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In 1975, the Romanian Orthodox Church of Grass Lake, Michigan was a special place.
A couple of years before, the church was near extinction, due to a dwindling number of members. But after World War II, a new influx of believers came to the United States, fleeing the devastation of war-torn Europe.
One of the Church leaders, Viorel Trifa, was among the people who resettled in America. He was an academic who had studied in Bucharest and Berlin and his essays were widely published in academic works. Once he had settled in the States in the 1950s, he decided to step out of academia and became an ordained minister in the Romanian Orthodox Church and took the religious name Valerian.
He was an intelligent and ambitious leader and quickly rose through the ranks of the Church. As early as 1951, he was chosen to be a Vicar-Bishop and the next year he was ordained as the Bishop of Detroit. He was enthusiastic about reform and growth and under his leadership, the Romanian Orthodox Church flourished. His Eminence Valerian was a popular and an influential cleric, who had a great intuition for resolving problems. He was a wise leader who was always known to put the needs of his congregation above his own.
The church purchased a farm near Jackson, Michigan and named it ‘Vatra Romanies’ which translates to Romanian Hearth. This became the main centre of the Romanian Church in North America. The farm hosted conferences and training sessions as well as religious summer camps for young people.
The once run-down farm had become a 200 acre estate with a 25-room homestead. Trifa was the driving force behind its construction and he proudly laid the cornerstone in 1959. The sprawling property was funded and maintained by the congregation.
When Valerian Trifa became the head of the 40,000-member Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, his congregation was delighted. No one was more deserving of the new title of archbishop than he was. The congregation’s only fear was that they would see less of him, as he would have many new duties to fulfill. But not His Grace Valerian, he was loyal to his people and remained at ‘Vatra Romanies’.
Just when it looked like things could not get any better for the high profile clergyman, his whole image was shattered when his past came back to haunt him. Questions were raised about his life in Romania when Jewish activist groups accused him of being responsible for instigating a three-day terror attack on Jews in Bucharest in January 1941, that left more than 120 people dead. The archbishop said that it was a case of mistaken identity, as his last name, Trifa, was a very common Romanian name.
But the damage was done. The media dubbed him the ‘Nazi Archbishop’. Radical Jewish groups took action against Trifa and bombed a series of Romanian Orthodox Churches in North America, forcing him to go into hiding.
People who knew him in America, refused to believe that Valerian Trifa, a man of peace, would ever have been involved in any form of violence. But who was the man behind the crucifix really? Was he a sinner or was he a saint?
When US authorities received reports that one of its religious leaders used to be affiliated with the Nazi party during World War II, they had to investigate to see if there was any truth in the allegations.
When Viorel Trifa came to the United States in 1950, he was one of many Romanian migrants, entering the country in the hope of a brighter future. He took the opportunity to enter the US as a refugee under the 'Displaced Persons Act'. This act was brought in with the aim to provide a safe refuge for persecuted people who needed to escape post-War Europe.
Investigators found the transcription of Trifa’s immigration interview in 1950 and scrutinised every detail. The 36-year-old Romanian national, named Viorel Trifa said that he had worked as a lecturer of philosophy and theology in Berlin, Bucharest and Lassy, Moldovia-Romania. He could speak Romanian, Italian, German and French.
Between 1935 and 1941 he continued his studies in theology and philosophy and contributed written articles to a religious newspaper. In March 1941, he was taken by the Gestapo as a political prisoner and subjected to forced labour. By Christmas of the following year, he was taken to a German Concentration camp for the rest of the war, where he was a religious teacher of the Romanian Orthodox faith.
When the war ended in 1945, he drifted into Austria, looking for a place to settle and eventually escaped to Italy as an illegal migrant. He worked as professor of ancient history and French language at a Roman Catholic college. It was from Italy that Trifa made his way to America.
Once in the US, he wrote for the Solia Romanian language newspaper in Cleveland, before being ordained in the Romanian Orthodox Church. He made a great and lasting impact as a clergyman, and oversaw the translation of many Romanian religious texts into English, as an increasing number of members were born in America did not speak Romanian anymore.
He was also driven to keep the Romanian-American Orthodox Church independent from the Orthodox Church in Romania, as the church, like many organisations in Romania, had fallen into communist hands.
In the late 1950s Trifa was granted US citizenship and rose to the very top of the Church. He was a well-known religious leader, and on invitation of vice-president Nixon, said the opening prayer in the US Senate on May 11th 1955.
His prayer was powerful and beyond reproach:
“In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, with deep humility we pray for the members of this body, representing the people of the United States of America… Bless them that they remember in their discussions and decisions Romania and all the oppressed nations who are still longing for a government of the people… and that they may give hope and help to all those living in hunger, need, discouragement, doubt, fear. And we pray, Our Lord, for peace of the whole world, for the welfare of mankind and for the union of them all. Amen.”
But not everybody was under the spell of the holy man. A Polish-English language newspaper published in Detroit had an article about this prayer, titled: ‘Nazi says prayers in Senate’. In the article, Trifa is directly accused of living a lie:
“…Leader of the antisemitic progoms in Bucharest and a war criminal of the worst kind, prayed to God for ‘blessings’… The Devil dressed himself in pontifical garments and with his tail, rang the bell for Mass.”
Another person who was onto His Eminence Valerian, was Charles Kremer, a Jewish dentist and community activist. As early as 1957 he started collecting evidence about Valerian’s past as Viorel Trifa. Kremer was also a refugee from Romania who had moved to the USA before World War II and had lost many relatives in the Holocaust.
Kremer wrote an urgent letter to radio journalist Drew Pearson who nationally broadcast his disgust in the situation. He said:
“Attention Senators! How did it happen that Viorel Trifa (a pro-Nazi and antisemitic churchman) gave the opening prayer before your Senators two weeks ago? Just who, Senators, picks the churchmen who lead you in prayer?”
Vice-president Nixon was prepared to meet with Kremer, but J. Edgar Hoover intervened, assuring him that there was no credence to Kremer’s claims. He assured Nixon that the allegations against Trifa was because of conflict between two fractions of the Roman Orthodox Church. So, the pressure was off the archbishop yet again.
Because of Kremer’s ongoing efforts, however, authorities believed there was enough reason to investigate Trifa for war crimes. In the end, Kremer petitioned the US government for 20 years about the case, sending the names of witnesses and other concrete evidence about Trifa’s life in Romania.
In 1973 an official investigation into Valerian Trifa’s his wartime activities was opened the US Department of Justice. The investigation kicked off mainly because Trifa never disclosed his involvement in the Iron Guard when he first arrived in America.
On paper, it did not look like the archbishop had anything to hide. But the stakes in the case against His Eminence Valerian were high and his version of his background in Europe had to be verified. They realised that what he said could all have been fabricated and that the truth possibly lay in what he did NOT say. The US Department of Justice contacted the Romanian government for assistance.
When investigators questioned him in 1973, Trifa still denied any involvement in the Bucharest pogrom. He also strongly denied ever being associated with the Nazi party or being involved in antisemitic organisations. His denial came despite information from Romania proving the exact opposite.
The Romanian Government sent a photo to US investigators with Viorel Trifa in his Iron Guard uniform. They also sent transcriptions of the speeches he delivered in 1940 and 1941. Despite this, Trifa maintained his innocence. As for his antisemitic speeches, he said that he didn’t write it, he was simply chosen to speak, as he was a strong orator.
The FBI scrutinised the evidence from Romania, as there were allegations that it could have been falsified. Because Romania was under communist rule at the time and because Trifa was an outspoken anti-communist religious leader, they could have wanted to frame him in an attempt to discredit him. In fact, the FBI managed to prove that one of the photos supplied by the Romanian Government was, in fact, tampered with. All this, of course, before photoshop, which means a considerable amount of resources and time were spent by the Romanians, creating the false photo.
US investigators were back to square one and retraced verifiable facts about the archbishop’s past. Viorel Trifa was born in Campeni, Transylvania on the 28th of June 1914. He was the eldest of seven children of Dionisie and Macinica Trifa. His father was a school teacher and the family was very involved in the Romanian Orthodox Church. His uncle Iosif Trifa was an Orthodox priest who founded an evangelical movement called ‘The Lord’s Army’.
Trifa was always encouraged to focus on academic studies and when he graduated high school in 1931, he was excited to go to college. As a student he took a part-time job at ‘The Lord’s Army’ – working as an administrative manager in its publishing house. They printed and distributed religious books and publications throughout Romania.
During this time, records showed that Viorel Trifa joined the far-right Legionnaire Movement, also known as the Iron Guard. This association created events that would follow Trifa throughout the rest of his life.
The Iron Guard referred to themselves as Christians, hiding behind religion to promote their ultra-nationalistic ideals. They were against anything that threatened Romanian nationalism. This included communists, capitalists, Hungarians and Jews. In years to come, the Iron Guard would be referred to as the Nazis of Romania, as they took similar steps to eradicate Jewish people from their society. They were brutal in their approach and caused the deaths of countless people. They had a salute, similar to the Nazi Salute and also wore similar uniforms. It was common practice for the Iron Guard to host rallies with hate-fuelled speeches.
As early as 1951, a year after Trifa arrived in the United States, he was already on investigators’ radar. It was brought to their attention by members of his congregation who thought they recognised Trifa from when they lived in Romania. They reported that Trifa was a follower of Hitler and that he was the leader of the Student Movement of the Iron Guard. So, by the time investigators were finally digging deeper in the 1970s, Trifa had already been under suspicion for two decades.
In the 1950s, he was interviewed on three separate occasions, and found to be believable when he denied the accusations of being a Nazi, so the case against him was dropped. While he was never technically a Nazi, the Iron Guard had the same ideals and were in close association of the Nazi Party.
FBI in Detroit interviewed Trifa in 1955 when they received information about Communist activity within the Romanian refugee community. Some rumours floated around, saying that he set up old Iron Guard members in respectable positions with the Romanian Orthodox Church in US and Canada. The concern was that he used his position in the church for political rather than spiritual reasons.
Talk in the Romanian community was that Valerian Trifa brought one of his former associates into the US and made him a pastor in the Orthodox congregation of Manhattan. This man was named Florian Galdau and it was purported that his job was to approach new Romanian migrants and recruit them into the Iron Guard. This was a serious accusation, as it implied that this far-right organisation was all but dead. They had been banned in Romania, but what were they up to in the United States?
More witnesses came forward, claiming that the archbishop was not who he said he was. He was a war criminal of the worst kind. However, eyewitness testimony was not strong enough and they needed concrete evidence to prove that Trifa was directly involved in War Crimes and not only part of an organisation.
They found an ex-German SS report written by a German exchange student in Bucharest in 1941. It contained Trifa’s manifesto – clear evidence that he was a propogandist who actively encouraged violence against Jews and other minority groups.
Despite his denial, there was evidence that proved Viorel Trifa was very much a part of the Legionnaire Movement. In 1940, Viorel Trifa was so deeply entrenched in the organisation, he was appointed president of the National Union of Romanian Christian Students – also known as the ‘shock troops’. He was vocal about his antisemitic ideals and his writings made life difficult for Jews living in Bucharest at the time, as it only increased animosity against them.
During their investigation into Valerian’s past, US investigators found a speech, delivered by Viorel Trifa at a rally in Bucharest, that was held in December 1940. He spat the words out as he spoke, saying:
“The Romanian student has been antisemitic not because he read in some book that he must oppose the Yids, but because he felt that he could no longer make a living in his own country. If our students have been antisemitic from 1922 on, this is due to this Romanian tragedy, that after leaving the villages where they were being plundered by the Yids, they found themselves in cities once again plundered by the Yids. And then they had to rise up and say: This can no longer go on!”
The crowd roared in approval, applauding their leader’s sentiments.
Tensions were rising in Bucharest and conflict within the Iron Guard resulted in even more extremist behaviour by people like Trifa, who believed that the Romanian government was too weak to protect the interests of its people. Although the government was behind Hitler and clear about their antisemitic policies, the Legionnaires felt that they were not pro-active enough in ‘cleansing’ their country from the Jews. In January 1941, there was a strong Nazi presence in Bucharest and they supported the far-right.
During the first three weeks of that year, antisemitic propaganda increased. The main issue was that they had to ‘solve the Jewish problem’. The Iron Guard called on citizens to defend the country against Jews and Freemasons. The Legionnaires circulated hate-fuelling articles, all ending with the line ‘You Know Whom to Shoot’. Despite his denial, Trifa was one of the people who wrote these articles and sparked people into violent acts. He was actively stoking the fires.
His efforts came to a climax with a live radio broadcast in Bucharest on the night of 20 January 1941. He swept up emotions against the Romanian government and encouraged his people to take up arms in the fight against the Jews. Here is a part of his enticing speech:
“We are witnessing the downfall of a worn-out world, and we are participating in the building of a new world. We are marching with Rome and Berlin… We must understand that if we let this moment escape us, we shall have lost it for centuries to come… Aware of this call, we must join the fight, and we shall be victorious.”
What followed was three days of unimaginable carnage that became known as the Bucharest Pogrom, a Slavic word meaning persecution. For people like Trifa this was almost poetic: not only did they ‘cull’ the Jews, but at the same time, it was a rebellion against their own government. It was a state of anarchy and nobody was safe. The sky was ominously orange and black as Synagogues and Jewish schools were burnt to cinders.
The very day after Trifa’s radio broadcast, Jewish homes, Synagogues and schools were raided throughout Bucharest and other cities in Romania. Thousands of Jews were rounded up and taken, bundled into overcrowded trucks and driven out of town.
Some of the captives were taken into the Jiliva forest, just outside of Bucharest. They were taken from the trucks and into the forest. Some were tied to targets and made to wait for their inevitable execution as their persecutors paced back in the snow. The aim was not to shoot them straight away, but rather to shoot a round pattern behind them. Obviously, the shooters were not perfect marksmen, and this game resulted in many painful injuries. The victims that were hit, were simply left to bleed out and die.
Jewish women were stripped naked and targets were strapped to their backs. They were made to run around while being fired at. In some cases, the sadistic self-proclaimed soldiers cut women’s breasts with knives and dug holes into their chests using hand drills.
The tormentors were not all male, however. It was said that the Legionnaire women were the cruellest of the lot, torturing Jewish men by mutilating their genitalia.
The worst incident was arguably the group of 15 Jewish citizens who were taken to the municipal slaughterhouse. One by one they were shot and then had their throats cut, true to the kosher method of butchering. Five of them, including a 5-year-old girl, were hung on metal hooks meant for animal corpses, while they were still alive. The Legionnaires sardonically referred to the heinous event as the night of “kosher butchering”.
The government was not very efficient in dealing with the situation. Because of the rebellion and the pogrom happening simultaneously, they did not know what to do. After three days, they finally intervened and manage to put an end to all the violence in Bucharest.
The snow in the Jilava forest was drenched with blood. In total 125 Jews died in the pogrom. They only recovered 120 bodies, 5 were never found. As for the rebellion, 25 soldiers lost their lives. It was believed that the Bucharest Pogrom provided a blueprint for Jewish Mass murder in Germany.
In the week that followed, Romanian police arrested 9,000 members of the Iron Guard and banned the organisation as a whole. Some members managed to flee to Germany before they could be detained. One of the Legionnaires who managed to get away was Viorel Trifa.
Like many others, Trifa was tried in absentia by the Romanian government. He was singled out as a rebel and given a life sentence with hard labour. A sentence he escaped as he was being protected by the Nazi’s in Germany.
Although Trifa lived in concentration camps, he had privileged status as a political refugee. He was definitely not an inmate who was tortured or feared for his life. He was well-fed and taken care of. A different picture to the one he portrayed to the immigration officials when he first arrived as a refugee.
The FBI tracked down ‘Romanian Jews’ who claimed to have recognised Valerian as Viorel Trifa from Bucharest. One witness claimed that Trifa was not only the leader of the Iron Guard, but he was the leader of a small group of men who took her husband from his home in Bucharest in the January killings of 1941, which resulted in the husband’s death. Another woman also said he led a small group that took her two sons from their home and they were found slaughtered.
Another witness came forward with proof that he was a student in Bucharest at the same time as Trifa. The extensive statement makes it clear that Trifa was far more interested in politics than religion. During the January 1941 terror attacks, he was without a doubt the main leader and instigator. So many Jews lost their lives, they were either murdered at the slaughterhouse, or killed on the streets and thrown into canals. The witness said that their skins were used to make shoes and lampshades.
He heard one direct order from Viorel Trifa to his followers, he named three families and said that they should have their eyes and tongues removed and then be thrown from a three-storey building. The reason was simple: they were Jews. The witness said that many years later, he saw Trifa in Cleveland, Ohio and confronted him, asked him if he was not afraid of being caught out as someone who had initiated massive crimes in his past while pretending to be a man of God. To which Trifa allegedly responded:
“Quiet. Quiet. The people here are not as intelligent and conscientious as they are in Romania. So be quiet and never mention it again.”
As US authorities became more and more convinced that Valerian Trifa was evil incarnate, they realised they needed to reference allegations using other sources, concrete forensic evidence.
Because Trifa spent most of the war in Nazi Germany, they asked the West German government for assistance in digging up his past. Because of the meticulous documentation and filing systems within the German government, there was evidence that may have appeared to have been irrelevant at the time it was placed in the war archives. What they found were 22 post cards written by Viorel Trifa during the war years. In the postcards it became clear that he was not a prisoner of war. On the contrary, he was seen as a ‘guest’ of the Nazi government. He writes about his leisure activities, like watching films and taking walks. He was definitely not a hard labourer.
One post card was addressed to Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler and signed by Viorel Trifa. The archbishop claimed that he had never seen the postcard, let alone write it. But that was a blatant lie. Not only could handwriting experts confirm that the handwriting was a match, but a latent fingerprint was found on one of the postcards. At the time, the print was about 40 years old and fingerprint technology was still developing. German authorities would not give US experts permission to compromise the postcard in any way. They could not use ink or any substance to get the fingerprint.
Special technology was needed. The FBI was the only agency who had the ability to test it, using cutting edge laser technology. This enabled them to lift the fingerprint that in a way that could not be done in traditional ways. What they found was a clear left thumb print. It matched Valerian’s immigration records, from back in 1950 when he entered the US.
Faced with the evidence Valerian Trifa finally relented and admitted that he was the Viorel Trifa. The same Viorel Trifa that skipped out of Romania to escape the life sentence imposed on him by the Romanian Government in 1941. However, he showed no remorse at all, in fact he publicly stated that he was not ashamed of his past, as at the time, he did what he thought was best for the Romanian people.
After pressure from the Concerned Jewish Youth organisation, Valerian was kicked out of the National Council of Churches in November 1976. This was the beginning of the end for the archbishop. Although his congregation stood by him and supported him throughout, the writing was on the wall.
Israeli prosecutor Gideon Hausner learnt about the investigation and pushed to have Valerian Trifa extradited to Israel to stand trial for Crimes Against Humanity. This never came to pass, as a warrant was never issued. Israel did not have enough evidence to build a case of war crimes against the ex-member of the Iron Guard. It was tricky, as he was strictly speaking only a propagandist. The retrospective eyewitness testimony placing him in Bucharest at the time of the pogroms was not enough to get a conviction.
There was also not much the US Justice Department could do about the war crimes, as it did not occur within their territory. The only punishment they could give him, was to revoke his citizenship because he was deceitful about his past when he entered the country.
In 1979, Radio Free Europe broadcast a 40-minute interview with Trifa about the 50th anniversary of the Romanian Orthodox Church in North America. The interview was set up by Noël Bernard and conducted by American-Romanian journalist Liviu Floda. This may sound innocent enough, but it was a very awkward situation. The Radio Station which broadcast to Eastern Europe was founded and run by the CIA. This was right in the middle of the Cold War. To have a controversial figure like Trifa have so much airtime on American tax payers’ dime sparked an outrage. It also fuelled conspiracy theorists’ opinions that the CIA played in role in Trifa’s initial passage into America.
A year later, in 1980, at 68-years of age, His Eminence Valerian was forced to relinquish his American citizenship. He was the first person to be kicked out of the country for lying about war crimes to American officials. In fact, he gave up his citizenship before ever going to trial, which was seen as an admission of guilt.
Valerian Trifa said that he was not admitting guilt, but he was in bad health and not up for a trial. He was also concerned about the financial strain a court case would put on his congregation.
The department of immigration started a case of deportation against him and gave him 60 days to leave the country. Trifa applied to go to Switzerland, but they denied his application for residency. His second application, to Italy was also denied, they wouldn’t allow him in either.
For two years, Trifa remained in the US. No other country was prepared to offer him exile. In 1984 he was finally given an exit option when Portugal agreed to take him. He settled in the seaside resort town of Estoril, near Lisbon. If Trifa had not found somewhere to go, he would have been deported to Romania – something he wanted to avoid at all cost, as he was a wanted man in his native country, and he did not want to go to prison.
Before he left the US, Trifa gave an interview, again not taking any responsibility for his actions. He portrayed himself as a victim of circumstance when he said he…
"…happened to get put in a moment of history when some people wanted to make a point. The point was to revive the Holocaust. But all this talk by the Jews about the Holocaust is going to backfire."
Valerian Trifa was still settling into his new life in Portugal in the fall of 1984 when another bomb dropped. Portuguese authorities realised that the religious leader had failed to disclose his fascist background in his visa application and ruled him to be an ‘undesirable’ resident. In an article by Reuters, it was reported that Portuguese authorities said that:
"…it was against Portugal's interests for archbishop Valerian to live here and he must leave as soon as possible."
Typically, someone in Trifa’s position would have only three months to leave the country. However, he appealed his deportation with the Supreme Administrative Court and was able to delay his departure for a couple of years.
In the late 1980s, a man called Ion Mihai Pacepa came forward with information that piqued interest into Trifa’s case once again. Pacepa was a former general in the Romanian communist secret police who defected to the United States. He informed the US Department of Justice that Valerian was framed by the secret police force in Romania. He said they wanted to have him removed from the church as the American-Romanian Orthodox Church refused to be a part of the communist controlled Orthodox Church in Romania.
Back in Portugal, Valerian Trifa’s deportation case was still pending when he suffered a heart attack in January 1987. He was rushed to hospital in Cascais, where he died at the age of 72. A memorial service was held a week after his death at Vatra Romanies, Grass Lake, Michigan, with hundreds of people attending.
In 2003, the wife of Noël Bernard came forward in an interview with Revista 22. She said, that after the interview with Trifa on Radio Free Europe in 1979, the Romanian secret police took steps to have Barnard removed from his position at the broadcaster. She was convinced that her husband’s mysterious death in 1981 was a result of this and that the secret police was behind his assassination.
Four years later, the wake of Valerian’s tumultuous life had not settled. An Italian publication, L‘Espresso, highlighted the role of the Roman Catholic Church in helping war criminals like Viorel Trifa to escape to America, providing administrative, logistical and monetary support. They claimed that Valerian Trifa’s case was only the tip of the iceberg.
Trifa’s case remains an interesting one. Let’s suppose the photographs of him in Iron Guard uniform were falsified… There still remains an abundance of evidence that placed him in Bucharest, right in the eye of the storm during the 1941 pogrom: Multiple eyewitnesses, articles written by Trifa and inflammatory speeches.
The theory that the communist government of Romania framed Trifa in an attempt to discredit him, could well be true. Their agenda was to gain control of the Romanian-American Orthodox Church.
But Valerian Trifa was not an innocent man. If one were to look at the facts, it is not that difficult to see that Trifa was, beyond a doubt, a member of the Iron Guard and the leader of the National Union of Romanian Christian Students at the time of the Bucharest Pogrom. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in Romania because of his involvement in the three day terror campaign in 1941. To escape his sentence he fled to Germany where he was protected by the Nazis. After the war, he received assistance to leave Europe and go to America. On his arrival, he failed to mention that he was a member of the Iron Guard.
This was no accident. It was all part of a carefully constructed plan. The fact that he rose to the top of the Church administration in less than a decade, proves that he was a strong candidate who knew how to play the political game. At a time when all efforts were made to combat communism, the anti-communist archbishop appeared to be an ally to the United States.
Thanks to the efforts of people like Charles Kremer, Trifa’s deportation sent a clear message to war criminals living in the United States. No matter who they were, they were not above the law and they would be found out – even if it took more than twenty years.
To date steps to expel 137 of a suspected 10,000 war criminals living in the US have been taken. At the time of Trifa’s departure, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency quoted David Brody, the Washington representative of the anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, who said:
“The successful culmination of the nine year effort of the Justice Department will leave every Nazi who lied to get into this country many a sleepless night. It’s a signal that our government is going to proceed with vigor and determination to remove every person who lied about his wartime activities in order to get into the U.S.”
Trifa would never be granted a visa to re-enter America ever again. If he had tried to do so, he would have been arrested on the spot. But in a twist of fate, His Eminence Valerian did manage to return to the States after all.
His congregation in Grass Lake, Michigan was still burning a torch for their former leader at the time of his death and applied to lay him to rest in the USA. The US Consulate in Portugal reviewed the request and had to relent. They issued a statement that said:
“There is no law or obstacle to (Trifa) being buried in the United States.”
In early February 1987, the former archbishop’s body was transported by air to the USA and taken to a funeral agency in Detroit. Members from the Romanian Orthodox Church in Detroit took care of his arrangements, and the burial place was kept secret as they feared a backlash by his accusers.
After his death many people paid tribute to His Eminence Valerian, refusing to believe that he was guilty of anything.
Many people echoed the tribute left by Romanian Orthodox Reverend Vasile Hategan:
“Those who knew him, worked with him and observed his activities had the highest respect and esteem for him never believing the false accusations, allegations and innuendos he had endured most of the time he so faithfully served us with mind, body and spirit. In a true Christian Spirit, in a letter left behind to be read at his funeral, he has forgiven all those who, wittingly or unwittingly injured him and hurt him. History will prove that he was not guilty of all the terrible accusations.”
Unfortunately, accusations only go so far. Without definitive evidence against Trifa, he would never have been tried. Trifa was right there, present, stoking fires on the side of far-right extremists.
This quote, from German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak, is to speak. Not to act, is to act.”
Whether Trifa physically murdered anyone himself or not, still remains a point of contention. Even after admitting that he was the president of the National Union of Romanian Christian Students, he did not show any remorse. He hid behind the fact that he got caught up in the climate of the time. Feverishly nationalistic Romanians wanted to cleanse their country of people different to them. Like the Nazi’s, they played God, deciding who got to live and who got to die.
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