I recently read a reader’s letter to the editor of Haaretz (26 April 2015) in
which the writer expressed anger at the Israeli government’s decision not to
send an official representative to Moscow for the 70th anniversary of the Red
Army’s victory over the Nazi army. The author relates that he himself was a
volunteer soldier in the Red Army and fought to avenge, if only a little, the
blood that that was spilt from our people and his family, including his
parents. The writer also explains that the Red Army saved a great many of our
people and their victory celebration is also our celebration, their victory is
also our victory. Reading that letter moved me and took me back to the days of
I still remember how during the war we prayed every day that the Red Army
would defeat the Nazis. We knew that if they did not win it would be the end
of us and for most of us also the end of family members, whose bitter fate was
not yet known then. Identification with and support for the Soviet Union and
the Red Army was high even among those who did not like (to put it mildly) the
Soviet Union, its regime, or Stalin.
The songs of the Red Army Choir conquered the country. We re-read Tolstoy’s
War and Peace, not only as a marvelous literary creation and a great
historical novel, but mainly because it filled us with hope that the Nazi army
would meet the same fate as Napoleon’s “Grande Armée” back in the day. We
identified with General Kutuzov, whom Tolstoy describes, who hardly listened
to his generals, who were Germans and French, but knew to withdraw in order to
defeat the invaders. Stalin’s stock also rose among his opponents worldwide as
well as in this country. We in the kibbutzim would slip the profile of Stalin
under the glass that covered tables, as was the practice in those days.
I remember how every evening in those fateful years I went to the workers’
house in the Ben Shemen Youth Village where I was going to school, because the
only public radio was there, in order to listen (with trepidation, it must be
said), to the news from the Russian front. How we hoped every day that “the
army of salvation”, as it was called then, of Marshal Timoshenko, that was
concentrated to the rear of Stalingrad would join the fighters who were
defending the city before it fell – God forbid (In those days Hitler bragged
in that he did not need to conquer Stalingrad – it already was in his hands!).
With astonishment and excitement we read how Marshal Zhukov, the commander of
the Stalingrad front, moved his command centre so close to the German lines
that they could not shell it for fear of hitting their own troops. When the
Russian army finally surrounded the German army on the outskirts of Stalingrad
and captured most of it (hundreds of thousands, including General Paulus), not
one of us in the Jewish Yishuv failed to breathe a heartfelt sigh of relief
and bless the Red Army.
The Red Army’s war is described by the respected British historian Sir Max
Hastings in his book on the Second World War, Inferno: the World at War 1939-
1945, published in 2011. He tells of the courage and the resilience of the
great Red Army, the starvation of Leningrad, the incredible heroism of the
battles of Sevastopol, and the battle of Stalingrad that became legendary.
Hastings writes also about the important aid that the US and the UK provided
in equipment, weapons and food, but explains that even without that help the
Soviet Union would have won the war.
The statistics Hastings provides in his book tell the story:
• 90% of the German soldiers who were killed in the war were killed in battles
on the eastern front.
• The toll of those who fell in battle in the Second World War: 65% were in
the Soviet Union, 23% in China, 3% in Yugoslavia, 2% in the UK and the US, and
1% each in France and Poland.
• Two million Soviet citizens died of hunger, thirteen million died from
bombing, massacres and starvation in the territories occupied by the Germans.
In total it is estimated today that the Soviet victims in the Second World War
were about 20-28 million people.
Another book on the war was published in the US this year and received much
attention is of Susan Butler’s book Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a
Partnership. The book is rather unusual in Western literature on the Second
World War in that the treatment of the Soviet Union and even Stalin is quite
objective. Whereas Hastings finds it difficult to mention Stalin’s name
without appending words like “dictator”, Butler describes Stalin as a head of
government, Party Secretary and even as a commander. More important than this,
she describes the close relationship between Roosevelt and Stalin during the
war and even before it. The partnership was created following the American
President’s support for opening a second front to help the Red Army and the
promise of peace after the war. For Roosevelt, she writes, “A solid agreement
with the Soviet Union was an indispensable basis for peace in the future.” But
she notes with dismay that Roosevelt’s successors neglected his legacy. As for
opening a second front, Butler says that Roosevelt knew that with the energy
resources of the Caucasus and manpower of Russia at his disposal, Hitler could
control the world.
Seventy years have passed since then, but even today we would do well to
remember again that what was true for the USA was also all the more true for
the Jews of the world. Hitler would have destroyed the Jews of Russia and
every other place he got to. The Jewish Yishuv in Palestine faced imminent
destruction. I still remember the sense of danger and fear when General Rommel
began his African campaign and reached within 100 kilometres of Alexandria.
Rommel was eventually defeated by the British, and so the Yishuv was saved.
But we must remember that Rommel had only about three German divisions and
about five Italian divisions at his disposal. Rommel did not have enough
divisions to conquer Africa, and he could not get reinforcements because about
150 German divisions were fighting in a life-and-death struggle against the
Red Army in Russia. One need only look at a map to see what would have
resulted from a German victory at Stalingrad. Hitler’s intention was to take
control of the oil in the Caucasus and after that to turn southwards toward
the Middle East. One can only imagine in horror what was in store for the
Yishuv here if the Germans had won. The Red Army’s victory is what saved us,
and without it we would not be here today.
And so we must again engrave in our memories: without the Red Army’s just war
and its victory over Nazi Germany, we would not be existing here today,
neither as a state nor as individuals.
Seventy years have now passed and we are not sending a representative to the
celebrations of the Red Army’s victory. And why? Because we have joined the
faithful servants of the USA in the Cold War it is renewing throughout the
world against Putin’s Russia. Putin here, Putin there, Putin’s slandered
everywhere. The truth is that he is excoriated because he is unwilling to
submit to US policy. He came out against Obama when he spoke of the uniqueness
of the American nation – “American Exceptionalism” – a concept rooted in the
19th century, at the height of the era of slavery and the dispossession of the
indigenous Americans. When Putin reproved Obama and explained to him that
there are no “special nations” and that all nations are equal, he was
supported by most countries in the world. Putin also succeeded in preventing
war against Syria. Only Gideon Levy, the only courageous journalist in the
mainstream Israeli press defended Putin on that issue, in his article,
“Spasibo, Moscow, for saving the U.S. from itself and averting war” in Haaretz
(12 September 2013).  But particularly dreadful in the eyes of the Israeli
government, for which Putin really cannot be forgiven, is his support for an
agreement with Iran and his long-standing position in favour of ending the
In boycotting the celebration of the Red Army we are acting with unparalleled
The Jewish tradition speaks at length about the importance of remembering, not
to forget! Seventy years have passed and we are forgetting and ignoring those
who stood by our side and saved us at the darkest moment in our history.