Dozens of World War II Red Army veterans gathered at sites around Israel on Tuesday in celebration of the defeat of Nazi Germany at the hands of the Allied forces 72 years ago.
Victory Day, marked in Russia on May 9, is the country’s most important secular holiday, commemorating the Soviet Red Army’s determination and losses in World War II.
In the central Israeli city of Lod, where many immigrant former soldiers live, dozens of men and women marched through the streets wearing medals and brandishing photos of soldiers killed in action. They were joined by veterans who fought with the partisans against the Germans. Many of them are now over 90 years old.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined veterans at a ceremony at the Yad Vashem national Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. Other lawmakers, including Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, joined parades around the country.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog tweeted a photo of himself with veterans, saying, “We will forever remember and recall the heroism of the generation that liberated the concentration camps and saved the world.”
In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin warned that Russia could defeat any aggressors but insisted that the world come together to fight “terrorism” as Moscow marked 72 years since victory in World War II.
Soldiers and military hardware paraded across Red Square in Moscow as the country held its annual pomp-filled celebration.
“The lessons of past war force us to remain alert and the armed forces of Russia are capable of warding off any potential aggression,” Putin said as he presided over the parade.
“Today life itself requires us to increase our defensive capability, but for an effective fight against terrorism, extremism, neo-Nazism and other threats it is necessary to consolidate the whole international community.”
About 1.5 million Jews fought in Allied armies, including 500,000 in the Red Army, 550,000 in the American army, 100,000 in the Polish army and 30,000 in the British army, according to Yad Vashem.
Some of those who fought in the Red Army served in the highest levels of command. About 200,000 Soviet Jewish soldiers fell on the battlefield or into German captivity. Those who survived built families and careers in the Soviet Union, until the Communist regime collapsed and many of them ended up in Israel.
Israel is home to the world’s largest population of Holocaust survivors. Memorials to Holocaust victims and underground partisans are aplenty. But only in recent years has the Jewish state begun to salute its Jewish war veterans.
Funds have dried up for a museum honoring Jewish World War II veterans, and the remaining veterans, thought to number no more than 5,000, worry they won’t live long enough to see it materialize and accuse the government of stalling because of petty political considerations.
Agencies contributed to this report.