Jewish Party (Romania)
Tivadar Fischer (first)|
Mișu Benvenisti (last)
May 4, 1931|
September 18, 1944 (reestablishment)
Neue Zeit–Új Kor
|Regional wing||Transylvanian Jewish National League (EZNSz/UNET)|
Zionism (Religious, Revisionist)|
|Political position||Center-right to far-right|
|National affiliation||Central Council of Romanian Jews (1936, 1938)|
|International affiliation||World Zionist Organization|
The Jewish Party, in full Jewish Party of Romania (Romanian: Partidul Evreiesc din România, PER; Hebrew: המפלגה היהודית הרומנית) or Jewish National Party (Partidul Național Evreiesc or Evreesc, PNE; Hungarian: Országos Zsidó Párt), was a right-wing political party in Romania, representing Jewish community interests. It originally followed an undercurrent of Zionism, promoting communitarianism as a prerequisite of resettlement in Palestine, and later progressed toward Religious Zionism and Revisionism. Founded by the Tivadar Fischer, József Fischer, and Adolphe Stern, it had particularly strong sections in Transylvania and Bessarabia. In the Old Kingdom, where it registered least support, it was mainly represented by A. L. Zissu and Renașterea Noastră newspaper.
The PER was strongly opposed to the liberal and assimilationist program of Wilhelm Filderman and his Union of Romanian Jews (UER). It managed to undermine the UER's spread into Transylvania and other regions, presenting its own candidates in elections for Parliament during the 1930s, when it also became a vocal opponent of antisemitism. Effectively pushed out of national politics in unfavorable circumstances during the elections of 1933, it formed alliances with the UER, before being ultimately banned in 1938. Its support basis was scattered by territorial changes during World War II, and decimated by the Holocaust.
The PER reemerged soon after the anti-Nazi coup of 1944, clashing with the Romanian Communist Party and its satellite Jewish Democratic Committee, but also with Ihud-type Zionism. Failing to obtain recognition for its communitarian platform, the party was split between two camps. One was anti-communist, supported Zissu's platform of mass emigration into Palestine, and stood by the Revisionists in their conflict with Britain. The other, led by Mișu Benvenisti, was more open to cooperation with the communists, and was in control of the PER by 1946. Within two years, the communist regime dissolved all the Zionist organizations, imprisoning both Zissu and Benvenisti.
The PER came into being as a result of dissensions within the Jewish community. These followed the Jewish emancipation decrees of the early 1920s, and were aggravated by cultural and political differences between the regions of Greater Romania. Filderman's Union of Native Jews (as the UER was known before 1923) believed that a separate Jewish party was unnecessary, as it would isolate the Jews politically after they had struggled for decades to win Romanian citizenship. The Union stated that specific demands could be obtained more easily by participating in Romanian parties and collaborating with the Romanian government. As Filderman argued, the "specific interests" of the Jews "are not in disagreement with the general interests of the Romanian state". According to historian Henry Eaton, its stance was "politically cooperative" toward Romanian parties, seeking to "deflect the charge that Jews in Romania represented a separate and alien nation". More generally, the UER stood for a platform of Jewish assimilation: it was "rather supportive of integration", or even "moderate Romanianization". However, the UER was not fundamentally adverse to Zionism, with Filderman himself noting: "a Romanian Jew cannot oppose the creation of a Jewish national state".
The UER's assimilationist viewpoint was not shared by a group led by Tivadar (Theodor) Fischer, József Fischer, and Adolphe Stern. Stern, who represented the "Old Kingdom" regions, had been the original leader of the Union of Native Jews, serving from 1909 to 1923, in which capacity he supported emancipation and criticized the growth of violent antisemitism as embodied by the National-Christian Defense League (LANC). He had been elected to the Assembly of Deputies in 1922, as an ally of the non-Jewish Peasants' Party, caucusing with the Bukovina Zionist group headed by Mayer Ebner. The UER itself had opted for an alliance with the National Liberal Party (PNL), perceived by its Jewish sympathizers as the party of "order and peace".
Tivadar Fischer and József Fischer were Hungarian Jews from Transylvania. According to one account, they were sons of an Alba Iulia rabbi, stranded in Romania upon the end of World War I. Historian Attila Gidó writes that they were unrelated by blood, but united by their common defense of Orthodox Judaism; József Fischer had been a critic of Zionism, before being drawn into it by other Transylvanian activists, to become "one of Transylvanian Zionism's most important personalities".
As noted by political scientist Randolph L. Braham, the Fischers' constituency's "political culture was forged by their earlier experiences in the Hungarian Kingdom." As founders of the Transylvanian Jewish National League (EZNSz/UNET) and the single-issue Transylvanian People's Party, they had expressed their opposition to the UER as early as 1923, calling for its transformation into a "general union" of loosely affiliated bodies. Against the position taken by pro-UER Transylvanians such as Miksa Klein, they advised in favor of communitarianism, rejecting assimilation into the Romanian mainstream.
Creation and growth
The EZNSz/UNET formed a cartel with the National Peasants' Party (PNȚ) during the 1928 election, which won both Fischers seats in the Assembly. They coalesced into a "parliamentary club" with Ebner and the Bessarabian Zionist Michel Landau, calling themselves part of a "country-wide Jewish party". Their calls for the establishment of a registered party were poorly received by the Democratic Nationalist government. Constantin Argetoianu, the Minister of the Interior, opined: "Beyond equality as citizens, the Israelites cannot state any demand. Those of an ethnic nature, as taken up by a national Jewish party, would trap the Israelites in a political ghetto and would render difficult the matter of their integration." In turn, the Jewish deputies accused government of "inertia" and unwillingness to confront LANC antisemitism, registering with the opposition.
The PER was formally the fusion of two other short-lived Jewish Parties: a Fischer group and a Stern group. The resulting unified Jewish Party was established on May 4, 1931, in Bucharest. It had as its symbol the menorah, but also used "two small convex arcs joined together by a horizontal line". It published as its central organ Tribuna Evreiască of Bucharest, and its regional newspapers were the EZNSz/UNET's Új Kelet of Cluj and Neue Zeit–Új Kor of Timișoara.
Its first-ever conference elected Tivadar Fischer as party president. He was seconded by an eight-member committee, while Stern (who died later that year) was honorary president, and József Fischer led the Transylvanian wing. In Bukovina, where the PER was foremost known as the Jüdische Reichspartei, its chapter came to include, alongside Ebner, the unorthodox Zionist Max Diamant, formerly of the Jewish National People's Party, and Karl Klüger, Saul Klüger, Josef Mann, Leon Mizrachi, Benedikt Kaswan, Manfred Reifer (or Reiffer), and Leon Schmelzer. Ernő (Ernest) Marton, Mișu Weissman, and Landau were other prominent members of the PER. Lawyer Eugen Kertész headed the PER chapter in Cluj, later joined by the UER defector Miksa Klein.
At a later stage, the party was joined by the Zionist writer-industrialist A. L. Zissu, who brought in his own Zionist cell, Renașterea Noastră. Zissu, a "bourgeois conservative", also advocated "integral" Zionism, communitarianism and self-segregation within the "poly-ethnic state", whereas Filderman's stances were "coherently liberal". Strongly inclined to a prophetic form of Religious Zionism, Zissu defined himself as "the political opponent" of the UER. Such ideas were also found in Marton's own essays, which were addressed to the Hungarian Jews of Transylvania: "The Jews", Marton noted, "would be able to live among the peoples only as a people."
The PER took part in the June 1931 election. The UER, accused by the PER of electoral fraud, preferred to join Argetoianu's "National Union" alliance. In the end, the PER obtained some 60,000 votes, 2.19 or 2.38% of the total—depending on the number of deputies considered as part of the PER. It formally won four seats in the Assembly of Deputies, but later received another affiliation, raising it two five seats. The Fischers, Ebner, Diamant, and Reifer all won seats; in accordance with a previous agreement that no affiliate region would go unrepresented, Tivadar Fischer was replaced by Landau, and Ebner ceded his seat to Sami Singer.
The UER failed to renew its PNL alliance before the July 1932 race, and was approached by the Zionist Lazar Margulies to negotiate a merger with the PER. The talks were inconclusive. Subsequently, the UER, absorbing into its ranks dissident Zionists from the PER's Bukovina chapter, caucused with the nation-wide Traders' Council. The PER took 2.26% and 5 seats: Fischer and Landau were returned; Marton, Weissman, and Ebner won the other three seats. These elections, organized and won by the PNȚ government of Alexandru Vaida-Voevod, were noted as the least fraudulent of their time. From then on, the PER was the sole Jewish party in the Assembly, the UER having failed to win sufficient votes.
The party's electoral basin was in Romania's "new regions", with only a slim presence in the Old Kingdom: some 40% of its total voters were from Transylvania, where over 70% of the emancipated Jewish population voted PER. Its main competitor was the Magyar Party, which took away votes from Hungarian-assimilated Jews; Jews from the less Magyarized zones, in particular Maramureș, were predominantly PER voters. In the east, Landau's Bessarabian constituency, comprising some of the poorest and least integrated sections of Romanian Jews, provided the PER with its other main electoral resource.
The parliamentary period refined the PER's program, adopted at a general congress in November 1933, into a doctrine. It sought to raise awareness among Romanian Jews that they belonged to a larger Jewish people, while at the same time re-affirming their devotion to the country in which they lived. The party fought for legal, moral and material rights, with a view toward the spiritual development of the Jewish minority (including state support for primary and professional schools, as well as for Jewish worship). Additionally, the PER program noted the need to promote collaboration with the political groups representing Romania's other nationalities.
Revisionist and antifascist turn
Over these years, the PER became more supportive of Revisionist Zionism, its radicalism on this topic being spurred on by the steady growth of antisemitic intolerance in Romania, represented by groups such as the LANC and the Iron Guard. Weissman had seconded the Revisionist ideologue Ze'ev Jabotinsky during the elections for the Seventeenth Zionist Congress in June 1931, against Singer, who ran on a Renașterea Noastră list. Through the EZNSz/UNET, which continued to exist as a cultural extension, the PER gathered funds for the sponsored the colonization of destitute Maramureș Jews into Mandatory Palestine, founding there the settlement Tzur Shalom. It also initiated sociological research into the impoverished communities, sponsoring a survey team headed by István Barzilay, and organized a chapter for traders and artisans.
After the Nazi regime was established in Germany, the PER stood in solidarity with the parties that defended liberal democracy. It organized meetings to condemn the antisemitic actions in Germany and the manifestations of extreme-right sentiment then gaining currency in Romanian political life. This created a rift with the major parties of the establishment: the PNL called it a party of "provocateurs", whose activity actually "stokes the right-wing extremist reaction". In the Assembly, LANC deputy Nichifor Robu was suspended in 1932 for having hit Landau with a chair.
The PER defied an agreement between other Jewish organizations, over not presenting Jewish candidates in elections of December 1933. Its dissidence was met with anger in other community circles, and a scuffle erupted between PER supporters and their assimilationist candidates in the city of Galați. At the time, the UER called on Jewish voters to support those parties that defended "constitutional order through the cooperation in harmony of all citizens [...], without barriers of race or creed". A powerful setback followed: winning 1.29% of the vote, the PER lost all its seats in parliament. This fall was attributed by the party itself to the machinations of PNL Prime Minister Ion G. Duca, but may in fact have been a perverse effect of antisemitism: many Jews followed the UER stance and voted for non-Jewish democratic parties, in hopes of keeping the far-right out of parliament. Another contributing factor was the growing number of minority voters who were disenfranchised by the successive governments: 120,000 to 135,000 Jewish men were reportedly stripped of their right to vote between 1920 and 1935.
These issues highlighted the political work of Zionist radicals. In 1935, the PER, alongside the PNȚ and the Social Democrats, was approached by the illegal Romanian Communist Party (PCR) with an offer to form an antifascist "popular front", but the negotiations stalled. The Siguranța secret police followed Zissu, who had returned from an extended stay in Berlin, as he resumed contacts with the Renașterea Noastră group and discussed sponsoring them.
|Regional leaders of the PER|
On January 26, 1936, the PER agreed to sign a pact of collaboration with the UER, together forming the Central Council of Romanian Jews (Consiliul Central al Evreilor din România, CCER), which fought in defense of Jewish rights and against antisemitic actions. The CCER did not represent "a third organization—added to or supplanting [the PER and UER]—nor a single body resulting from their fusion", and declared itself apolitical, committed to the defense Jews "within the framework of organic laws". In its appeal to the Romanian nation, it excoriated the tenets of economic antisemitism, citing data which showed that Jews were a minority in enviable professions, and that, statistically, they were similarly exposed to the problems of the Great Depression, including homelessness and malnutrition. The CCER also defended itself against claims that it was stoking antisemitism, dismissing them as "cynical, with the purpose of making victims into culprits."
Antisemitic laws and 1938 ban
Running on its own lists in the December 1937 election, the PER won 1.42% of the vote, again below the electoral threshold. The only parliamentarian still representing Jews was Rabbi Jacob Itzhak Niemirower, who held a supplementary seat in Senate. He was twice physically assaulted by LANC militants. Weissman himself briefly left the PER, heading the Revisionist list in elections for representatives to the Twentieth Zionist Congress.
The Jewish Party was touched by the antisemitic laws first reintroduced by the National Christian Party (PNC) government in 1937. Weissman, by then the PER's vice president, was suspended from the bar association, following a review of his Romanian citizenship, with some 30% of the Romanian Jews being eventually stripped of their citizenship rights. The PER was again drawn into cooperation with the UER, issuing common protests against the measure, and reestablishing the CCER. It intensified support for emigration into Palestine, and organized the Totzeret Haaretz campaign (preferential imports from Palestine, and a boycott of Romanian merchandise). The latter policy, thought of by Filderman, effectively toppled the PNC cabinet in February 1938, but could not overturn antisemitic laws.
The PER, along with all other parties extant in Romania, was dissolved by King Carol II when he established the National Renaissance Front (FRN) on March 30, 1938. Jews were banned from either joining the FRN or creating their own parties. EZNSz/UNET created an apolitical, regional, replacement for the PER. Called Social Zionist Council (Consiliul Sionist Social), it grouped together the Fischers and other former party members. It continued to exist until the Second Vienna Award, when Northern Transylvania was ceded by Romania to Hungary; it was banned in September 1940. Tivadar Fischer, József Fischer, and Marton remained on Hungarian territory. In 1944, they were moved into Kolozsvár Ghetto, where the former two functioned as Judenrat members, answering to Rudolf Kastner (Fischer's son-in-law) and Dieter Wisliceny. Marton also stayed behind in Cluj, writing works which looked beyond fascism to a future "new Emancipation". The Fischers were among the 300 Jews for whom Kastner obtained a reprieve from extermination at Auschwitz. They were instead transported by the Nazis to Bergen-Belsen, and subsequently allowed to leave for Switzerland.
Other former party cells existed in Nazi-aligned Romania, where FRN officials allowed Weissman and Singer to canvass for the Jewish National Fund, and set up a Zionist Union dedicated to the emigration project. Under Ion Antonescu, the Romanian government began confiscations of Jewish property and, after the start of Operation Barbarossa, their deportation into the Transnistria Governorate. Opposing the collaborationist Central Jewish Office, both Zissu and his Zionist rival, Mișu Benvenisti, spent terms in Romanian concentration camps. The elderly Diamant stayed behind in Soviet-occupied Bukovina after 1940. He was deported to the Gulag, where he died some time after. Reifer, fearing fascism, had also opted to remain in Soviet territory, where he only narrowly escaped Diamant's plight. He was also arrested by the returning Romanians and sent to Transnistria; he eventually fled to Palestine.
By 1943, after establishing direct contacts with the bureaucrat Mihai Antonescu, Zissu obtained from the regime that Jews be allowed to leave for Palestine, as an alternative to deportation. He helped organize the sea transports through to Turkey and Palestine, and resumed contacts with Marton, together with whom he helped smuggle in Hungarian Jews. At odds with Filderman and with many of the Yishuv sponsors, he gathered crucial support from the Zionist resistance organizer, Shaike Dan Trachtenberg. In all, Zissu claimed to have personally rescued some 14,000 Jews in this manner, and was credited with fitting at least seven individual transports, including the ill-fated Mefküre.
Reestablishment and communist repression
Re-founded, with Zissu as president, on September 18, 1944, days after the fall of Antonescu, the PER was still organizing itself a year later. Its new opponents by then were the governing and expansive PCR and its Jewish Democratic Committee (CDE), part of the National Democratic Front. Zissu initially "hoped for a truly democratic change in Romania, as the one chance for Jews to obtain citizenship rights". Confronted with communization, he sketched out a two-stage plan for the Jewish community: a short-term recognition for the Jews as a distinct ethnic minority; later, its mass emigration to Palestine. This policy was rejected outright by Gheorghe Vlădescu-Răcoasa, the Minister for Minorities, who refused to award ethnic recognition to the Jews and, the PER suspected, blocked out pledges of financial support for Holocaust survivors. At the time, Zissu was denigrated in the PCR and CDE press.
The PER developed its own moderate wing, which looked more favorably on cooperation between Zionism and communism. On July 21, 1946, Zissu resigned from the PER presidency (being followed shortly after by the group's general secretary, Moți (or Motti) Moscovici); he was later forced out from the Zionist Executive by a cartel of CDE and Ihud members. Shortly before the eruption of a civil war in Palestine, Siguranța reported that Zissu still directed the PER from the shadows, noting his Revisionist, anti-British, stance and his support of "terrorist action" in Palestine. In March 1947, Benvenisti, who was Zissu's replacement, made a show of his own disappointment with the National Democratic Front government, accusing Prime Minister Petru Groza of tolerating antisemitism.
In summer 1948, following the onset of a Romanian communist regime, all the Zionist organizations were shut down. A few months later, a propaganda and intimidation campaign was taken up by the CDE and the PCR. There followed clashes between the pro-communists and religious groups such as the Bnei Akiva, which led to the Zionist issue being assigned directly to the Securitate secret police. In 1950, there were mass arrests of the Zionist militants, followed by their torturing and nine separate waves of show trials. One of these was a trial of thirteen Zionist leaders, including Zissu, Benvenisti, and Moscovici. Meanwhile, Marton, praised for his humanitarian work with deportees regaining republican Hungary, began putting out a new edition of Új Kelet from his new home in Palestine.
- (Romanian) Adrian Niculescu, "O lecție a istoriei (II)", in Observator Cultural, Nr. 72, July 2001
- Crăciun, p. 80
- Ioan Scurtu (ed.), Enciclopedia partidelor politice din România, 1859-2003, pp. 58–59. Bucharest: Editura Meronia, 2003. ISBN 973-8200-54-7
- Crăciun, p. 101
- Eaton, p. 39
- Gidó (2009), p. 81
- Crăciun, p. 92
- Nastasă (2011), pp. 9, 209
- Gidó (2009), pp. 82, 89
- Nastasă (2011), p. 364
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- Gidó (2014), pp. 184–185, 192
- Braham, p. 6
- Gidó (2009), pp. 86–87, 89; (2014), pp. 163–164
- Gidó (2009), pp. 87, 89–90. See also Politics and Political Parties..., p. 290; Eaton, p. 40
- ISAS, "En Roumanie. A la veile des élections parlementaires", in Paix et Droit: Organe de l'Alliance Israélite Universelle, Vol. 11, Issue 5, May 1931, p. 7
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- Gidó (2009), p. 87
- Politics and Political Parties..., p. 290. Gidó (2009) has "József Fischer" (p. 90), but this is corrected in Gidó (2014, p. 186).
- Gidó (2014), p. 186
- Stourzh, pp. 193–194
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- Politics and Political Parties..., p. 292
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- Kuller, p.155
- "Le Conseil central...", passim; Politics and Political Parties..., pp. 291, 296–300; Eaton, p. 40; Gidó (2009), pp. 89, 91
- "Le Conseil central...", p. 374
- "Le Conseil central...", pp. 375–377
- "Le Conseil central...", p. 375
- Gidó (2009), pp. 91, 92
- Kuller, p. 157
- Jews Appeal Against Citizenship Decree, Jewish Telegraphic Agency release, January 30, 1938
- Eaton, p. 47; Hirsch & Spitzer, pp. 79–80
- Gidó (2014), pp. 124–125
- Gidó (2009), pp. 88–89, 91
- Gidó (2009), pp. 88, 89; (2014), pp. 129–130, 134
- Gidó (2014), p. 130
- Gidó (2009), p. 89
- Braham, p. 26; Gidó (2014), p. 249
- Miron, pp. 163–165
- Braham, pp. 36–37; Gidó (2014), p. 251; Szabolcs Szita, Sean Lambert, Trading in Lives?: Operations of the Jewish Relief and Rescue Committee in Budapest, 1944–1945, pp. 94–97, 165–172, 195–196, 212. Budapest & New York: Central European University Press, 2005. ISBN 963-7326-30-8
- Kuller, pp. 172, 176
- Glass, pp. 163–164. See also Crăciun, p. 89
- Stourzh, p. 195
- Hirsch & Spitzer, pp. 106, 108, 111, 117
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- Ofer, pp. 253–259
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- Glass, p. 163
- Kuller, pp. 197–198
- Nastasă (2003), p. 17. See also Glass, p. 164
- Kuller, p. 178
- Nastasă (2003), p. 30
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- Nastasă (2003), pp. 29–31, 40–41
- Nastasă (2003), pp. 31, 50, 183
- Kuller, p. 180. See also Crăciun, pp. 89–90; Glass, p. 165
- Nastasă (2003), p. 31
- Kuller, pp. 182–183, 197–198
- Rumanian Government Charged with Failure to Implement Election Promises to Jews, Jewish Telegraphic Agency release, March 6, 1947; Kuller, p. 183
- Kuller, p. 144
- Kuller, pp. 144–145
- Kuller, p. 145
- Glass, pp. 165–167; Kuller, p. 145. See also Nastasă (2003), pp. 30, 62
- Raphael Patai, The Jews of Hungary: History, Culture, Psychology, p. 600. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0-8143-4192-6
- Braham, p. 44
- "Le Conseil central des Juifs de Roumanie", in La Revue Juive de Genève, Vol. 4, Issue 38, May 1936, pp. 374–377.
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- Dalia Ofer, Escaping the Holocaust. Illegal Immigration to the Land of Israel, 1939–1944. New York City & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-19-506340-6
- Gerald Stourzh, From Vienna to Chicago and Back: Essays on Intellectual History and Political Thought in Europe and America. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 2007. ISBN 0-226-77636-0