Horaţiu Suciu: Teaching Jewish History in Romania

Jews in Romania, once home to one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities, suffered deeply during the Holocaust. Nearly 400,000 Jews were killed in Romania or territories it controlled as an ally of Nazi Germany, with only 10,000 or so living in the country today.

Yet young Romanians know very little about the Holocaust, or Jewish history for that matter.

TOLI alumnus Horaţiu Suciu, a history teacher and deputy headmaster at the Iulia Hasdeu Theoretical High School in Lugoj—a city in western Romania’s Timiș County—is determined to change that.

“The problem is that in Romania, there’s no emphasis on issues like the Holocaust or genocide.

Horaţiu said that, growing up in post-communist 1990s Romania, he learned nothing about Jewish history. But then he read “Journal 1935-1944: The Fascist Years” by Romanian Jewish essayist Mihail Sebastian, and in 2004, he visited Auschwitz.

As an educator, he sought out professional development in Holocaust education. He attended  seminars organized by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Keene State College in New Hampshire , and met with other teachers  in various European cities.

In 2017  Horaţiu attended a TOLI teaching seminar organized in cooperation with the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania. It was a “very important experience’, he said. TOLI later provided funding that helped Horaţiu create and publish a graphic novel based on Mihail Sebastian’s “Journal.”

Horaţiu says Romania must come to terms with its wartime behavior—and its responsibility to protect the country’s remaining few Jews from continued anti-Semitic attacks.

“In Romania, there is a tendency to hide the ugly parts of our past,” he noted.

Horaţiu has since created a course on Jewish history and the Holocaust. Besides classroom learning, it involves after-school participation in commemorative events such as “Glimmers in the Night” and “The Holocaust Through Children’s Eyes,” as well as lectures on the life of Elie Wiesel, a Romanian Holocaust survivor who wrote extensively on genocide.

“I came to understand that teaching about the Holocaust can make my students differentiate between good and bad,” said Horaţiu, who has a degree in history from the University de Vest in Timişoara. “Both my parents were teachers, so becoming a teacher was a natural thing for me. My father was a history teacher, and at 17, I decided to pursue this career as well.”

Asked about the students who take his classes, he said: “They’re not very racially, socioeconomically or religiously diverse. There are minor differences between them, but they are imperceptible.”

Horaţiu, fascinated by the long Jewish presence in his city, has been active to bring that heritage to his classrooms and community. He realizes, on a practical level, that it is a challenge to bring Romania’s Jewish history, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust into the educational system.  Yet he is undeterred.

“Normally, in four years of high school, students have two or three years in which they can discuss the Holocaust,” said Horaţiu, who aims to change that in Lugoj. “As a history teacher, I try to make a difference. Students need to understand the Holocaust, its consequences and lessons today. We owe that to the victims.”



For more information about The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights (TOLI), please contact info@tolinstitute.org

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