Romania Holocaust memorial

Romanian government says the country’s first-ever conviction for Holocaust denial sends a “strong message.”

By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel

A former Romanian intelligence officer was sentenced to 13 months in prison in the first use of Romania’s law against Holocaust denial, Arutz-7 reported Friday.

A court in Bucharest earlier this month convicted Vasile Zarnescu, 74, a former colonel who worked for the SRI Romanian Intelligence Service, for writing online articles describing the Holocaust as a “fraud.”

Zarnescu’s history of Holocaust denial also includes a book he published in 2016 titled “The Holocaust – the Devil’s Bogeyman – Extortion in the Name of ‘Holocaust Money,’” in which he called the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis “the greatest fraud in the history of the universe.”

During World War 2, between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews and 11,000 Roma were murdered in Romania by the Nazis and their Romanian collaborators.

“It is the first conviction for Holocaust denial and it is a strong message from the legal system, one that shows significant progress,” said Alexandru Muraru, the special Romanian government envoy in charge of fighting anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

“The case is interesting because we are not talking about just anyone, but about a former member of the SRI,” Muraru told the AFP news agency.

Romania was allied with Hitler for most of the war. Holocaust denial got major coverage after then-Romanian President Ion Iliescu and one of his ministers minimized the Holocaust in 2003 and officially declared that no genocide had occurred in Romania.

In response to the international outrage at his comments, Iliescu set up an international committee of historians headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, himself a Romanian Holocaust survivor, the report said.

That committee helped expose Romania’s active part in the Holocaust that had been suppressed during decades of communist rule. Few Romanians were aware of Romania’s complicity.

In 2015, Romania passed a new law that criminalizes Holocaust denial with a punishment of up to three years in prison.