VIENNA, Austria — Leading groups representing Holocaust survivors have condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that the “denazification” of Ukraine was one reason he invaded the country.
“The signatories of this appeal denounce the use of the words ‘denazification’ and ‘genocide’ to justify the attack on Ukraine,” reads the statement sent to AFP on Wednesday.
“We cannot accept that these words are tarnished in this way,” it added.
The statement was signed by representatives from the committees of several former Nazi concentration camps, including the International Auschwitz Committee, and those of Dachau, Buchenwald-Dora and Ravensbrueck.
The signatories come from more than 10 countries.
In his speech announcing the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, Putin said one of the aims was the “denazification of Ukraine.”
He also said he wanted to protect the Russian-speakers in Ukraine from what he termed a “genocide from the regime in Kyiv.”
But the statement from the groups said that “the war waged against Ukraine endangers the very existence of this country as well as peace in Europe.”
It also noted the large numbers of Russians and Ukrainians among survivors.
On Tuesday, Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center condemned both sides in the conflict for what it said was “propagandist discourse” surrounding the war.
Statements from both Moscow and Kyiv, it said, were “saturated with irresponsible statements and completely inaccurate comparisons with Nazi ideology and actions.”
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum said Putin had “misrepresented and misappropriated Holocaust history by claiming falsely that democratic Ukraine needs to be “denazified.”
“Equally groundless and egregious are his claims that Ukrainian authorities are committing ‘genocide’ as a justification for the invasion of Ukraine,” it added.
Yad Vashem, Jewish groups and Israeli officials also condemned a Russian airstrike on Kyiv that hit the site of a Nazi massacre.
The attack on Tuesday night damaged Kyiv’s main television mast at Babyn Yar, the scene of World War II’s biggest slaughter of the city’s Jews and a place of memorial and pilgrimage.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is himself Jewish, reacted with outrage on Wednesday at the strike.
“They have an order to erase our history. Erase our country. Erase us all,” he said.
In an appeal to world Jewry, Zelensky proclaimed: “Nazism is born in silence. So shout about killings of civilians. Shout about the murders of Ukrainians.”
“We all were bombed last night in Kyiv, and we all died again at Babyn Yar from the missile attack, even though the world pledges ‘Never again,’” he added.