Alexander Safran, the former chief rabbi of Romania who tried to prevent the deportation of Jews by his country’s pro-Nazi regime during World War II, has died, his family announced.
He was 95.
Safran died at home in Geneva on Thursday, according to the family’s death notice published in the Tribune de Geneve.
After leaving his homeland for Switzerland, Safran became the chief rabbi of Geneva in 1948.
He was also a professor of philosophy and published a number of literary works.
Former King Michael of Romania said in a message to the Romanian Jewish community that he lost “a dear friend,” with whom he collaborated closely “during the most difficult times for the Jewish community and for the country.”
“It is a heavy loss for us all and especially for Romanian Jews,” said Michael, the last living head of state from World War II.
Safran was elected chief rabbi of Romania in 1940 when he was only 30.
From April to August 1940, he was a member of the Romanian senate. He used his position to try to persuade the pro-Nazi military government of Ion Antonescu to moderate its anti-Jewish laws.
According to the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, he helped Jewish communities establish independent educational institutions when Jewish students were excluded from public schools.
After authorities ordered the dissolution of all Jewish organizations in December 1941, Safran helped set up the Jewish Council -- an underground organization encompassing all sectors of the Jewish population.
His home became the group’s meeting place.
The council used its links with Romanian Orthodox Church officials, the Vatican and the royal family in a bid to prevent the mass deportation of Romania’s Jews to the Nazi extermination camps.
About half of the 800,000 Jews who lived in Romania before World War II were killed during the war.
But the fact that many were saved was widely attributed to Safran’s efforts.
When Soviet forces entered Romania in 1944, Safran refused to cooperate with the new Jewish Democratic Committee, saying it was a Communist body intent on breaking up traditional Jewish organizations and bringing Jewish life in Romania to a standstill.
As a result, he was dismissed from his post in 1947 and forced to leave the country, making his home in Geneva.
His memoirs, “Resisting the Storm: Romania 1940-1947,” appeared in 1987.