Putin perverts historical truth about Nazism - analysis

Jews who were born and grew up in Russia, Ukraine and other parts of the Soviet Union, regardless of where they live now, have passionately taken up the Ukrainian cause. Why?

 RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin watches a military parade on Victory Day, in Red Square, in May. (photo credit: SPUTNIK/REUTERS)
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin watches a military parade on Victory Day, in Red Square, in May.
(photo credit: SPUTNIK/REUTERS)

My friend Julian Milkis is a world-renowned clarinet virtuoso. We first met nearly half a century ago when as teenagers we had emigrated from the Soviet Union, getting our Israeli visas as part of the Let My People Go campaign for Soviet Jewry. Julian was born in Odesa and he recently went back to play a concert while Russian rockets rained onto this historic Ukrainian city and the world famous center of Jewish culture. 

Another friend from that time is in Philadelphia collecting money for Ukraine. Yet another, a businessman, placed a large order with a factory in Ukraine, paying for five years in advance. The daughter of my childhood friend, now an Israeli citizen, is in eastern Ukraine assisting people who had escaped from Mariupol and other occupied territories. I traveled to the Polish-Ukrainian border in May and again in June to volunteer with a group helping Ukrainian refugees. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Jews who were born and grew up in Russia, Ukraine and other parts of the Soviet Union, regardless of whether they now live in Tel Aviv, New York or Berlin, have passionately taken up the Ukrainian cause and are working for the defeat of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Why? 

When Putin announced that the goal of his invasion of Ukraine was “denazification” of the government in Kyiv, many people have asked how Ukraine could possibly be a neo-Nazi state if its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish, as are a former prime minister and a number of current and former members of the administration. 

Putin’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov infamously supplied one answer by suggesting that Hitler, too, had Jewish blood. Putin apparently apologized to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for this nonsense spouted by his foreign minister but the truth is even more dangerous than Lavrov’s dumb antisemitic libel. The truth is that Putin’s propaganda is perverting history by denying the basic antisemitic nature of Nazism. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin enters a hall in the Kremlin in Moscow on April 26, 2022.  (credit: NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images)Russian President Vladimir Putin enters a hall in the Kremlin in Moscow on April 26, 2022. (credit: NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images)

In the Soviet Union, the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis – of which at least two million were Soviet Jews – was systematically swept under the carpet. The official version was that Jewish suffering in the Holocaust was not unique but that all Soviet citizens suffered in equal measure. 

Consequently, the Black Book, compiled by writers Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman in 1944, documenting Nazi crimes against Soviet Jews, was not allowed to be published. Worse, the members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee who helped compile the book were soon arrested and executed, as Stalin in turn began to persecute Jews under the guise of a campaign against “rootless cosmopolitans.”

Notoriously, the Soviet-era monument at Babyn Yar in Kyiv, where more than 30,000 Jews were murdered in September 1941, was built only in 1976, and even then it failed to mention that the victims were Jewish. 

In Putin’s Russia, Victory Day celebrations marking the end of World War II have acquired a strident, jingoistic tone. While the Duma has been passing increasingly draconian laws meting out punishment for “falsifying history” the official history of what Russians call the Great Patriotic War is becoming increasingly fake. Not only is the contribution of Western allies to the defeat of Nazi Germany being trivialized and dismissed but a distinct impression is created as if the Americans and the British had created the Nazi regime and were egging Hitler on to attack the Soviet Union.

Propaganda

Similarly, you would think by listening to Putin’s ubiquitous war propaganda that the Russian people alone were the targets of Hitler’s hatred and that only the Russians – and not every ethnic group of the old Soviet Union certainly, including the Jews – did any fighting in the war and ultimately defeated Germany. 

And so Nazi crimes against everyone else except ethnic Russians go unmentioned. And, since Nazism was an ideology specifically directed against the Russian ethnicity, it makes sense that Ukrainians, whom Putin accuses of harboring aggressive plans against Russia, are Nazis. 

In this picture, the antisemitic nature of Hitler’s ideology disappears and it becomes possible for Zelensky, a Jew, to become a Nazi. At the same time, since Nazism in this conception was an ideology of aggression against Russians, then invading “Nazi” Ukraine makes perfect sense and is merely a continuation of the Great Patriotic War. Reportedly Putin was planning to announce that Nazism in Ukraine was defeated at the May 9 Victory Day parade. 

While hollowing out the judeophobic substance of Nazism and wantonly throwing around the term itself, Putin is adopting Nazi modus operandi. Hitler, an Austrian born in Austria-Hungary, could not accept the dissolution of the empire; for him Czechoslovakia and Poland, which became independent as a result, were pseudo-states. Putin, a KGB colonel born in the Soviet Union, similarly considers Ukraine a pseudo-state. His propaganda maintains the genocidal lie that there is no Ukrainian nation. 

The Kremlin legerdemain of writing Nazi crimes against the Jews out of Nazism is only too familiar to Jews born in the former Soviet Union. At the same time, having escaped the iron clutches of the Soviet empire we can’t help but sympathize with the Ukrainians who are valiantly defending their own right to live free of the bear hug of the big Russian brother. 

Born in the USSR, the writer has lived in the US since 1975, having emigrated on an Israeli visa during the Let My People Go campaign for Soviet Jewry. He has worked as an economist for 35 years, including positions at Standard and Poor’s and The Economist Intelligence Unit. Over the past 10 years, he has published four murder mysteries set in Moscow in the 1960s.