President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu attended the presentation of the new Russian feature film Sobibor. Konstantin Khabensky’s film describes the uprising in a Nazi concentration camp in 1943 and the feat accomplished by Soviet officer Alexander Pechersky.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Prime Minister, friends, ladies and gentlemen,
During these days the entire world remembers the victims of the Holocaust. On January 27, 1945 Soviet soldiers freed the prisoners of Auschwitz. By decision of the United Nations this day has become an eternal reminder of the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their heinous crimes that cannot be justified or forgiven. This day has embodied our common memory and grief.
It is deeply symbolic that Prime Minister of the State of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu is here with us today in Moscow. Thank you very much for being with us today.
Our memory is a warning against any attempt to jump on the idea of global domination, to announce, build or assert one’s grandeur based on racism, ethnic or any other supremacy. Russia categorically rejects any such attempt. The history of the 20th century shows to what extent the consequences of such essentially anti-human ideology can lead.
The purposeful and mass extermination of people that the Nazis put on an assembly line does not stop horrifying us today. Needless to say, this was hell on Earth. No matter how many years pass, it is impossible to comprehend the dismal scale of these atrocities.
According to the documents of the Nuremberg Trials, the Nazi machine of destruction killed 6 million Jews. There were hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens among them. About 3 million Soviet prisoners of war perished in extermination camps. People of very different ages and ethnic origins were tortured, burned and mutilated. We mourn all victims, all those who gave up their lives to free the world from the Nazis, their barbarity and depredations. We will always remember the road to the Great Victory and will tell the next generations the full truth about these heroes.
This year marks 75 years since the Sobibor concentration camp uprising, which went down in history as the most massive act of prisoner resistance. The courage and strength of the people who opposed the enemy practically with bare hands, and the unbending will of the uprising leader, the Soviet lieutenant Alexander Pechersky, are stunning. This cannot but cause admiration and amazement. These people defended their right to life. Defying death, they fought for freedom and human dignity. Doomed, but not broken, they won in the end.
The Nazis created about 40,000 camps and ghettos in Europe. Children, old people, women, and physically and mentally challenged people were subjected to terror and ruthless violence. However, they did not give up. They organised underground resistance, planned escapes, resisted, and, until the last breath, remained faithful to their convictions and values, which the Nazis sought to destroy.
The fight against Nazism was waged not only on the fronts, but in the hearts and minds of millions of people. In this fight, the Nazis lost long before their total military defeat.
Strength of will and faith in victory helped the residents of heroic Leningrad survive, too. In January, we marked two anniversaries: the lifting of the siege and the full liberation of the city. Leningrad residents survived 900 tragic days. Like the victims of the Holocaust, they faced down death, suffering, and loss. Theirs is one of the most outstanding and striking mass feats of a people. We honour their fortitude. Their pain is still felt in our hearts.
The Soviet Union bore the brunt of the Nazi blow, as was just mentioned here. People of different ethnic backgrounds fought against the enemy shoulder to shoulder. Their dedication and unity inspired the world and roused it to fight Nazism.
Thanks to their solidarity, the Soviet people won a great victory. Today, interreligious, interethnic unity is the basis of our statehood. Zero tolerance for anti-Semitism, or any manifestations of xenophobia and ethnic strife bring Russia and Israel closer. We closely cooperate, including in countering attempts to falsify history, to revise the outcomes of World War II, to deny the Holocaust, or to belittle the decisive contribution of the Soviet Union to victory over Nazi Germany. Such attempts must be put down swiftly.
We know that Israel carefully maintains gratitude to the Soviet Army and our soldiers for saving Jews and Europe from total extermination. Of course, we appreciate the fact that a monument is planned in Jerusalem in honour of the feat of the defenders and residents of besieged Leningrad.
I remember going to the opening of the monument to the Red Army soldiers. It was a very touching event. We are grateful to the leadership of Israel and the people of Israel for their respect for history.
This is especially important amid the destruction and desecration of monuments to Soviet soldiers who gave their lives to liberate prisoners of Nazi concentration camps, and save Europe and the entire world from Nazism.
I am convinced that modern politicians, religious and public figures must do their utmost to preserve historical memory in the 21st century and to prevent the weeds of nationalist ideology, whatever forms it may take – anti-Semitism, Russophobia, or any other phobia rooted in hatred – from ever sprouting.
Our common duty is to protect the values of peace and humanism and the most important value – human life – against any and all threats that arise.
Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu: (retranslated): Mr President of Russia Vladimir Putin. Guests that are attending this event. Rabbis. The families that have survived World War II, that have survived the Holocaust.
My friend, Mr President, I would like to thank you for the invitation to visit this impressive Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre. I must add that I know this museum would not have been established without your assistance. I was very excited to see the description of the history of our nation in Russia, including the current period when Jewish life in Russia is thriving, largely owing to the support of the authorities and your personal support.
This museum describes the sad pages in the history of our nation, primarily the Holocaust. The Holocaust is a horrible tragedy in the history of the human race. It proved what you said a few minutes ago. I would like to emphasise that. If a limitless hatred of Jews is not curbed, it will spread quickly and could destroy other nations as well.
A third of the Jewish people were annihilated with monstrous cruelty during the Holocaust. It is necessary to add to this number the tens of thousands of people who were mainly killed here in Russia. Our common task is to counter such extreme ideologies when they are still small, fight them when they are still weak and do it in time and in full-force. Our task is to enhance the struggle against anti-Semitism, to be tough in countering all manifestations of anti-Semitism together in the name of our common future.
You mentioned the importance of adhering to the truth. Being truthful about our past is an indispensable condition for assuming responsibility for our future. First of all, this is an issue of justice, justice for the victims (I say this for those who try to deny the Holocaust), and justice for those who fought, were wounded or perished to stop the Nazi threat.
We never forget the role played by the Soviet Army in this victory. Mr President, we see the truth in this museum. Today we recall our brothers and sisters who were brutally murdered by the Nazis. Today we salute the soldiers of the Soviet Army, including hundreds of thousands of Jews who were justifiably awarded medals for the heroism they displayed. Together with other soldiers they stopped the Nazi war machine.
You mentioned a monument in Israel. I initiated the creation of this monument in Netanya some time ago as a symbol of deep gratitude which we consider important to express not only here, on Russian land, but also on our land in Israel. You took part in the opening of this monument. Unfortunately, if you recall, I was unable to attend due to a broken leg. However, I am confident that we will both attend the opening of the next such monument.
Recently, our parliament adopted a special law that established a special status of May 9 as Victory Day over Nazi Germany, as a special date on the Israeli calendar.
Today, I salute Commander Alexander Pechersky, a Jew, a Soviet Army officer, who led the Sobibor camp uprising. I wondered how they did it, since there were dozens of Nazi officers and hundreds of guards. It started with what you mentioned here – he was not willing to give up. Against all odds, he and his friends, his brothers-in-arms were able to overcome the Nazi guards and break through to freedom. Unfortunately, most of them did not survive. Pechersky survived, but he was prepared to die.
It appears that this uprising against the Nazis at the bottom of the abyss in which our people found themselves, against all odds – there are those who, perhaps, thought that this would be the end of our history, but this uprising meant exactly the opposite. The enormous strength that exists in our people, which compels us not to give up, not to surrender to those who are trying to destroy us. This uprising, perhaps more than any other event, symbolises a profound pivot in the history of the Jewish people. From the deep abyss in which we were, from a people who could not protect themselves, we turned into a strong state that knows how to fight for itself, and which is capable of defending itself on its own. This is a revolution, a turning point, that is, perhaps, unique in the history of our people.
Our unwavering readiness to fight for ourselves and protect ourselves is an iron wall, a wall of steel that cannot be broken, and it will continue to protect us.
Mr President, I am willing to testify that among the world leaders there are few who understand it as well as you do. Seventy-five years after this hell, we are still determined to avert any attempts by such groups and ideologies. Primarily Iran, which openly states that it wants to destroy us. None of them will ever succeed. Neither terrorist regimes nor their envoys will ever be able to achieve that. However, it is important to understand that the danger that comes from them is a threat not only to us, but the entire world. We will confront them with all our might in order to safeguard eternal Israel and the future of humankind.
As we stand in this important museum, the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre, I would like to tell you something that is a hundred percent true: there will not be another Holocaust.