Staunton, June 4 – Finally, Russia has its own monument to the Holocaust, but while this is an important step and “better than nothing,” Moscow commentator Anton Orekh says, the new memorial “is devoted not to the victims of the Holocaust as such but in general to the heroes of the resistance in the concentration camps and ghettos.”
The reason that is so, he argues, is the same as the one why no such memorial had appeared before: longstanding Russian anti-Semitism. While that is fortunately no longer state policy and Vladimir Putin is not an anti-Semite, many Russians are; and the powers that be don’t want to offend them (echo.msk.ru/blog/oreh/2438959-echo/).
One indication of continuing Russian hostility to Jews, Orekh continues, is that the Museum of Tolerance where the new monument has been erected is guarded almost as seriously as the Diamond Fund in the Kremlin. “No one excludes provocations and even violence.” It is even that the memorial was to be made of glass but then built of “stronger materials.”
In dedicating the memorial, Putin stressed this shift of focus and used the occasion to attack some of Moscow’s current opponents. There can be no justification for the crimes of Nazism or for “those who voluntarily became participants in these evil actions – Banderites, SS legions, and nationalist bands who sowed death in the Baltics, in Ukraine and in the countries of Europe (twitter.com/dimsmirnov175/status/1135892224208752640).
But perhaps the clearest sign of the Kremlin view on this monument lay elsewhere: Alla Gerber, the president of the Holocaust Foundation in Russia and a long-time advocate of erecting a memorial to all the victims of that crime against humanity, was not invited to the ceremony. “Apparently,” she says, “they forgot us” (echo.msk.ru/news/2438947-echo.html).
The Russian powers that be “do allow us to work, but I cannot say that they have helped us very actively. Unfortunately, for the second year in a row, we haven’t received a presidential grant” to support our work.
For all these reasons, Orekh’s conclusion that the new monument is “better than nothing” but that unfortunately it is not the turning point that many had hoped for – and that some, unreflectively, are suggesting it already is.