Jews digging their own graves. Storow, July 4, 1941.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A Ukrainian Jewish leader on Thursday accused the Daily Mail newspaper of fabricating a quote that made it look like he had engaged in Holocaust revisionism.
The British tabloid, in an article published earlier this week, quoted Josef Zissels, the president of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (Vaad) of Ukraine, as saying that the extent of Ukrainian collaboration in the Holocaust has been exaggerated for political ends.
“There are certain stereotypes about participation of Ukrainian nationalists in pogroms in the early war years which were planted by Soviet history. It is true that the local population did cooperate with German Nazis in the occupied territories, but the majority of them were ethnic Russian,” Zissels allegedly said.
“Russia makes a point about Ukrainian nationalists because it is keen to divert suspicion from itself,” the quotation continued.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, however, the Ukrainian nationalist and former Soviet dissident said he was unfamiliar with the article and did not utter the statements ascribed to him.
“This is fake,” he said. “I didn’t say anything like that. It’s absurd.”
Accusations of anti-Semitism have been bandied back and forth since the beginning of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, with each side seeking to portray itself as morally superior.
Russia positioned itself as the protector of Jews and other minorities when annexing the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine last year, while Ukrainian Jewish leaders have asserted that several high-profile anti-Semitic incidents were Russian provocations.
Both Russians and Ukrainians were quick to pan Zissels’s alleged statement.
Yuri Kanner, president of the Russian Jewish Congress, said that “anti-Russian speculations on the Holocaust” were “unacceptable,” and accused Zissels of “looking for cheap popularity among Ukrainian Russophobes.”
“I know perfectly well who collaborated with the Nazis and destroyed my people in Ukraine,” he said, referencing pogroms carried out by the local civilian population.
Eduard Dolinsky of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee in Kiev likewise spoke out against the Daily Mail story, telling the Post that the comments were “in line with the awkward attempts to rewrite [the] history of Holocaust in Ukraine by denying local nationalist groups’ and [the] local population’s participation in the killing of Jews.
“Russians made up majority in occupied territories of Russia, not Ukraine,” he said.
“Ukrainian Jewry has already made very clear that it supports Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression and our intention to make the Holocaust one of the most important points for creating a modern Ukrainian state has no connection with Russia’s attempts to distort its own and Ukraine’s history,” Dolinsky said.
Jewish groups, as well as the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, have criticized Ukraine over its treatment of the Holocaust period, such as the recent parliamentary vote to extend recognition to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, an ultra-nationalist faction that sought to establish an independent Ukrainian state and which collaborated with the Nazis.
“Zissels’s comment is patently false and as he often done in the past he distorts the situation or the historical reality to find favor in the eyes of the Ukrainian government,” Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said. “The majority of the local collaborators in Ukraine were Ukrainians.
Colette Avital, chairwoman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, said, “I do not think it is wise or proper to rewrite history. We all sadly know that the Ukrainians were no angels. To introduce now Jewish history in a political context, so as to blame the Russians and please the Ukrainian leaders, will not change the facts.
The Russians did their share in killing Jews, but let us not forget that in the end it is the Russian Army that liberated the camps.”