Remembering the Holocaust in Romania

Historic synagogue being saved and brought back to life as Holocaust memorial museum; government officials and international Jewish leaders to attend dedication ceremony

SIMLEU SILVANIEI, Romania, Aug. 24 /PRNewswire/ — On Sunday, September 11, 2005, the Jewish Architectural Heritage Foundation (JAHF) and AMHN, its Romanian sister organization, will dedicate Romania’s first fully functional Holocaust memorial museum. A formal ceremony will be held on the grounds of the museum in Simleu Silvaniei, Romania, at 12:00 PM local time. Supporters include the Romanian government, the Honorable Warren L. Miller, Chairman, U.S. Commission for Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, prominent Holocaust survivors such as Elie Wiesel and Oliver Lustig, American Jewish leaders Rabbis Andrew Baker and Shea Hecht, and many others.

The Northern Transylvania Holocaust Memorial Museum will highlight the Jewish life of the region before the Holocaust and the sequence of events that led up to the darkest period in its history, focusing on regional Romanian and Hungarian history at the time. A fully functioning synagogue, which will be used during the upcoming dedication ceremony, is also included. Other features include video presentations, survivor testimonials and Jewish artifacts recently found at the site.

The old synagogue of Simleu Silvaniei, in this historic region of Transylvania, was built in 1876. In May/June of 1944, the area’s Jewish population was forced out of their homes into the brutal Cehei ghetto and from there packed into cattle cars and transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Over 160,000 Jews from the region perished.

Adam Aaron Wapniak, a Brooklyn native and architectural designer, became interested in the abandoned synagogue’s restoration on a 2003 visit, sparking the interest of Dr. Alex Hecht, a New York dentist and son of Holocaust survivors Zoltan and Stefania Hecht, who was born in the nearby village of Nusfalau. Dr. Hecht had actually attended Hebrew school and holiday prayers at the synagogue as a child. For the past two years he and Mr. Wapniak have traveled back and forth between New York and Simleu Silvaniei, vigorously driving the restoration and contributing as well as raising funds. “While we have the support of several major Jewish organizations,” explains Dr. Hecht, “We hope that once the greater world community sees a real museum functioning to educate an interested population, they’ll be encouraged to help us generate a greater support base.”

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