The Ransom of the Jews: The Story of Extraordinary Secret Bargain Between Romania and Israel Hardcover – Jan 13 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Ioanid (The Holocaust in Romania) sheds light on an extraordinary, little-known and shameful episode that explains some mysteries of international affairs, such as why Romania was the only Soviet bloc country to maintain relations with Israel after the Six-Day War. Drawing on interviews and on highly classified Romanian documents, Ioanid relates how Romania in the 1950s and '60s demanded payments in cash and goods from Israel in exchange for the emigration of Romanian Jews to the Jewish state. A historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Ioanid places these events in the context of a cash-starved Romania, turning away from Russia and eager for Western trade, oil-drilling equipment and agricultural goods. In the late 1960s, the human trade allowed dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his family to build their private bank accounts. "Jews, Germans, and oil are our best export commodities," the dictator said in the mid-1970s. He insisted the payments per Jew be determined by his or her "education, profession, employment, and family status." Ioanid carefully follows all the ups and downs in negotiations and relations between Israel and Romania, and the impact of protests from Arab countries and Western demands for human rights. Ioanid does a service in reporting on this sordid tale of exploitation and the trade in human beings.
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This is one of those rare books that is both an invaluable primary source and an occasion for profound thought. (Andrei Codrescu, NPR commentator, professor of English, Louisiana State University, author of The Hole in the Flag: an Exile’s Story of Return and Revolution)
Carefully documented…. This work is essential for academic collections as a supplement to any histories of Romania. (Library Journal)
…Intriguing story… (Forbes)
…Important as an official report… (Marina Constantinoiu Jurnalul National)
Ioanid doesn't shy away from telling us who Ceausescu really was…. Ioanid does a good job explaining th[e] context. (Gal Beckerman Forward)
The book is a shattering document, a story superbly told, which makes it a non-stop read. (Baruch Cohen Montreal Gazette)
“A fascinating story, written by the energetic and knowledgeable Radu Ioanid. The book is a shattering document, a story superbly told, as well as an opportunity to learn about the vicious character of the anti-Semitic face of Romania's Communist leaders. It should be translated into Hebrew, so that the second and third generations of Romanian Jews in Israel, will know how their grandparents and parents were treated by their “homeland.”” (Baruch Cohen Ynetnews.Com)
Ioanid writes with verve, enlivening his narrative with generous quotations from people he has interviewed, from all sides, who were directly involved in the deals, and from memoir literature. There are several comic cameos, such as the temporary loss in Zurich Airport of a suitcase containing $1 million in ransom money. But, as Andrei Codrescu, who was among the Jews ransomed by Israel, writes in his endorsement, Radu Ioanid's finely researched book highlights the ambiguity of a morally reprehensible policy that resulted paradoxically in freedom for many. (Dennis Deletant, University College, London and Georgetown University Times Literary Supplement)
A concise chronicle.... This book tells an exciting story of daring, steadfast commitment to the rescue of entrapped Jews... (Jewish Book World)
An important book.... Recommended. (J. Fischel, Millersville University CHOICE)
Provides the first comprehensive treatment of the most vexing problem of twentieth-century Israeli-Romanian realtions and its international ramifications. (Dov. B. Lungu International History Review)
A remarkable and engrossing read…[The Ransom of the Jews] will give readers an excellent perspective. (Norm Goldman Bookpleasures.com)
Fascinating reconstruction...sheds valuable light on this complicated and shameful chapter in the history of Communist Romania. (DRAGOS PETRESCU Journal of Cold War Studies)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Thankfully, the author - a historian - understands this well. This is a good book because it never rests in contemplation of its discoveries, never tells us what it thinks of them.
In contrast, Ion Mihai Pacepa, the famous defecting general, pathetically abandons himself to lament in the awful afterword he was allowed to write. Not once does he refer to the deals of his former supervisors (Gheorghiu Dej and Ceausescu) without frantically seeking for the most damning adjectives: despicable, hideous... Let's be straight: General Pacepa is an invaluable resource for this book but at the same time he is one of its aberrant characters.
He waits for the therapeutic mud to crack on Ceausescu's naked body while strolling with him 'along the restricted presidential shore of Lake Techirgiol', and six days later is 'magnanimously granted political asylum by the United States government' - whereupon Ceausescu tears his shirt screaming hysterically that he cannot even trust the shirt he's wearing (how could he, he was naked with his traitor less than a week ago).
Of much less anecdotical value is Pacepa's condemnation of the 'hideous sale of Jews'. We see him return to Romania, 20 years after giving Ceausescu the last monthly debrief of their transactions ('one hundred twenty two thousand dollars in cash', a dissapointing month) to claim back his 'properties' without even realizing that by now, the very same book he is so eager to praise has already revealed just how these 'properties' were acquired.)
I don't know what the author's real intentions were in allowing the retired General his self-serving epilogue. It may be ironical, it may come from a genuine fascination with the veteran officer, it may even be from gratitude (Pacepa claims to have been around when the idea for this book was 'born'). In any case, his voice at the end of the book adds something truly chilling (like a horror movie that doesn't allow itself to end without giving us a last glimpse of the undead malice that fed the story).
But these are all digressions of a satisfied reader. Read this book for the stories: there is one on every page. I haven't seen Steven Spielberg's 'Munich' yet but does he tell us that Abu Daud, the person who planned the attack on the Israeli Olympic team was photographed, fingerprinted, 'and lavishly fed' in Bucharest several weeks before Munich? Read the book to find out why he was there.
The book also provides a tremedously vivid portrait of Nicolae Ceausescu (although this is never its main intention). I was 16, spending Christmas with friends in a Moldavian village, when Ceausescu was executed. Nobody liked him, nobody believed him, nobody cared to know him better, nobody was sorry for him. I am wondering now, shouldn't we all have had the patience to sit through a proper trial and hear these stories. Would it really have been too risky giving us this chance after 25 years of aberrant life in an aberrant country? Because history doesn't just stop and start anew. The aberrant characters always find a way to continue their aberrant work until somebody tells the story and demystifies it.
So I must say that despite the great pleasure I took in reading this book, sometimes the stories left me wanting. The book gives a very generous account of the author's exhaustive investigation but it also 'loses' some stories when it was just about to get them. Do not expect justice to prevail and evil to be defeated at the end of the book. Some villans do go away with the money. Most of the corruption can only be glimpsed at for a moment before it slips away, still vigorously alive, unstartled by the momentary spotlight.
How can we possibly believe then the wised-up general's hope, dramatically expressed at the very end of the book, that the story we have just read should 'prevent that aberration from ever recurring'.
'That' aberration, maybe, but watch out for the next one. The players are still at the table. They've just been dealt a fresh hand.
There is much more in this book than stories about Romania: there are hints at the extraordinary passion and 'hunger' that led to the creation of the state of Israel. There are hints into the mixture of finance and ideology that drive terrorist organizations. And most interestingly, there are hints at how 'exciting' these negotiations, transactions, and betrayals are, how seductive, how irresistible. How different the motives, how nuanced, how terrible.