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From Oblivion to Genocide: The Historical Memory of the Holocaust in Russia and Ukraine

Each year, the Holocaust is becoming more distant. On the day of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Jews around the world are still light memorial candles. However, studies show that 48% of respondents in 11 Russian cities were unable to answer the question “What is the Holocaust?” while 72% said that “attention to the Holocaust reflects the interests of the Jews.” The annual rituals of grief do not save humanity from oblivion and hatred.

Despite the abolition of the previously existent antisemitic policy and creating conditions for the development of Jewish communities as well as significant decline in the listing of antisemitic crimes in the former USSR, antisemitic theories continue to flourish around the history of the Holocaust. The Jews are accused of creating the “cult of the Holocaust” as well as of falsifying evidence. There is a widespread belief that Jewish leaders have destroyed the European Jewry to establish the State of Israel along with receiving financial compensation and a carte blanche for all the past and future “Jewish crimes”, from the crucifixion of Jesus to the central role of Jewish bankers in initiating world wars.

The young post-Soviet states undergo a complex process of decommunization and redesign of historical memory, occasionally purifying the names of Nazi-allied national activists who publicly advocated antisemitic ideology.

On January 13, 2020, the Israeli Foreign Ministry officially opposed the glorification of the public figures responsible for the murders of the Ukranian Jewish population during the Holocaust and pogroms, as well as antisemitic ideologists of the Ukrainian national movement.

According to the Chief Editor of Yad Vashem Studies, Aaron Weiss, the Ukrainian nationalists exterminated 28,000 Jews in western Ukraine only. Today the murderers of the Jews are elevated to the status of heroes of national resistance. Furthermore, Ukrainian law prohibits showing disrespect toward the national heroes, which basically includes any mention of their atrocities against Jews.

Monuments have been erected in honor of the activists directly involved in the extermination of Ukrainian Jews. For example, a memorial plaque in honor of the Hauptsturmfuhrer of the SS division “Galicia” Dmitry Paliev opened in the city of Kalush. Similar “heroes” received an honorable “status of a participant in hostilities” and entered the list of historical figures whose anniversaries are celebrated at the state level.

Attempts to reduce the scope of the Holocaust and glorify the names of Nazi collaborators were also recorded in Russia. According to various surveys, it is widely believed among Russian citizens that it was Russians, not Jews, who became the main victims of the extermination Nazism machine.

A prominent example is a scandal with the Zmiyovskaya Balka, the largest single mass murder site of Jews on Russian, at which 27,000 mostly Jewish victims were massacred. Russian authorities have done their best to not noting the Jewishness of the victims. Only after years of public struggle, a new memorial plaque was installed, on which Jews are mentioned along with victims of other nationalities.

Studies show a correlation between the level of knowledge about the Holocaust and the level of tolerance in society. Considering the rising wave of antisemitism, it is extremely important to draw attention to the formulation of relevant legislation, integrating Holocaust studies into state educational programs, and proper prosecution of antisemitic acts.