After Russia has annexed Crimea, Vladimir Putin assured Jewish leaders that he will fight against any new manifestations of Nazism and anti-Semitism.
He made the statement right after Russia annexed Crimea, during a meeting in Sevastopol with more than a dozen prominent rabbis, including Berel Lazar, chief rabbi of Russia, and Israeli chief rabbi Yitzchak Yosef and former chief rabbi Israel Meir Lau, as well as several rabbis from Austria, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and France.
‘’We in Russia are very familiar with the tragedy of the Holocaust. Six million Jews were killed in the Soviet Union and Europe. At the same time, we know very well, that representatives of the Jewish people fought against Nazism in the Red Army - were political workers, and just ordinary soldiers, doctors, in general, have made a worthy contribution to the fight against Nazism,’’ Putin said.
‘’But the tragedy of the Jewish people takes, of course, a special place in the number of crimes committed by the Nazis during World War II.I repeat once again, we in Russia know about it and feel the pain like no other, because, you know, more than 20 million Soviet people, the vast majority of them Russian, were killed during the fighting against Nazism.’’
"I want to assure you that we will do everything possible to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies in the future," the Russian president added.
"We consider you, in this regard, our closest allies and ask you to consider us and as such," he also said.
During the meeting, they discussed joint efforts to prevent the 'rewriting of history': the fight against neo-Nazism and neo-fascism, as well as xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
"Of particular concern is the revival of Nazi ideas," said Putin. "I want to thank the Jewish community, non-governmental organizations that are both active and courageous; we see it in today's world - how a struggle is being uncompromisingly waged against all manifestations of the Nazi ideology and any attempts to revive it."
Putin noted that the meeting took place on the eve of the anniversary of the tragic events of July 1942, when thousands of Jews were murdered in Sevastopol.
The meeting took place ahead of an annual Holocaust commemoration event in the Crimean city. The ceremony, which is organized by the local Jewish community, is in memory of over 4,000 Jews killed by German troops in July 1942 and has been held since 1992.
"In Russia we will not only never forget these tragedies; furthermore we will always cherish the memory of the dead, and we will do everything we can to prevent a recurrence of similar tragedies in the future,” the Russian president said.
Rabbi Lazar thanked Putin for the Russian government’s focus on religious and national issues, stressing that "the organization of this meeting is the best proof of such attention."
“It is in Russia that people are genuinely concerned about the threat of neo-Nazism, Holocaust denial and revisionist approaches to World War II,” Rabbi Lazar said.
Lazar added that, “for us, it is very gratifying to see how it is in Russia, a country where the Jewish way of life was previously banned, that such a dynamic Jewish community exists now. We are grateful to the government for its support and for the fight against anti-Semitism."
Former Israeli chief rRabbi, Meir Lau thanked President Putin for his commitment to the safety of the Jewish people and shared with all the attendances a story about his childhood, about a Russian man that saved him when he was a child at the Nazi death camps.
The problems of growing anti-Semitism in Europe and throughout the world were addressed by the foreign guests, Rabbi Binyominn Jacobs, the chief interprovincial rabbi of the Netherlands and Rabbi David Moshe Lieberman.
Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, the chief interprovincial rabbi of the Netherlands, thanked President Putin for his efforts to ensure freedom of religion in Russia, and informed him of the current campaigns the European Jewish Community is conducting in order to overturn bans against kosher slaughtering and circumcision in countries like Poland, Denmark and Norway.
Rabbi David Moshe Liberman, chief rabbi of Antwerp, stressed that he was ‘’very proud of President Putin's bold leadership and commitment to his duties as a leader.’’
Other rabbis who attended the meeting included Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director general of theRabbinical Centre of Europe, Rabbi Yisrael Yaakov Lichtenstein Rabbi of the Federation of London and Rabbi Yirmiyahu Cohen of Paris.