World leaders gathered in Jerusalem on Thursday to mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, commemorating the victims of the Holocaust and vowing to confront current manifestations of anti-Semitism.
Addressing the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem were representatives of the Allied powers that defeated Nazi Germany in World War II — the United States, Britain, Soviet Union and France.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Holocaust “one of the most terrible chapters of human history” and said remembering it “is our shared responsibility to the past and the future.”
“We mourn for all the victims of the Nazis, including six million Jews,” he said. “These death camps were operated not just by Nazis but by their henchmen in various countries.”
Those remarks appeared aimed in part at Russia’s Cold War-era satellites, including Poland, whose President Andrzej Duda stayed away from Jerusalem after being denied the right to address the event.
Last month, Putin provoked an outcry after he made the claim that Poland had colluded with Adolf Hitler and contributed to the outbreak of World War II.
Poland, which sees Moscow as rewriting history and ignoring its own 1939 non-aggression pact with Hitler, has urged Putin “not to use the memory of the victims of the Holocaust for political games.”
In his speech, Putin said the Soviet Union “paid the highest price, more than any other. Twenty-seven million Russians were killed. That is the price of victory.”
He claimed 40 percent of Jewish Holocaust victims were Soviet citizens, a figure contested by historians. He said the Red Army, which liberated many of the Nazi death camps, had “put an end to these crimes.”
Of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis, historians say about one million were Soviet. Putin’s controversial figure appears to include an additional 1.5 million Jewish victims from Eastern European areas occupied by the Soviets under their prewar pact with the Nazis.
“We need to find the courage not just to speak about anti-Semitism but also to do everything in our power to protect Jews,” he said.
Earlier, president of the World Holocaust Forum and the European Jewish Congress Moshe Kantor told the almost 50 world leaders assembled that the situation for Jewish communities is extremely precarious.
“According to surveys, more than 80 percent of Jews say they feel unsafe in Europe today… more than 40% said they have considered leaving the continent,” Kantor said during his address.
“In recent years, around 3% of Jews have emigrated from Europe annually because of anti-Semitism, meaning that in only 30 years, if the current trends persist or worsen, there could be no Jews left in Europe by 2050.”