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6 May, 2010 05:27

Israel gives credit to Red Army after years of neglect

The crucial role of Soviet soldiers in liberating Jews during the WWII has been recognized by Israel, after having played it down for decades.

The Nazis killed millions of Jews in Ukraine and Belarus, where the Soviet army was fighting the enemy. But for decades schools in Israel taught children that the triumph over fascism was basically an American one. Now things seem to have changed.

That is mostly down to the campaigning of former Red Army officer Avraham Grinzaid.

“Life in Israel isn’t easy. Our grandsons are serving in the Israeli army as officers and soldiers and they are serving as honestly as we did then. Victory has to be preserved – everybody needs peace, the old and the young”, says Avraham Grinzaid.

Sveta Roberman, an author, thinks disregard for the role of the Soviet Army, which liberated almost all the large concentration camps, was mostly the impact of the Cold War.

“What happened with the influence of the Cold War is that actually Israeli historiography concerning WWII changed. It was influenced by the American narrative, and Israeli children for many generations were reading more about Normandy and American roles”, says Roberman.

Ariella Shaked, a schoolteacher, helped rewrite the curriculum, and says it is impossible to accurately portray the Second World War without the Red Army.

“Since the end of the Cold War things have been changed – the archives have been opened, we know much more than we did. It’s not only the existence of Russian people here in Israel, it has to do with looking at the Second World War with more knowledge,” says Shaked.

Victory Day was officially recognized in Israel 10 years ago. Since then, veterans have received medical and financial benefits. In the last three years, annual parades have taken place in Jerusalem. However, for a country with some 15,000 WWII veterans, that very recognition also turned out to be another battle to be won.

Parliament member Marina Solodkin pushed hard for Victory Day to be recognized as an official holiday. She says that, for too long, far too many Israelis focused on only destruction and devastation.

“It was very difficult in Israel to see the importance of not only the people who died in the concentration camps and in the battle. The meaning of victory is also important. We Jewish people, who were fighting in the armies of the anti-Hitler coalition, our parents, our grandparents – they were the victors too,” says Solodkin.