Russian-speaknig Jewish World War II veterans gather with their families at the United Nations on Wednesday to commemorate Russia’s Victory Day..
(photo credit: MAYA SHWAYDER)
NEW YORK – Two hundred Russian-speaking Jewish veterans, many in full World War II regalia, gathered with their families at the United Nations on Wednesday to commemorate Russia’s Victory Day. It was the first officially sponsored gathering of Russian Jewish veterans for Victory Day in Manhattan, and Dr. Igor Branovan, president of the American Forum of Russian Speaking Jewry, intends to make it an annual event.
“This is the last of a generation,” Branovan told The Jerusalem Post. “They deserve to be celebrated 365 days a year.”
Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirschenbaum, who flew in from Israel for the event, announced she would be supporting the creation of a new holiday, to be denominated “Rescue Day of European Jewry,” and celebrated on Iyar 26 of the Hebrew calendar, which this year falls on May 26.
“If we don’t put this date on our calendar, we will lose a little bit of the significance of this day,” Kirschenbaum said.
“Even today we see it with the new generation.”
The theme of generational memory ran throughout the event. Leonid Rosenberg, now 91, was 19 when the war started and was wounded on the third day of fighting. Speaking Russian as his son translated, Rosenberg said that his horse saved his life. Stationed in Ukraine, he and a friend were riding when they were shot at by the Germans. His friend was killed, but Rosenberg ducked and clung to his horse, which bolted from the scene. On Wednesday Rosenberg sported the Medal of Freedom for Kiev and for Poland that he earned during the war.
Gregory Nevitsky, 89, recalled how the war didn’t end for him or his unit on May 9, 1945.
“We were still fighting the Germans in Austria who didn’t want to surrender,” he said through a translator. “I also got lucky because after the war, part of my unit went to fight in Japan. They didn’t come back until 1947.”
Solomon Lapidus, 91, an unapologetic partisan from Minsk, helped organize a group of other partisans – “We were bandits!” he said – to live in the woods outside Minsk, who eventually worked together to liberate the part of the city they were from. By the end of the war, he said, there were over 60,000 partisans in Minsk.
“Now, I lecture students about the war, and they always ask me stupid questions,” he said, “like, where did you go to the bathroom. And I say, we were in a forest! Every tree was a bathroom!” Israel’s ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor spoke briefly, saying he felt honored to be in the presence of veterans of the Red Army. “I remember when [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin visited Israel when I headed the Foreign Ministry,” he said.
“The only time I saw him emotional was when he met Russian Jewish veterans of the Second World War.
“You, the veterans of history’s darkest hours, were its brightest lights,” he continued.
“You and your comrades fought so that people and nations today could live in freedom.
When history and circumstances called for bravery, you answered the call.... On behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, I thank you.”
The event was partly sponsored by Russian-Jewish industrialist German Zakharyaev, president of the STMEGI foundation.
“As Jews we are proud to gather at the UN for this historic celebration honoring a great victory over evil,” Zakharyaev said in a statement.
“While it’s important to remember the Holocaust’s end, we must still remain vigilant even today, as the Jewish communities throughout the FSU feel insecure amid instability in Ukraine.”