Bucharest: Several hundred people from Romania's Jewish community paid tribute Thursday to the late Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate instrumental in getting his native country to face up to its dark past.
Wiesel, born in northern Romania in 1928 and who survived Auschwitz, died on Saturday in New York at age 87. He had devoted his life to keeping memories of the Nazi genocide of World War II from fading away.
"Elie Wiesel became a symbol of the struggle towards a normal society through what he lived through and what he achieved," Holocaust survivor Liviu Beris told AFP at the event in Bucharest's synagogue.
Wiesel, who settled in the United States after the war, helped challenge the widely held assumption in Romania, following decades of communist rule, that the Germans alone were responsible for the Holocaust.
In 2003 he headed a panel of experts that found that between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews, as well as 11,000 Roma, perished on Romanian soil under dictator and Nazi ally Ion Antonescu.
Wiesel himself said that, even though he had "read everything about the Holocaust," he had had little idea of the extent of the massacres in Transdniestr – a strip of land on what is now the border between Moldova and Ukraine where there were Romanian-run death camps.
Rabbi Andrew Baker from the American Jewish Committee hailed Wiesel's work at Thursday's ceremony, which was also attended by public officials.
"It was not easy for the countries of central and eastern Europe, emerging after half a century of communism, to confront their earlier history of cooperation and collaboration with the Nazis, but Romania seemed even more in denial than most," he said.
"We owe a debt of gratitude to Elie for taking on this assignment and shepherding the work of that international commission," Baker said.