Russian rabbi: Hard to understand why neo-Nazism asserting itself in Ukraine

Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Azman responded emotionally: “Jews on the Russian side who support this war, are supporting the massacre of Jews."

Rabbi Alexander Boroda. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Rabbi Alexander Boroda.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

One of Russia’s most influential Jews was quoted in Russian media supporting President Vladimir Putin's claims of his "military operation bringing about the ‘Denazification’ of Ukraine.

“In recent years there has been a systematic glorification of Nazi criminals, torchlight marches and the like” said Rabbi Alexander Boroda, who serves as chairman of the Board of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FJCR). He spoke to the Russian news agency Interfax on March 4. During the interview, he expressed “bewilderment at the fact that neo-Nazism was actively asserting itself in a country like Ukraine.”

Boroda is considered to be the second most influential Jew in Russia and in the Jewish community there, working hand in hand with Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar. Both of them are members of Chabad and are considered to be confidants of Putin. Most Russian rabbis and leaders have been exceptionally quiet during the current war with Ukraine, therefore Boroda's statement is out of the ordinary.

“War crimes were crossed out, forgotten, and there was only a mention of the conditionally creative activities of individual leaders who advocated the nationalization of the state,” the board chairman said in the interview.

THE RUSSIAN rabbi explained that he sees a complicated situation in Ukraine. “It is difficult to understand that in Ukraine, where there is a fairly large and largely prosperous Jewish community, the glorification of criminals responsible for the death of the ancestors of those Jews is going on in parallel.” 

Ukraine opposed a resolution in the UN “on combating the glorification of Nazism and neo-Nazism,” he said.

 People walk near a banner depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin as Adolf Hitler, in Poznan, Poland March 16, 2022. (credit: Piotr Skornicki/Agencja Wyborcza.pl via REUTERS) People walk near a banner depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin as Adolf Hitler, in Poznan, Poland March 16, 2022. (credit: Piotr Skornicki/Agencja Wyborcza.pl via REUTERS)

“The participation of the UPA (The Ukrainian Insurgent Army) in punitive actions concerned not only Jews, but also other ethnic minorities," Boroda said, giving, "for example, the Volyn massacre, which destroyed fifty thousand Polish civilians.”

The rabbi was asked about the report of the so-called bombing of the Babyn Yar memorial in Kyiv by the Russian army - which turned out to be false. “At the moment, media representatives from different countries confirm that the memorial is not damaged,” he responded, according to Interfax. “But unfortunately, even the reports of publications with international authority can be unreliable.”

Boroda even compared the breaking of the glass doors of a Russian store door in Germany to Kristallnacht – Crystal Night, one of the most identifiable symbols of aggression in the pre-Holocaust era.

“A video on social media showed that in Germany, the windows of a Russian store were broken and doused with paint. I really want to believe that this is not true," he said in conclusion. "Because it was with Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, that the triumphant and long-term march of Nazism began.”

RABBI MOSHE Reuven Azman, one of the chief rabbis of Ukraine, spoke to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday in response to Boroda's interview.

“Jews on the Russian side who support this war, are supporting the massacre of Jews," he said emotionally.

Azman was furious when he read about Boroda’s comments in the Post, saying from the street of Kyiv: “The Russian military is committing war crimes in Ukraine. I'm on the ground in Ukraine. We have seen thousands of shootings at civilians and at buildings. They are using inaccurate weapons.

"They are killing women and children. No one asked them to ‘De-Nazify’ us as a country” he said.

“We Jews of Ukraine have freedom of religion and freedom of expression,” Azman said, hinting to his colleagues in the Russian Jewish community – while they are all members of the Chabad movement his colleagues are reacting very differently to the regional crisis. 

“Anyone who supports this [war] is complicit in war crimes. No matter who and what they are - including Russian Jews," Azman said, again hinting to Boroda, as well as to his partner in heading the Russian Jewish community Rabbi Berl Lazar. "I understand that the rabbis in Russia may have no choice because the 'iron curtains' are setting in again. I was born in Russia and know what an iron curtain is.

“They may be forced to say that,” Azman said, adding that “I know him [Rabbi Boroda] well. Maybe the situation he’s in is life-threatening. Everyone makes their own choices. In the communist era, they wanted me to do things against my will and I did not do them; no one would force me to do things against my conscience," he said.

"I suggest to Alexander Boroda to learn from the personal story of the father of the last Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe. Communists threatened him and wanted to kill him, but he wasn’t afraid of them. He didn’t sell his Jewish beliefs and conscience to the devil. He defeated Stalin,” Azman said in tears, referring to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, who was arrested by the communist regime for his stance against the Party's efforts to eradicate Jewish practice and learning in what was then the Soviet Union.

“I think that while the whole world has united with the Jewish president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky – not only the Ukrainian people support the president, but even the Russians in Ukraine support him. The free world – apart from dictatorship countries – supports Ukraine," Azman said.

RABBI BORODA "has a choice: either to be on the side of the ‘light’ – which is Ukraine – or with the darkness: Russia. It’s his freedom of choice,” Azman said.

“When the war will be over, it will be very difficult for him and others to live with this conscience; the war will soon end, yet we are going to be living with these losses for life," he predicted. "God will make sure that [those that supported the Putin regime] will be held accountable."

At the beginning of March, Rabbi Azman recorded a video in his synagogue where he sent a similar message to Rabbi Lazar. He then said: “I turn to the rabbis of Russia, to the Jews of Russia and to ordinary Russians with one message: People, stop the war! Do not be frustrated by what you are told on TV – you are being lied to. 

"A war crime is taking place here,” he said on the video in Russian, speaking dramatically and hugging a Torah scroll. “The Russian army, which defeated the Nazis in 1941, today bombs Kyiv, in a civilian area."

The next day, Lazar published a statement that called for peace, but was very vague and indecisive. 

Azman said that he is much harsher after reading the interview with Boroda. “They support the murder of people, no matter who, Jews or non-Jews,” he said about those who support Putin. 

“He also supported the murder of Jews” he said about Boroda. “Those who support the war support the murder of many Jews. There are so many Jews who call me and ask for help to find their relatives in cities such as Mariupol or Kharkiv. Putin erased these towns. We can’t find all of their relatives.”

Finally, Azman said, “I'm very angry.”

The chief rabbi hopes to have a minyan (quorum of men) on Thursday night for Maariv, the evening prayer, since he will then celebrate his 56th birthday – in the bombed city of Kyiv.