Morale: Honoring The Red Army In Israel

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March 23, 2011: Jews from Russia are raising a million dollars to build a monument commemorating the Red (Soviet) Army victory over the Nazis during World War II. There are several reasons for this. First, about 20 percent of Israelis were originally from Russia (or their ancestors were). Most of this migration occurred in the 1980s, when the Soviet Union agreed to let Russian Jews migrate to Israel.

In Russia, your ID listed what your "nationality" was. If your ancestors were Jews, even if you no longer went to religious services, you were listed as Jewish. This was, in part, because the communist government of the Soviet Union was atheist, and tried hard to ignore religion. So Jews, long persecuted in Russia (even after the communists took over), were still identified as such, but not as a religion.

The Russian Jews were grateful for the lead role the Red Army played in defeating Nazi Germany, and liberating survivors from the Nazi death camps. But perhaps more important was the fact that half a million Russian Jews served in the Red Army, and 40 percent of them died fighting the Germans. Many of the surviving veterans went to Israel, and some are still alive. These men are living reminders of a defining period in Jewish history, and the memorial is to commemorate that service and sacrifice.

During World War II, the communist rulers of Russia were so desperate to defeat the Germans that the official propaganda line shifted from supporting communism, to fighting for God and Mother Russia. Anti-Semitism became unpopular (but didn't disappear) and all (or nearly all) Russians united to fight the foe.

Away from the communist government, Jews still had problems. In the German occupied part of Russia, anti-Semitism was encouraged, and many Russians went back to the bad old ways. Even the partisans (anti-German guerillas) out in the forests tended to form all-Jewish and all-Christian (or all-communist, or even anti-communist) bands. Sometimes these different groups fought each other, despite the close proximity of a common enemy. It's memories of this, and the return of anti-Semitism after the war, that caused so many Russian Jews to leave when they had the chance. But if you grew up in Russia, you never got completely away from it. Russian immigrants still spoke Russian at home. The non-religious Russian Jews brought with them a taste for pork, causing consternation when they established a thriving pork industry. But mostly, these Russian Jews remembered the losses, and sacrifice, during the war. They want future Israelis to remember, thus the memorial.

 

 


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