At a ceremony in Netanya alongside visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Israel’s President Shimon Peres on Monday honored Russian soldiers who were killed while fighting the Nazis, saying the “Red Army prevented the world from being brought to its knees.” In similar vein, he expressed his certainty that Russian would fight today’s evil regimes, including Iran and Syria.
Peres welcomed Putin to Israel, saying the visit offered a chance for the Israeli people to salute Russia and the Red Army for their part in fighting the Nazis.
At the ceremony, inaugurating a memorial for the over eight million Red Army soldiers who died during World War II, Peres stressed the connection between the two countries. “Both our nations know suffering. Both our nations don’t surrender even to the greatest pain.”
The victory in 1945 was a victory for mankind, Putin noted, saying Russian and Israel share the same historical perspective on the event. “The Holocaust was a tragic event,” he said, “We must prevent any attempt of people to try and justify the Nazi ideology.”
The monument, Peres explained, has two white wings “that defeated the black wings” of evil. He quoted from a Russian folk song describing the spreading of the wings and asked, “What would have happened if the Nazi army had conquered Moscow instead of the Red Army conquering Berlin?”
The Russian nation paid a high price for its stance against evil, Peres said. For the Russian soldiers who liberated the Nazi concentration camps, “the Jewish people owe a historical ‘thank you’ to the Russians.”
He noted: “The Red Army were the first to liberate the concentration and death camps. Half a million Jews fought in the ranks of the Red Army, 200,000 of them were killed in the battle fields.”
Peres said Jews were not only soldiers but commanders as well. They fought in the air force, army, navy and forests, the president said, recalling that “over 150 Jews were awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union Medal,” the highest honor available at the time.
Peres told the visiting president that thereare an estimated 1.5 million Russian immigrants living in Israel. “They are Israelis who have not forgotten the Russian culture and who feel a warm friendship toward Russia,” he said.
Referring to regional menaces, Peres said Russia has known threats, and has proven itself in fighting evil regimes. “I’m sure Russia will not allow for such threats. Not an Iranian threat. Not for Syrian bloodshed.”
Peres also extended his congratulations to Mohammed Morsi, the newly elected Egyptian president, and said Israel would respect the peace accords between the countries “because peace is victory for both sides,” and it is the victory “for all the children of the world.”
The speech ended with Peres stressing the need for Russian involvement in the region for the sake of peace. “Russia was crucial in ending the war,” he said. “The same Russia can make a crucial contribution to peace in the Middle East.”
Putin, who is in Israel for a short visit, said he was impressed with everything he’d seen in Israel since his arrival earlier Monday. “I’ve seen many memorials,” the Russian president said, “but this one is special.”
Putin condemned Holocaust denial, saying rewriting history was a “travesty” for future generations. “We must protect the truth and the historical facts.”
“The wings in the monument are white like the wings of the dove that symbolizes peace,” Putin said, thanking Peres for hosting him and offering a plea for future peace in the world.
The two leaders were scheduled to meet later in the day for a state dinner, followed by a formal business meeting.