In one of many remarkable stories of Jewish emigration to Palestine following World War II, Jewish members of British Intelligence worked with the Romanian authorities to bring Jews to Palestine and later to the new state of Israel. The story begins in 1944, when Shaike Dan, a Romanian born Jew who had escaped into British Palestine, was parachuted into Romania. His assignment was to locate British and American prisoners held by the Romanian authorities, and establish contacts to facilitate Jewish emigration to Palestine.

Having located the allied prisoners soon after his landing, Dan then managed to establish contacts with Romanian officials and with members of the underground Romanian Communist Party. Contact with the Communist Party would prove increasingly valuable after the end of World War II. As Jewish emigration from Romania developed, Dan became the link between the Israeli secret services and their Romanian counterparts and government officials.

Following the War, Romania still had a significant Jewish minority despite the extermination of close to 300,000 Jews in Moldavia and the Trans-Dniester region, as well as 100,000 that had been deported to Auschwitz by the Nazi government in Hungary after the August 1944 coup. About this time, Romania allowed Jews to emigrate in line with Moscow’s policy that was based on the belief that a Jewish state would be allied with the Soviet Union.

As a result, 125,000 Jews emigrated first to British Palestine and, after 1948, to Israel, between the end of the War and 1951. From 1952 the situation changed, partly due to Stalin’s negative attitude to Jews and Zionism, and emigration all but ceased in 1953 and 1954. Between 1955 and 1958, emigration was renewed but in hundreds per year, rather than the thousands and tens of thousands previously allowed to leave.

With the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Romania in 1958, an underground trade network was formed in London where Jewish emigration to Western Europe was bartered with agricultural products and other goods. Money was paid into a special account by families to allow Jews to emigrate. Goods sought by the Romanian government were purchased using the funds in this account. Israel’s Mossad found out about the transactions and redirected the flow of Jews from Western Europe to Israel.

As the Romanian government was satisfied with the barter arrangement, thousands of Jews left for Israel, with numbers reaching 21,000 by 1961. Livestock, including cows and pigs, as well as chickens and turkeys, was exchanged for Jewish families.1

With the process working so well, Shaike Dan used his contacts with leaders in the Romanian Communist Party to allow Israel to take over the operation from its London base. Israel was also able to provide Romania with access to US technology, such as oil drilling equipment, otherwise embargoed to Communist Bloc nations.

The process was interrupted briefly with the rise to power of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1965, as he had not known about its existence. It resumed in 1969, except with cash payments instead of using barter. The cash was deposited into secret bank accounts controlled by Ceausescu and the Securitate, Romania’s much-feared secret service.

Out of this arrangement, a close relationship between Romania and Israel developed. Following the Six Day War in 1967, Romania did not break off diplomatic relations with Israel as did the other East European nations after the Arab-Israeli war. In 1968 Romania even upgraded its legation with Israel to the status of embassy. Although almost every Israeli Prime Minister visited Romania, Ceausescu never travelled to Israel as, strangely, he was an anti-Semite and very pro-Arab, according to one scholar.

Under Ceausescu, the numbers of Jews departing for Israel and other countries never approached the levels of previous periods. With the decline in the numbers of the Jewish community, the government only allowed, on average, between 1500 and 2000 Jews to depart to Israel per year. The cash transactions continued until the fall of Ceausescu in 1989. Between 1968 and 1989, it is estimated that “Ceausescu sold 40,577 Jews to Israel for $112,498,800 at a price of $2500 and later $3300 per head.”2

The return of the Jews to their land, never to be scattered again shows that God is behind their destiny (Jer 30:3). They will be ransomed “from the hand of him that was stronger” than them (Jer 31:11). For Yahweh “will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which [He has] given them” (Amos 9:15). A wonderful restoration and reconciliation therefore awaits Israel, for God is faithful to His promises, and will not forget His covenant with the fathers (Mic 7:20).

References:

  1. Gal Beckerman, “The Cold War’s Strangest Bedfellows, The Ransom of the Jews: The Story of The Extraordinary Secret Bargain Between Romania and Israel, By Radu Ioanid”, in Jewish Virtual Library, Exclusive Book & Movie Reviews, online at: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-cold-war-rsquo-s-strangest-bedfellows-a-review-of-the-ransom-of-the-jews-the-story-of-the-extraordinary-secret-bargain-between-romania-and-israel
  2. Radu Ioanid, quoted in: Gal Beckerman, “The Cold War’s Strangest Bedfellows, The Ransom of the Jews: The Story of The Extraordinary Secret Bargain Between Romania and Israel, By Radu Ioanid”, in Jewish Virtual Library, Exclusive Book & Movie Reviews, online at: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-cold-war-rsquo-s-strangest-bedfellows-a-review-of-the-ransom-of-the-jews-the-story-of-the-extraordinary-secret-bargain-between-romania-and-israel
  3. Radu Ioanid, quoted in: Gal Beckerman, “The Cold War’s Strangest Bedfellows, The Ransom of the Jews: The Story of The Extraordinary Secret Bargain Between Romania and Israel, By Radu Ioanid”, in Jewish Virtual Library, Exclusive Book & Movie Reviews, online at: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-cold-war-rsquo-s-strangest-bedfellows-a-review-of-the-ransom-of-the-jews-the-story-of-the-extraordinary-secret-bargain-between-romania-and-israel