1947 saw the Communists come to power in Romania. It was also the year leading up to the formation of Israel. The two fledgling entities, the Jewish State and the Socialist Republic of Romania, both wanted something: the former, people; the latter money and supplies. Radu Gabrea’s fascinating documentary looks at the various deals struck to facilitate this transfer, which effectively resulted in a European country selling its own citizens.
Drawing on the testimony of historians, academics, emigrants and official state documents, Jews for Sale presents some extraordinary episodes and characters. One of them is Shaike Dan, a Romanian Jew who volunteered to be parachuted behind enemy lines for the British Intelligence service, tasked with getting his fellow Jews out of the country. At one point a suitcase containing USD 1 million, essentially a ransom, is lost in Switzerland. At another time, when it is thought preferable to exchange emigrating Jews for goods rather than money, livestock become part of the deal, and Danish piglets are flown and driven over. When Ceaușescu comes to power, he realizes the want-away Jews can be better monetized. The Communist dictator demands more cash, which he stashes in Swiss bank accounts, showing a surprising talent and zeal for capitalism.
The stories and the stats are given a human face by the contribution of one of the affected Jews, a doctor who resolves to move to Israel after his hospital fires him. From the sorrow of signing over his home, possessions and money (the state imposed a maximum cash limit on departing Jews, who were thoroughly checked to make sure they weren’t smuggling out more) and the shock of being mistakenly told that he was not on the list of approved emigrants, to his joy and relief as he kisses the ground upon landing in Israel, the doctor’s recollections shed some light on the fear, risk, injustices and deprivations Jewish émigrés from Romania must have endured at the hands of their own government. Gabrea’s powerful and moving documentary deserves a wide airing.
Director: Radu Gabrea (pictured)