Ceremonies across country commemorate Victory in Europe Day

Russian embassy spokesman: Israel ‘one of leaders in the world’ in marking Red Army’s role in victory over Nazis.

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May 8, 2019 01:28
3 minute read.
wwii veterans

A World War Two veteran holds a flower and Israel's national flag during a march in Jerusalem commemorating the 70th anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day May 10, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Red Army veterans, their children and grandchildren have for a week been taking part in various ceremonies across the country marking Victory in Europe Day, which this year falls on Israel’s Independence Day.


“It is a very good coincidence that Israel’s Independence Day is celebrated this year at the same time as Victory Day, because from our perspective, the State of Israel was established thanks to the victory in that bloody war [World War II],” said Dmitry Alushkin, the Russian Embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv.
Alushkin spoke as he was driving back to Tel Aviv from Ashkelon on Tuesday, where an Immortal Regiment march was held, one of a number of such marches that are being held in various municipalities across the country. A few hundred people attended the march in Ashkelon, he said, including diplomats from various embassies – including Ukraine, which is currently engaged in a low-grade military conflict with Russia.
 
Immortal Regiment marches were started in Russia a number of years ago, Alushkin explained, and are held on Victory in Europe Day – which is marked in Russia on May 9 and in most of the rest of Europe on May 8 – where people march with pictures of relatives who fought against the Nazis in the Red Army.


Rather than holding these ceremonies this year on Independence Day, Alushkin said, many municipalities in Israel decided to hold them a few days earlier.


Israel has a high concentration of Red Army veterans, with the spokesman saying that four years ago, the embassy estimated that number to be about 11,000. An estimated 500,000 Jews fought in the Red Army during World War II. An estimated 1.2 million people have immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union since 1990.


In 2017, the Knesset passed a law designating Victory in Europe Day, marking the formal unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allies, as a national holiday. Alushkin said that outside of former Soviet Union states such as Belarus and Kazakhstan, Israel is “one of the leaders in the world” in events marking Victory Day.


Israel’s recognition of the Red Army’s crucial role in defeating the Nazis has, according to diplomatic official, played an important psychological role in building ties between the two countries, particularly since Moscow feels its part in the defeat of the Nazis – and its enormous sacrifice – has been badly downplayed in the West. At almost every public meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Red Army’s role in defeating the Nazis comes up.


Putin came to Israel in 2012 for the inauguration of a monument to the Red Army in Netanya – one of the only such monuments outside the former Soviet Union – and he said that he will come back to Israel when it inaugurates a monument commemorating the victims of the Siege of Leningrad in Jerusalem. Netanyahu discussed this with Putin when he visited Moscow in February. The exact site, as well as the nature of the monument, is still being determined.


Israel’s decision to build monuments commemorating the Red Army’s role in World War II has had an even greater resonance of late in Russia since a number of states formerly dominated by the Soviet Union – Poland, Hungary and the Baltic States – have torn down such monuments in their streets.


Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov told The Jerusalem Post in September that Israel’s gestures on this matter are “psychologically and politically very, very important.”


He said the Knesset’s decision to make Victory in Europe Day a national holiday is “extremely important; you should not underestimate its importance.”
 
The events in Israel marking the occasion began last week with an auto rally from Metulla to Eilat that was joined by Russian diplomats and began at precisely 4 a.m., the exact time when the Nazis launched their attack on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.


On Sunday, a wreath laying ceremony was held at the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund Red Army forest near Kibbutz Ma’aleh Hahamisha, where a plaque reads: “The citizens of Israel planted this forest in honor of the Red Army.” On the same day, there was a ceremony at the Red Army monument in Netanya, and on Monday marches were held in Bat Yam and Ashdod. The central march of Red Army veterans is scheduled to take place in Jerusalem on May 14.


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