Russian President Vladimir Putin has justified his war on Ukraine by the need to “de-Nazify” its government, falsely claiming that Kyiv is controlled by a cabal of American-sponsored neo-Nazis. To Ukrainian Jews, and many Jewish leaders world-wide, it is a brazen insult to the memory of the Holocaust, especially now that Moscow is indiscriminately shelling Ukrainian cities.
“War crimes are happening here,” said one of Ukraine’s leading rabbis, Moshe Reuven Asman, in an emotional video recorded after Tuesday’s strike, holding a Torah scroll in his hands. “The Russian army that was beating the Nazis in 1941 is bombing civilians in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odessa today. If I die, those who are silent today will be cursed as accomplices.”
A native of Mr. Putin’s hometown Leningrad, now known as St. Petersburg, Rabbi Asman said he is staying in Kyiv to serve his community. “It’s my honor to be on the side of light, not on the side of those who kill.”
In September 1941, over the course of less than two days, some 36,000 Kyiv Jews were marched by the Nazis to the edge of the Babyn Yar ravine, stripped of their clothes and gunned down. Executions on the site continued until 1943.
Today, Ukraine is one of the few European nations with a large and vibrant Jewish community. Despite its dark 20th century history, few signs of open anti-Semitism remain today. Though there are neo-Nazi groups and political movements in Ukraine, they have much smaller support than in most European nations and don’t poll nearly enough to be represented in parliament. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, elected with 73% of the national vote in 2019, is Jewish, his grandfather a Soviet World War II veteran. A Jewish prime minister headed the Ukrainian government before the election. [Continue reading…]