10 August 2010
Romania’s National Bank has been strongly criticized after minting a coin which depicts the late patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Miron Cristea, who as prime minister stripped many Jews of their citizenship in 1939. Cristea is one of five Romanian Orthodox Church patriarchs the bank has honored with a silver-minted coin. However, after a complaint from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Mugur Isarescu, the bank's governor, agreed to review the coin. "We did not wish to send a racist, xenophobic or anti-Semitic message. We respect the values of the nation and democracy," he was quoted as saying.
Isarescu said the bank was making "a clear distinction between the patriarch and the prime minister". But he said it had agreed to set up a commission that would "analyze the situation and come up with a solution". He added the coin may be scrapped if it is considered to be anti-Semitic, which is illegal in Romania. "The decision should be made public in a few days' time," he said.
Cristea headed the church between 1925 and 1939, and was the country's prime minister in 1938/39. His government amended the citizenship law, thereby stripping 225,000 Jews (over a third of Romania’s Jewish population at the time) of their citizenship. In a study published in 2004, an international commission of historians said that Cristea had "demonized the Jews" and called for their deportation. The panel also established that some 270,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews died between 1940 and 1944, during Marshal Ion Antonescu's pro-Nazi regime, while some 25,000 Gypsies were deported, half of whom died.
After the new coin was minted, the Romanian central bank received a letter of protest from a director at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. DC. Radu Ioanid, who runs the museum's international archives, said he was "shocked" by the coin and called for it to be withdrawn. The coin also sparked protest from Romania's Jewish community. "I can't understand how the patriarch managed to pass through the filter. It is known there are black stains connected to his attitude towards the Jews," said Robert Schwartz, representative for Romanian Jews in the city of Cluj.
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