Romanian actor and head of the Jewish State Theatre in Bucharest, Maia Morgenstern, has received a death threat and antisemitic abuse in a scandal that has caused national and international outrage.
On 27 March, the actor, whose most famous role is Mary in Mel Gibson’s 2004 Passions of Christ, posted screenshots of an email she received on several addresses at the Jewish State Theatre, which included death threats to Morgenstern and other actors, and explicit references to the Holocaust. “I intend to throw her into a gas chamber,” the letter said. The post later disappeared from Morgenstern’s Facebook wall.
Two days later, following outrage and messages of solidarity from cultural and political figures, Romanian prosecutors announced that the police had arrested the sender of the message. In the signature, the 25-year-old culprit wrote that the letter came from AUR, Romania’s young nationalist party, which has gained nine per cent of votes in recent parliamentary elections last December. The head of the party, George Simion, however, dissociated from the letter, saying it was “a degrading anti-semitic attack”.
In response to the letter, the Jewish State Theatre streamed their performance A Lesson of Good Manners online for free on 30 March.
The Theatre Union in Romania expressed their solidarity with Morgenstern and the Jewish State Theatre, saying “any form of racism is intolerable” and that the message “cannot remain without penal consequences on its author”.
“As writers who know what the force of words mean, we condemn the horrific threat sent to the great actor,” PEN Romania wrote. “The eras of ideological barbarism of the previous century started with such criminal constructions of words that stigmatised races and classes,” they added.
The letter came days after someone told Morgenstern an antisemitic “joke” just before an official event at the city hall, on 18 March. “No one seemed bothered,” the actor wrote. “I can’t accept this. It is grave. It is ugly. I am hurt.”
Thousands of artists and fans expressed their solidarity with Morgenstern following both events. Some compared the episodes with the rise of antisemitism during the 1930s and 1940s in Romania. During the Second World War, Romania massacred 400,000 Jews, a part of history that remains under discussed today and barely taught in schools. Before the war, the country was home to about 750,000 Jews; according to the latest census, only around 4,000 Jewish people are left in Romania.