The first public Holocaust education center in Romania opened on Sunday in the pre-war childhood home of Nobel Prize-winning author Elie Wiesel.
The “Holocaust Cellar” became a new feature of the existing Holocaust museum, in the old Jewish Ghetto of Sighet in Maramures County. The Cellar will serve as a learning center dedicated to the 13,000 local Jewish Holocaust victims.
Accompanied by a series of special events in Wiesel’s hometown of Sighet, this was the first in a series of events marking 70 years since the expulsion of the last Jews of Northern Transylvania to Auschwitz. Among the events in Sighet was a concert memorializing Holocaust victims on Saturday night.
Speaking by live video stream to guests at the event, Professor Wiesel said, “To all of you at the opening of the new Holocaust Cellar in my home in my little town of Sighet in the Carpathian Mountains: I so wish that I could be there with you today.
“The house I was raised in is now a museum but to me it will always be uniquely special, eliciting the warmest of memories until the darkness of the kingdom of night befell us. I hope that your meetings, though melancholy in nature, are fruitful, enriching and full of meaningful learning.”
Between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust in Romania, which was a Nazi ally. 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.
“The story of the Jews who lived in North Transylvania has not been widely told until now,” said Chaim Chesler, Chairman of the Claims Conference’s Memorial Committee. “The education center commemorates the terrible fate that befell the Jews of this area, and ensures their story will not be forgotten.”
Among prominent participants at the event were Viktor Opaschi, the Romanian Minister of Religious Affairs, Irina Cajal, Deputy Minister of Education and Ben Helfgott, Vice President of the Claims Conference and leader in the UK Holocaust survivor community.