Having just returned from a trip to my lovely wife’s frigid yet enchanting homeland (the temperature reached -20°C at times), my thoughts naturally turn to my new Romanian family, the world’s best pretzels (covrigi) and apple strudels, and Jewish and Mormon matters.
When we decided to spend a night at a hotel in Bucharest, our choice was made easy by the proximity of Central Hotel to the Holocaust Monument on Brezoianu Street. Both the hotel and the monument did not disappoint.
After a wonderful breakfast, we walked three blocks to the monument on a bitterly cold morning. It’s an easy site to miss, as it is poorly marked and located below street level. However, once we got there I was touched by its simplicity and directness. During WWII, the Romanian government was directly responsible for the murders of more Jews than any other government except for Germany. Although Romanian governments until the Basescu administration (2004-present) largely refused to acknowledge the country’s role in murdering hundreds of thousands of Jews and Roma in the Holocaust, the monument was dedicated just three years ago and issues a strongly-worded mea maxima culpa on its plaques.
In addition, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it assigns culpability to wartime head of state Marshal Ion Antonescu by name. He is an Atatürk-like figure to many Romanians who still revere him for his strong anti-Stalin stance, and a statement condemning Antonescu by name on an official monument would have been unthinkable before the Wiesel Commission report in 2003. Romania has definitely come a long way in terms of acknowledging government complicity in the Holocaust, and it was a great thing to see.
Last Sunday found us in one of two beautiful Mormon chapels in Bucharest. Although there was a large contingent of Americans in the congregation, I decided to go to the Romanian-language Sunday School class because I wanted to see how many native-born members were in attendance. Unfortunately, the numbers were not encouraging. One of the leaders explained to me that member retention is a huge problem there. When there is a regular exodus of Jews from a country, it usually means that they are being persecuted. When there is a regular exodus of Mormons from a country, it usually means that they are not able to find professional opportunities there. After all, if husbands and wives aspire to follow the Mormon ideal of man as breadwinner and woman as homemaker, the man has to be able to support a family by himself. In Romania, this is a huge challenge. For young people, opportunities for career development are similarly lacking; in fact, the second most-spoken language at Microsoft’s US headquarters is Romanian, even though the company has a significant presence in Romania. So while Romanians are being baptized into the Mormon Church, many of them leave for greener pastures as soon as they can. [I’m eternally grateful that I was able to convince the country’s most beautiful Mormon girl to come to the States, but I digress].
The head of the church in Romania is the mission president, Ned Hill, who served for years as the dean of BYU’s business school. He’s a remarkable man who has agreed to volunteer his service for three years in a country whose language he does not speak. Ditto for the McFaddens, a lovely couple from Utah who are serving as Public Affairs missionaries in Romania and Moldova. Although they also do not speak Romanian, they are a force of nature who played a role in facilitating Ioana Paverman’s recent documentary on the LDS Church. It’s probably the fairest treatment I’ve seen of Mormons in any language.
It is my fondest wish to see both Jews and Mormons enjoy an increased public profile on my subsequent visits to Romania, a country with immense potential.