The tragedies and triumphs of the Soviet experience during World War II were remembered at the unveiling of a monument dedicated to the Red Army in Netanya on Monday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who began a tour of the country on Monday, and President Shimon Peres both attended the ceremony. They spoke of the crucial part the USSR played in defeating Nazi Germany.
“This is an opportunity to thank the Red Army,” said Peres. “Had it not defeated the Nazi beast then it is doubtful we would be standing here today. In World War II the Soviet Union prevented the world from surrendering.”
Putin, who spoke after Peres, expressed his gratitude to the president for his speech.
“What I just heard has warmed my feelings toward the Jewish people and especially toward Israel,” he said.
“I am thankful for everything that has been done to commemorate those who died during World War II.”
Putin said the Holocaust was one of the “darkest episodes of history” and that Russia “put an end to it” by saving “the world.”
Earlier, Peres said he was certain Russia would not stand idly by in the face of threats from Iran and Syria, given its role in vanquishing threats to world peace such as the Nazis.
Putin made no reference to either country in his remarks.
The event was attended by several hundred people including about a dozen Red Army veterans. Zavei Kleiner, 91, a former Soviet sapper who said he fought in both Leningrad and Stalingrad, said he was proud of the sacrifices his generation had made fighting Nazism. The bemedalled resident of Bat Yam, who moved to Israel after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, was accompanied by his family.
“I have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” he said.
The Victory Monument, as it is officially called, was a joint initiative of Israel and Russia implemented by a committee with members from both countries. It has two parts The first is a tunnellike passage made of black concrete symbolizing the hardships and sacrifices of the war. It leads to the second part, an open space overlooking the sea where two giants wings made of white marble have been erected.
More than half a million Jews fought in the Red Army in WWII against the Nazis; 120,000 were killed.
The idea for a monument to commemorate them originated two years ago when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu proposed it to Putin during a visit to Moscow.