President of Russia Vladimir Putin: It is so good that we have such a large country
Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar: A great country.
Vladimir Putin: Great and very large, multi-ethnic and multi-religious. We always have what to celebrate. Today we are celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I wish you and all the Jews of Russia a happy New Year. Tomorrow evening, the 21st, Muslims will start celebrating their New Year, although the prophet told them to reserve the biggest celebrations for other holidays. Then we Christians will celebrate our New Year, and in Russia this is done twice – according to the new and old calendar. On February 16 the Buddhists will have their New Year. So we have holidays to celebrate all year round.
But today we are celebrating the Jewish New Year. I would like to extend my very best wishes to you once again. I wish all the Jews of Russia prosperity, happiness and good fortune. I hope everything is well in your community. I know that religious life is actively developing and you have things to discuss with people and new sites – both secular and religious – to show them. This is something you and we always pay attention to. I know that you always pay much attention to this. I am glad to see that you are in regular dialogue with the secular authorities and, importantly, at all levels.
Berel Lazar: Thank you so much! Unlike other new years, we celebrate ours exactly on the day when God created the first man in our tradition. This is not such a merry holiday as in other religions. Ours is more solemn. People pray and reflect on what has been done and how to live better.
One of the main lessons is that God created a single man. The Talmud explains that the idea was to teach us all that the life of one person contains the whole world. He who saves the life of one person saves the entire world, as it were. So, during Rosh Hashanah, on these days, we will recall the exploits of those who saved our people – soldiers and officers who gave their lives to save others. On a related note, I would like to thank Russia for doing everything it can to preserve historical truth.
And special thanks to you for posthumously decorating a man in the Kremlin when we were there recently, a man of Jewish extraction named Alexander Pechersky. His leadership of the uprising in Sobibor has always been very important for us. I think that now, thanks to you, all Russian people know about this and I am very grateful to you for that. We appreciate that the memory of the war is sacred for every citizen in Russia today.
I thought about this today because I wanted to ask a question on behalf of the entire Jewish community about Russia’s participation in renovating the museum on the site of the Sobibor concentration camp. Russian soldiers played the leading role in liberating Europe from the Nazis and sustained the biggest losses during the war. We think the attempts to exclude Russia from this project are immoral and incomprehensible.
When talking about the war, the main thing is to forget all about these political issues. I do not even know what this is about, but certainly not justice. What we are witnessing today is some kind of a game being played with a sacred matter like war. We will by all means raise this issue with our colleagues, leaders of international and other Jewish organisations. We will do everything we can to bring this matter to a fitting resolution.
Russia should by all means take part in this project as well as in other war-related projects. The feat of soldiers remains sacred for us, and exploiting it or playing games with it is unacceptable. So, thank you very much once again. We fully support Russia’s position on this issue.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you for framing the issue in this way and for your position, too. It is not new to me, your attitude to this issue. But it is important for people in our country to know that the leaders of the Jewish community share our official view on truth and justice with regard to all events of World War II.
It is very important for us to be together on these extremely important issues, and we should look to the future. But our views should be based on the solid foundation of understanding where hateful ideas of exterminating whole nations, millions of people, can lead.
And we must do everything to prevent this from happening in the future. This is why we will do all we can to avoid any politicisation of such issues, and we will certainly strive for an unbiased approach and truth, which is the only basis for a fair society and fair relations in the world.
I am hoping that your words will be heard by our partners, our colleagues around world. I am referring to this case as well. And the man you mentioned was certainly a hero, a very brave man. It is owing to such people who displayed such qualities, people of all kinds of ethnic backgrounds, that we managed to win this horrible war.
But nonetheless today is the New Year. And I know about the traditions of the Jewish people and understand them. This is still a new stage. The New Year is the New Year, and I once again wish you a happy holiday.
Berel Lazar: Thank you, Mr President!