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'A people is being destroyed in Europe'

Zelensky tells German MPs ‘never again’ Holocaust slogan is now meaningless

Ukrainian president addresses Bundestag via video, says Europe being destroyed, urges tearing down a new ‘wall’ that Russia is building between ‘freedom and bondage’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (on screen) gets a standing ovation by the members of the government and of parliament after he addressed via videolink the German lower house of parliament Bundestag, on March 17, 2022 in Berlin. (Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (on screen) gets a standing ovation by the members of the government and of parliament after he addressed via videolink the German lower house of parliament Bundestag, on March 17, 2022 in Berlin. (Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

BERLIN, Germany — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky evoked the Holocaust in his address to Germany’s parliament Thursday, telling lawmakers that vows to never let the atrocity be repeated are empty in light of a failure to prevent Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Every year politicians repeat ‘never again,'” the Ukrainian leader said, referring to annual Holocaust commemorations.

“And now, we see that these words simply mean nothing. A people is being destroyed in Europe,” he said, noting that 108 children had been killed in his country since the start of the Russian offensive.

Zelensky stressed that the future of the continent was at stake in the current war and argued that governments across the West were failing to meet the moment.

“Help us stop this war,” he said.

Zelensky has been on a virtual tour of Western parliaments, each time receiving a standing ovation from MPs for his wartime leadership. Appearing on a screen in his now trademark khaki t-shirt with dark rings under his eyes, Zelensky was welcomed by MPs in the Bundestag lower house with rousing applause.

In his emotional video address before the parliament, Zelensky called on Germany to help destroy a new “wall” Russia was erecting in Europe.

“It’s not a Berlin Wall — it is a wall in central Europe between freedom and bondage and this wall is growing bigger with every bomb” dropped on Ukraine, Zelensky told MPs.

In a speech steeped in historical imagery from Germany’s triumph over its Cold War division, Zelensky addressed German Chancellor Olaf Scholz directly with a call for greater solidarity with Ukraine.

“Dear Mr. Scholz, tear down this Wall,” he implored, evoking US President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 appeal in Berlin. “Give Germany the leadership role that you in Germany deserve.”

However, he coupled his flattery with a strong rebuke of Berlin’s years-long reluctance to stand up to Moscow and sever its strong energy and business ties with Russia.

“We turned to you,” he said. “We told you that Nord Stream [gas pipelines] was a kind of preparation for the war.”

“And the answer we got was purely economic — it is economy, economy, economy but that was the mortar for the new wall.”

Despite his blunt criticism, MPs gave Zelensky another standing ovation following his 15-minute address and Scholz, in a tweet, thanked him for his “forceful words.”

“We see that Russia is continuing every day to wage its cruel war, with horrible losses,” he said.

“We feel obliged to do everything we can so that diplomacy has a chance and the war can be stopped.”

Members of the German parliament Bundestag give Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky a standing ovation after he speaks in a virtual address to the parliament at the Reichstag Building in Berlin, Germany, March 17, 2022. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 prompted an overhaul of key planks of Germany’s energy, economic and security policy — some of them dating back to the end of World War II.

Germany has put the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project on ice, joined allies in imposing punishing sanctions on Ukraine and pledged a massive increase in defense spending while dropping a ban on arms exports to conflict zones in order to aid Ukraine.

Germany has also said it aims to be nearly free of Russian oil imports by the end of this year although it still remains heavily dependent on Russian gas.

However, Berlin has resisted an outright halt to Russian energy imports, warning it would cause winter shortages and drive inflation, creating potential instability in Europe’s top economy.

On Wednesday, Zelensky spoke to the US Congress, and he is scheduled to address Israel’s Knesset in a Zoom call on Sunday.

Ukrainian officials have made repeated comparisons between Russia’s attacks on civilian centers and the Holocaust. Russian President Vladimir Putin has likewise evoked Nazism, claiming his military operation is to “denazify” areas of Ukraine where he said there is a “genocide” against pro-Moscow residents. Western allies have rejected Putin’s claims as a baseless excuse to carry out the invasion.

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