Ukrainian chief rabbi compares Russian invasion to Holocaust


Eastern Europe


Moshe Reuven Azman, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine and Kiev. Photo AFP, Sergei Supinsky

Since the outbreak of the war, the Russians have treated the Ukrainians as the Nazis did to the Jews during the Holocaust. That is the opinion of the Ukrainian chief rabbi, Moshe Reuven Azman.

The Russians are committing genocide, and it is my duty, to tell the truth about the Ukrainian suffering after all Russia's lies, says the 57-year-old chief rabbi to Kristeligt Dagblad.

The rabbi became famous after he appealed in a video fiercely against the invasion just after it started. In the clip, he cursed those "who are silent and tacitly participate in this attack." He also gained fame when he recorded a video of himself going to the city of Kherson to help victims of the floods after the dam was demolished. In the attempt, he was almost killed by Russian shelling. Both of his videos have millions of views, Kristeligt Dagblad writes.

Now, he uses his fame "to tell the world the truth about the tragedy of the Ukrainian people," Moshe Reuven Azman says. "I thank God that He put me in the right place at the right time."


The rabbi is especially outraged by Putin's claim of denazifying Ukraine. The last straw for him, he tells Kristeligt Dagblad, was when a Russian missile hit close to the Babi Jar monument near Kyiv. "Who exactly is the Nazi here," he asks the newspaper fiercely. Because he is a Jew, he can see things a bit more as an outsider, the rabbi believes. "And I say: We have no Nazis here. But Putin's rockets kill innocent people, including Jews."

The Ukrainian rabbi knows the Russian culture and propaganda from within. He was born in Leningrad, today's Saint Petersburg in Russia. He experienced the Soviet regime and still knows some people in Russia.

Dangerous alliance

Sometimes, these acquaintances call him, he says. "They say: Hurry up, you have to get away from the Nazis. I tell them: I'm here, you're there. I can't spot any Nazis, but you know better than me?"

The rabbi finds it remarkable that Putin presents himself as a friend of the Jews when he cooperates closely with Iran, the country that wants to eradicate Israel from the map. "I'm not saying that Putin is anti-Semitic. But he has become the best friend of the Iranians and helps them with specialists in nuclear technology. It is a dangerous alliance."

At the same time, the Jewish leader calls the Russian war in Ukraine genocide. "The Holocaust was a terrible genocide, 6 million Jews were annihilated, and here in the war, 6 million have not been killed. But genocide is not about how many people are killed. Putin has said that Ukraine is not a real country and the Russians are trying to eradicate the Ukrainian language and culture. The Jewish people had no army and could not defend themselves. Who knows how many Ukrainians Russia would kill if the Ukrainians had not been able to defend themselves," he says, adding that "the Ukrainians have taken over the role that the Jewish people previously had in history."


Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman acknowledges that there are some dark pages of anti-Semitism in the history of Ukraine. During the Second World War, Ukrainian collaborators helped the Nazis to wipe out the Jewish community in the country. In addition, the Ukrainian government supported the Soviet regime in its anti-Semitism.

But he is convinced that the anti-Semitism is gone from Ukrainian society now. "Our Jewish community does not experience any of that, nor did we before the war." The rabbi is proud of President Zelensky. "When the war started, he did not run away, he chose to defend his people, and now he is a hero. Putin calls Zelensky a disgrace to the Jewish people. But I am proud of Zelensky, and so is my congregation. The whole free world is proud of him."

Jewish roots

The Jewish community in Ukraine has decreased significantly. Reuven Azman notices that half of his congregation has left since the invasion. But on the other hand, he also sees Jews coming for the first time, partly due "to a religious awakening, partly due to a need to establish ties with the Jewish roots and the Jewish community," he explains.

The rabbi is convinced that the Messiah is coming soon, he says. "It is written in the book of Isaiah that evil will begin from the North. Russia has shown its true face. I learned about the evil of the Nazis as a child, and now we see Russian tanks doing the same. This is why I believe we are close to redemption. And when that happens, all wars will end."



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