One of Romania's most influential nationalist politicians and a presidential hopeful has publicly asked forgiveness from Jewish people for denying the Holocaust took place in Romania. Corneliu Vadim Tudor made the announcement amid international concern over rising anti-Semitism in Central and Eastern Europe, including an extremist demonstration over the weekend in neighboring Hungary.
Saying the Bible had "changed his heart," the leader of the far right Greater Romania Party asked for forgiveness from God and people who suffered because of what he called his "terrible words" against Jews.
Mr. Tudor stressed in an open letter that he wants to repent for denying that hundreds of thousands of Jews from Romania were killed in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
Romania was home to 760,000 Jews before the war, and scholars say an estimated 420,000 were murdered. Only about 6,000 Jews live in Romania today. The country was an ally of Nazi Germany during most of the war, but critics say that, unlike Germany, Romania has never come to terms with its past.
Mr. Tudor promised never to repeat anti-Semitic statements. He also announced a pilgrimage of party members to the site of the Auschwitz camp in Poland this year.
In addition Mr. Tudor pledged to introduce the study of the Holocaust in schools if he is elected president in upcoming elections in November.
Mr. Tudor added he wants a Holocaust museum in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, and to hire the firm that ran Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's election campaign.
But his opponents described Mr. Tudor's letter as an election stunt aimed at boosting his popularity in the impoverished Balkan nation.
Mr. Tudor's repentance comes amid international concern over rising anti-Semitism in Central and Eastern Europe, including in neighboring Hungary.
On Saturday, hundreds of supporters of a far right group gathered in Budapest to commemorate the 59th anniversary of the failed attempt by German and Hungarian forces to break out from Buda Castle, which was besieged by Soviet troops.
The event was organized by Blood and Honor, known for its fascist views. Several demonstrators carried old Hungarian Arrow Cross Nazi party flags. Before the demonstration, Hungary's Jewish community and Socialist politicians protested against plans to erect a statue of wartime Hungarian prime minister Pal Teleki who introduced Europe's first anti-Semitic laws in the 1930s, including restricting university entry for Jews. Experts say the Pal Teleki measures set the stage for the Hungarian Holocaust.
Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky has reportedly refused to permit the statue. Hungary is scheduled to join the European Union on May 1, with nine other nations. The European Union has made it clear it does not want to import nationalism and anti-Semitism when it expands eastwards.