Soviet eastern bloc, Communist Romania remained a repressive country, with children trained to report on the “traitorous” activities of their parents, and religious expression repressed.
In fact, the Romanians were such prolific wiretappers that in 1967, when Nahum Goldman, chairman of the World Jewish Congress visited Bucharest to make a speech at the Athenee Palace Hotel, he wanted to have the speech taped, but his technician bungled the job and was unable to make the recording. This was reported by Rabbi Rosen, the head of the Jewish community, to Emil Bodnaras, a member of Romania’s Politburo, who retorted: “Tell Goldman not to worry; we have a tape of the entire speech.”
By 1989, 40 years after the beginning of the Romanian aliyah, more than 380,000 Jews had emigrated to Israel at the cost of many millions. This aliyah was conducted under such secretive terms that a special law was passed by the Knesset which referred to it as the “sha-sha aliyah” (the hush-hush aliyah).
The one million dollar payoff money was carried aboard a plane at Zurich airport by a Romanian diplomat headed for Bucharest. He arrived minus the suitcase containing the ransom money sent from Israeli intelligence to Gheorghiu-Dej. The suitcase later turned up intact (or else the operative might have lost his head). Part of the ransom was paid in investments in factories and agricultural commodities desperately needed by Romania’s anti-Semitic officials.
The other side of the coin was that this arrangement made possible Israel’s only embassy within an Iron Curtain country during the Cold War period, and even assisted the efforts of The United States in using Romania as a lever within the Communist world to further its own aims.