How Romania swapped its last Jews for sheep


When a Romanian diplomat took a flight from Zurich to Bucharest in 1974, his uneventful journey ended in a nightmare when he realised he was missing a suitcase.

In fact, the diplomat was a general from the Securitate - Romania's dreaded Communist secret service - called Gheorghe Marcu, and the suitcase was stuffed with $1,000,000 in cash. It had been handed to him by Shaike Dan, a top-ranking Israeli secret agent, in return for the permission for a number of Jews to make aliyah.

The suitcase was found a few days later - intact - in Zurich and the two spies were declared persona non grata in Switzerland but this incident encapsulated the way Communist Romania used the emigration of its Jews to earn hard currency, which was always in short supply.

The story is told in a new book, The Securitate and the Sale of the Jews - The History of the Secret Agreements Between Romania and Israel, by Dr Radu Ioanid, a director at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and is based on documents recently released from the Securitate archives.

Mr Dan, born in Bessarabia in 1910, was probably the main enabler of Romanian aliyah. The biggest wave began as early as 1944, when at least 350,000 Jews who had survived the Holocaust - out of a total of 800,000 - negotiated with the Communist authorities and arranged for ships to take them to Israel.

Henry Jakober paid and bartered with the regime to allow 23,566 Jewish families to make aliyah

In these early years, direct payments per person were not yet common. In any case, by the late 1950s, Stalin's growing antisemitism ensured that all forms of aliyah had ground to a halt.

But in 1958, when Soviet troops were withdrawn from Romania, a new tentative rapprochement with the West ensued.

Enter Henry Jakober, British businessman of Hungarian Jewish origin, who negotiated the sale of 23,566 Jewish families from 1959 to 1967. The total paid was $12,435,508, out of which $3,414,739 was paid in farm animals - such as pigs, cows and sheep - as the Communist regime wanted to avoid the shame of overt cash transfers where possible. Most of the money originated from Western relatives of the Jewish families.

The arrangement was modified when Nicolae Ceausescu came to power in 1965. From the 1970s on, the Securitate sold Jews according to their level of education. For example, graduates cost $3,000; students cost $1,700 and workers cost $600. This brought in tens of millions of dollars for the Ceausescu regime and its secret commercial arm, the Securitate.

Israel also gave cheap loans to Romania in return for continued aliyah but, by the late 1980s, not many Jews were left - less than 2,000 a year were emigrating by that time.

Ceausescu had suffered the indignity of morphing from the darling of the West to its pariah, and with the normalisation of relations between the USSR and Israel and the possibility of the Russian aliyah, Romania's privileged position disappeared.

Ultimately, this sale of human beings benefitted the migrants themselves, who wanted to escape Communism. And yet it remains true that when it came to getting rid of the Jews, Romania's Communist regime succeeded where its fascist dictator, Antonescu, failed.

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