The Nizkor Project

50 Years of Silence

History and Voices
of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria

Jewish Emigration
and the
"Gentlemen's Agreements"

The following aspects of Jewish life in Romania are gleaned from the book Red Horizons, Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief, written by Lieutenant General Ion Mihai Pacepa, (Regnery Gateway, 1987, Washington D.C.). As the chief of the DIE (Department of External Information), Pacepa was privy to the most secret and intriguing schemes plotted by Ceausescu. Eventually, in 1978, Pacepa defected to the United States where he wrote his book.

With the consolidation of the Communist regime, the masked anti-Semitism continued to endanger the remaining Jewish population. Israel was anxious to open emigration channels and rescue as many Jews as possible from Romania.

In the late 1950s, a British businessman, Henry Jacober, negotiated a top-secret verbal agreement between Romania and Israel: the Israeli government would pay a certain amount of money for every Jew permitted to emigrate from Romania. This agreement was referred to as the "gentleman's agreement".

Initially, when Gheorghiu-Dej was the Prime Minister of Romania, the agreement was not limited to hard currency as a payment by Israel. In fact, it began with the building of an automated chicken farm near Bucharest. This was done in exchange for emigration visas for some five hundred Jewish families. When Gheorghiu-Dej, visited the farm, he was so impressed that he ordered the building of five additional farms. Soon, turkey, pig, cattle, and sheep farms were added to the deal.

Later the deal expanded to include the building of automated slaughterhouses, freezer storages, and shipping facilities, all designed for export of meat to the West. Thus, while the population was deprived of many food items, including meat, the Ministry of Interior -- owner of these farms -- became the largest producer and exporter of meat in Romania.

All of this was done in exchange for exit visas for Romanian Jews. The general population in Romania was not aware of these behind-the-scene transactions, and the fact that some Jewish families obtained travel certificates added to the anti-Semitic atmosphere.

The Jewish population was also unaware of these secret transactions. Furthermore, applying for the necessary travel documents was not an easy decision, since those who applied were labelled as enemies of the Communist system, of the country. That resulted in immediate humiliating dismissal from the place of employment, and social stigmatisation. Finding another job was next to impossible, because the professional status of Romanian citizens was marked on their identity cards. Therefore, when fired professionals had to look for employment as unskilled workers (cashiers, cleaners, etc.), they were immediately identified as "politically" problematic. The political stigmatisation also included the family members and friends of the person who applied for emigration. In addition, it seemed that there was no rhyme and no reason in the processing of the emigration applications. One had to risk being ostracized, without knowing how long the waiting period would be, or whether the travel documents would be granted at all. There were some who obtained their travel certificates within one year, others had to wait ten or more years, while to others the documents were never issued at all.

Correspondence with family from abroad was also very risky. It was interpreted as having contact with "capitalist" countries, and entailed the risk of being accused of spying for a capitalist regime. Such an accusation could result in unending reprimands, humiliations, harassment, loss of employment, and in some cases even imprisonment.

A simple joke told amongst friends, could be interpreted as having political overtones and could lead to sanctions. An unexpected knock at the door could create a state of panic.

The exchange of Jews for the building of farms and storage for meat was kept strictly secret. Even Ceausescu became aware of it only when he came to power, after the death of G. Gheorghiu-Dej.

While initially outraged, Ceausescu changed his mind merely two years after he had acquired absolute power in Romania. Thus, in 1967, he ordered that the necessary arrangements be made to resume the deal with Israel. However, this time, Ceausescu was willing to exchange exit visas only for hard currency. Negotiations were held directly with an Israeli intelligence officer, a native Romanian, involving direct payments of large amounts of U.S. dollars to Romania. It is rumoured that by the summer of 1978, the payments ranged between $2,000.00 to $50,000.00 U.S. dollars per person, depending on age, education, and professional status. These deals were kept in strictest confidence.

In order to accumulate sizeable amounts of foreign currency, Ceausescu decided to "sell" not only Jews, but also Romanians of German origin who wanted to return to live in Germany -- The "selling" of people was a unique occurrence in modern history. He considered "Jews, Germans, and oil" the most important export commodities in Romania.

Over the course of several years, hundreds of millions of dollars were channelled into Romania. Ceausescu acquired enormous monetary resources, part of which he used for espionage and disguised Communist propaganda campaigns in the West.

Romania was the only Communist country, which did not break diplomatic relations with Israel after the Six Day War in 1967. The reason for this departure from the Communist line was to maintain this very advantageous "economic relationship".

In addition, this "break" with the Communist Party-line was also to Ceausescu's advantage because he was eager to portray himself to the West as being more moderate than his counterparts from other Communist countries. He planned to exploit this false image to create a more receptive atmosphere through which Romania could acquire the trading status of the most favoured nation, which provided substantial political and financial benefits.

This web of deceit was so important to Ceausescu that even his visits to Moscow for meetings with Leonid Breznev were kept strictly secret and not a hint was ever leaked to the press.

Ceausescu's machinations seemed to promote the results he expected. The year 1969 marked a first-time visit of an American President (Richard Nixon) to a Communist nation in eastern Europe -- Romania.

Eager to expand the inroads he gained in the West through his carefully constructed new image, Ceausescu reciprocated with several visits to Washington during 1973, 1975, and 1978.

Nevertheless, during all that time people lived in a constant state of psychological torment. While most citizens, regardless of religion and nationality, were trapped by the machinations of dictatorial Communism, the Jewish population was particularly exposed to the wrath of this oppressive regime, partly because of the pervasive anti-Semitism and partly because of its connections with world Jewry.

Under these circumstances, Romanian Holocaust survivors suppressed the trauma of their experiences and buried them deeply in the back of their minds.

The fact that the Holocaust in Romanian, and more specifically the tragedy of Transnistria, is still somewhat obscured is in part due to the above-mentioned "gentlemen's agreement". It is quite likely that suppressing the atrocities perpetrated against the Jews by Fascist Romania was a conditional clause in the unwritten "gentlemen's agreement" between Romania and Israel. It quite reasonable to assume that considering the saving of thousands of Romanian Jews from the clutches of the anti-Semitic Communist regime was an important priority for which certain compromises had to be made.

The "Red Autocracy" exploited and crushed everyone who was not a part of its cogwheels. The Jewish population which did not manage to emigrate was fiercely persecuted by state- sanctioned, but unofficial, anti-Semitic policies.

During its ruling, the "Red Autocracy" endorsed policies, which led to economic impoverishment both on an individual as well as on a national level. This repressive political regime also impacted on the moral and spiritual decline of the Romanian nation.

The Ceausescu Regime was the last Communist dictatorship in Europe. The revolt of December 1989 marked the explosion of many years of repressed anger towards that dictatorship. The revolt quickly spread and took on national proportions, ending with the shooting of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, The Romainian Government attempted to adopt a free-market economy. The period of transition resulted in economic and political instability, and uncertainty, which continue to the present. The adjustment to a free-market economy and a free society is still quite feeble.

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