Liberators of Auschwitz Yet to Learn Its Lesson
Russian anti-Semitism persists among nationalists
MOSCOW — IN the last few years, Alexander Kleiman has witnessed a series of attacks on the Moscow Choral Synagogue, one of only two synagogues left in the capital after a third burned down in unexplained circumstances.
Two years ago, vandals smashed several windows of the dilapidated building in central Moscow. This winter, ``Save Russia, Kill the Zhids [a derogatory word for Jews]'' was scrawled in bright paint across the building. A week later, the front facade was shot up with bullets.
``Russians learn to call a Jew a zhid from the moment they're born. Anti-Semitism is in their blood,'' says Mr. Kleiman, the synagogue's chief administrator.
``If the American president and Congress allowed all [Russian] Jews to immigrate,'' he says, ``I can guarantee that 90 percent would leave.''
As the world commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Army's liberation of the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp in Poland today, anti-Semitic sentiments are increasingly common in Russia, and the government is doing little to stem the tide.
While Russians have complained that the world community has made little mention of the fact that it was largely Russians who liberated the camp, they have done little to commemorate the event themselves.
Alla Gerber, a Jewish deputy to the State Duma (lower house of parliament), said no ceremony would have been held in Russia had she not organized an event. Neither President Boris Yeltsin nor his closest aides will attend the ceremonies in Poland.
``The current period of economic crisis, combined with an absence of real power and a spiritual vacuum, is giving rise to fascism and anti-Semitism here,'' says Ms. Gerber, who represents the liberal Russia's Choice parliamentary faction and is one of the few deputies - who are both Jewish and non-Jewish - to speak out against anti-Semitism.
``What will happen depends on how the government decides to use the idea of Russian nationalism, either as a patriotic idea or as a totalitarian fascist one,'' she says.
President Yeltsin marked the anniversary Wednesday by rehabilitating millions of gulag prisoners who were imprisoned by Josef Stalin after World War II for suspected collaboration with Nazis. But he did not mention that most of the estimated 1.5 million people who died in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death factory were Jews.
In a speech to the United Nations last September, Yeltsin officially condemned anti-Semitism. But he has yet to do so on Russian soil.
``Both the authorities as well as leaders of democratic parties presume that if they make an official statement it will reduce their authority in the eyes of their electorate,'' says Mikhail Chlenov, chairman of the Vaad, an umbrella organization that brings roughly 275 Jewish groups together.
``I would say that anti-Semitism has become an integral part of Russian politics,'' he adds.
Politicians ranging from local deputies to ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky have risen to prominence on anti-Semitic platforms, and some senior bishops in the Russian Orthodox Church routinely accuse Jews of exerting undue influence.
Some Jewish leaders have received death threats, and members of anti-Semitic groups are often seen at public rallies, holding placards accusing Zionists of ruining the country as part of a ``Jewish-Masonic conspiracy.''
A step backward
Russia has ``returned to a period of anti-Semitism, ultrareactionary [attitudes], and chauvinism, patronized by law-enforcement bodies,'' said Sergei Gryzunov, chairman of Russia's State Press Committee, at an international antifascist forum last week.
He referred in particular to the ``huge number'' of legally issued nationalist and chauvinist publications that have sprung up since the Soviet collapse.
But Viktor Korchagin, director of the Russian Patriot's Library publishing house, says he has a simple solution to what he terms the ``Jewish question.'' To rid Russia of anti-Semitism, he says, Russia must simply rid itself of its estimated 750,000 Jews.
``We're not advocating the return of pogroms,'' he says, referring to the organized persecution and massacre of Jews in czarist Russia. ``We just want President Yeltsin to decree that all Jews be deported.''
Mr. Korchagin insists that he is targeting the ``Jewish mafia'' - which in his view includes all government ministers, all of Yeltsin's aides, and all the top editors of Russia's major newspapers - not the Jewish people.
``The most powerful mafia in Russia is the Jewish mafia. They steal from the people, but the editors don't write about it because they themselves are all Jews,'' he says. ``If we don't want anti-Semitism to exist in Russia, then all the Jews should leave.''
According to a poll conducted by the respected National Center For Opinion Research, 45 percent of Russians believe that other nationalities should be expelled, while another 31 percent spoke out against equal rights for other races.