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Yad Vashem ‘deplores’ Russian invasion, condemns use of Nazi rhetoric by both sides

Israel’s Holocaust museum, which has received major donations from Putin-tied oligarchs, refrains from singling out Moscow in its statement, on 4th day after fighting began

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Head of Yad Vashem Dani Dayan (Alex Kolomoisky/Yad Vashem)
Head of Yad Vashem Dani Dayan (Alex Kolomoisky/Yad Vashem)

Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center on Sunday said it “deplores” Russia’s invasion of its neighbor Ukraine and condemned the Nazi-related rhetoric being used on both sides of the conflict.

“Yad Vashem deplores the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which will inevitably lead to dire consequences. We fear in particular for the wellbeing of innocent civilians and deplore any deliberate endangerment of their safety,” the museum said in a statement.

Yad Vashem’s statement was significantly tamer in its criticism than the world’s two other premier Holocaust museums, which far more quickly and explicitly denounced both Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. Both the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and Poland’s Auschwitz Memorial and Museum issued condemnations last Thursday, the day Moscow launched the invasion, while Yad Vashem’s was only released on the incursion’s fourth day. Israel’s Holocaust museum also refrained from assigning blame for the invasion or issuing a firm denunciation of Moscow for it.

In its statement, Yad Vashem also condemned against both sides of the conflict for using “propagandist discourse” that it said was “saturated with irresponsible statements and completely inaccurate comparisons with Nazi ideology and actions before and during the Holocaust.”

This referred both to claims by Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country was launching the invasion in order to “denazify” Ukraine, a country that has a democratically elected Jewish president, and to explicit comparisons made by Kyiv of Putin to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, specifically in the German dictator’s invasion of the Sudetenland in then-Czechoslovakia in 1939.

“Yad Vashem condemns this trivialization and distortion of the historical facts of the Holocaust,” the museum said.

Yad Vashem’s statement did not explicitly mention Putin or the Ukrainian government, but a museum spokesperson confirmed to The Times of Israel that this was the intention.

Yad Vashem has reportedly spoken out on behalf of Roman Abramovich, a Russian-Israeli oligarch and a significant ally of Putin, who potentially faces economic sanctions from the United States and other Western countries over the Russian invasion.

Shortly after the chairman of Yad Vashem, Dani Dayan, and other Israeli officials sent a letter to the United States lauding Abramovich and his commitment to fighting antisemitism, the museum announced that the oligarch had made “an eight-figure donation” to the institution.

This was not the first time that Yad Vashem has faced accusations of pro-Russian bias. In 2020, the museum invited Putin to speak as part of its World Holocaust Forum, in which he presented a heavily distorted and historically inaccurate account of the Holocaust, which Yad Vashem later had to apologize for.

In his speech at the forum, Putin implied that Poland was complicit in the Nazi genocide and claimed that 40 percent of the Jews who died in the Holocaust were citizens of the Soviet Union. Historians called the latter claim absurd.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, Israel, January 23, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In addition to Abramovich, Yad Vashem has also received major donations from other Russian billionaires with deep ties to Putin, notably Moshe Kantor, who provided the funding for the World Holocaust Forum, where Putin made his controversial remarks.

A Yad Vashem spokesperson denied any connection between the tens of millions of dollars donated to the museum and its slow response to the invasion and to Putin’s claim that Ukraine needed to be “denazified.”

“There is no connection. We make our own considerations for when to comment and when not to comment,” he said, adding that, in general, the museum tried to “vet a fuller picture” before making statements.

Yet Yad Vashem has in the past released statements far more quickly on current events, criticizing American television host Whoopi Goldberg and Fox News host Lara Logan for comments they each made about the Holocaust; condemning racism in the United States in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020; and expressing “profound concern” about a Polish court’s ruling against academics who alleged that Polish citizens willingly took part in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust — all within hours of the event in question taking place.

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum and Poland’s Auschwitz Memorial and Museum denounced Russia’s invasion far more quickly and firmly.

On Thursday, hours after Russia launched its offensive, the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum — which has been accused of its own political bias due to its partial control by the Polish government — condemned the attack and Putin in no uncertain terms, saying the invasion was launched “because of insane pseudo-imperial megalomania.”

The museum also called for countries of the world to act, saying “indifference is a sign of complicity.”

Later that day, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum denounced what it called “Russia’s outrageous attack on Ukraine” and refuted Putin’s justifications for the war.

“Vladimir Putin has 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,” the museum wrote in a statement.

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