MOSCOW – President Shimon Peres joined Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
in Moscow on Thursday to inaugurate the city’s new Russian Jewish museum and
tolerance center, the world’s largest Jewish museum.
In a moving speech,
Peres said the museum evoked memories of his childhood back home in Poland. He
thanked the Russian people for their role in helping defeat the Nazis in World
“The Nazis murdered about a third of our people. They murdered 6
million Jews, among them 1.5 million children, in concentration camps and gas
chambers,” the president said. “Such a tragedy must never happen
Turning to the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, Peres said Tehran
threatened the Jewish people with another Shoah.
“[The Iranian regime]
claims that its religion prevents it from creating a nuclear bomb. And the
regime is developing a nuclear bomb,” Peres said, calling on Russia to stand
with Israel in preventing a nuclear Iran.
The new center is housed in the
former Bakhmetevsky bus garage, an avant-garde Moscow landmark designed in 1926
by Konstantin Melnikov, the leading figure of Russia’s Constructivist
The museum, which brings together different cultural traditions
through a Jewish prism, is the brainchild of Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar and
Alexander Boroda, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of
Russia, who came up with the idea back in 2007.
Lazar discussed the idea
for the museum with Putin, who lent his support saying it would help normalize
Nikolai Patrushev, the then-director of the FSB, the
successor organization to the KGB, also supported the museum idea. In September
2007, Patrushev gave Lazar 16 documents relating to Raoul Wallenberg, the
Swedish diplomat who helped save tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the
Nazis during WWII.
Lazar said the museum heralded a new epoch in Russian
“For a long time the story of Russian Jewry was very hard
and even tragic. Now things have changed,” Lazar said, adding that Russia’s
Jewish community should not forget the hardest parts of its
Lazar praised Putin for his support of the venture.
museum includes a section on the persecution experienced by Jews in the former
Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg, who donated toward the
museum, also praised the venture for not shying away from sensitive questions
about Russian Jewish history.
“It’s very important especially now to show
the real story about the Jewish nationality and religion in Russia, and
particularly to young people,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
“sensitive questions” the museum addresses is the persecution of Soviet Jewry,
particularly in the 1960s and 1970s.
The museum explores those dark
decades through documents, photographs and other artifacts, including a typical
joke from the period: A Soviet government officials asks a Jewish man,
Rabinovich, who his father is.
“The USSR,” Rabinovich replies.
“Excellent,” the government official says. “And who is your mother?” “The
Communist Party,” answers Rabinovich. “Wonderful!” the ecstatic Soviet official
“And what is your greatest wish?” “To be an orphan,” says
On a more serious note, the exhibition shows a collection of
anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish propaganda, including a pamphlet in Russian
entitled Judaism: a past without a future and an anti-Semitic book published in
1963 by the Ukrainian Soviet Academy of Sciences, titled Judaism without the
A handwritten translation of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers)
from 1973, whose pages have yellowed with age, stands as testament to the
determination and bravery of the Soviet Jews.
The writer risked imprisonment to
translate and write out the book, since its publication was prohibited by the