BUCHAREST (Reuters) - A prominent Jewish rights group said
yesterday that its hunt for Nazi war criminals in Romania
had flushed out 15 suspects
hoped to see prosecuted by the country's top court.
About half a million Jews were killed during the Holocaust in Nazi ally Romania,
including Transylvania, which was then under Hungarian rule.
Israel has repeatedly urged the Balkan country to face up
to its ugly past.
"The suspects are alleged to have actively participated in the persecution and
murder of Jews in several places in Romania," top Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, who opened a Holocaust crimes hotline in Romania,
said in a statement.
Zuroff said the top prosecutor's office
was asked to start an investigation into alleged crimes by
four suspects, the first people likely to be prosecuted in
Romania for war crimes since the fall of communism in 1989.
The chief prosecutor's office said
it was investigating the cases and it would closely cooperate
with the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The center launched "Operation
Last Chance" in 2003, offering 10,000 euros for information leading to the capture of war
criminals, saying it was the last opportunity to find those
responsible for the Holocaust.
As late as 2003, the leftist government
denied a Holocaust had taken place on its territory, prompting
a diplomatic row with Israel and forcing the creation of
an international commission of experts to study the EU candidate's
The commission revealed that up to
380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews were killed by Romanian
civilian and military authorities. Many were slaughtered
in pogroms, murdered in forced labor camps or death trains.
Another 135,000 Jews living in the
Transylvania and 11,000 Roma were killed.
Romania, led by pro-Nazi Marshal Ion
Antonescu became an ally of Germany in 1940 when it turned
into Adolf Hitler's main operational base in southeastern
Europe. But it switched sides shortly before the end of World
War II when it became clear the Third Reich's days were numbered.