Ex-Russian soldier still battling Nazism, but in courts

"I never thought Nazism would be reborn in my country. In what state are we living now?"

Boris Stambler 88 (photo credit: )
Boris Stambler 88
(photo credit: )
Boris Stambler, a World War II veteran and for many years an anti-Nazi whistle blower, is still fighting anti-Semites and propagandists. Now he's waging his battles in the courts. "I never thought Nazism would be reborn in my country," Stambler, 81, a retired engineer, says in his cozy apartment in northern Moscow. "In what state are we living now?" Helped by a handful of elderly friends from the Union of Jewish Soviet Army War Veterans, Stambler for more than a decade has gone to court against Viktor Korchagin, a publisher of far-right literature, including the infamous czarist-era forgery "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." March brings another trial against the nationalist Duel newspaper, which once called Stambler and his fellow Jewish veterans "members of Jewish fascist units." Stambler already has won two court cases against the paper. His longest battle, however, has been against Korchagin, the owner of a small, family-managed bookstore in Moscow who has called for deporting Jews from Russia before they destroy the country and who described Hitler as a "great man." Korchagin recently published the Russian translation of Hitler's "Mein Kampf," but was forced to withdraw it from stores when a Moscow prosecutor banned the book, citing a new Russian law barring extremist literature. Korchagin has published many other anti-Semitic titles, including the Russian translation of "My Awakening" by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Korchagin also edited "Rusich" magazine, where he not only attacked Jews but also lashed out at Christians, calling the faith "a spiritual AIDS." In 1995, in a lawsuit Stambler filed on behalf of the Jewish war veterans group, Korchagin was found guilty of hate speech, a punishable crime in Russia. He was pardoned on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of victory in World War II. The pardon stunned Stambler, who at 18 was fighting Hitler's army as a member of a Soviet infantry mortar unit. "To free a Nazi literature publisher for the anniversary of Victory Day, how is that possible?" he asks. Stambler, who was wounded in World War II, continued to file suit, and in 2004 and 2005 Korchagin was found guilty of hate speech in two separate cases. In the latter case, Stambler, who rarely received public attention outside the Jewish community, was backed by a small Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Christian group that accused Korchagin of spreading anti-Christian propaganda through his magazine. Despite the guilty verdict by a Moscow court, Korchagin was not given a jail sentence because of a statute of limitations. In a recent interview, Stambler said he was "devastated" by the court ruling. Worse, he said, is his belief that the state under Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, now the justice minister, defended Korchagin. Stambler displays a letter he received from the Prosecutor General's Office describing Korchagin's writings as a "polemical viewpoint" that reflects "the complicated situation in the country." Stambler, who in his years of court battles has met many low-level officials in the Russian prosecutor's office, says many of them privately defend Korchagin. Such feelings were echoed recently by Vladimir Lukin, Russia's human-rights ombudsman. "There is a feeling that some of these 'extremists' have a certain organizer," Lukin said in an interview with the Izvestia newspaper. "It's clear that there are many among law-enforcement officials who treat right-wing extremists neutrally." While Stambler is fighting marginal figures like Korchagin, more mainstream Russian publishers are putting out titles containing anti-Semitism. One is "I Have Not Betrayed My Military Oath and Banner," a book by retired Soviet Army Gen. Albert Makashov that is being advertised on the site of the Algorithm Moscow publishing house. Despite the seriousness of the issues involved, Stambler can joke about his foes. "For an anti-Semite, even if he has problems in bed, Jews are to blame," he cracks. But Stambler turns sad when he looks around the flat he shares with his wife, Maria, a former pediatrician. On its walls are small-scale models of guns that he designed in his spare time after retiring. He laments that he no longer has time for his hobby. "Instead," Stambler says, "I have to deal with all this scum."