What Zelensky Gets Wrong about the Holocaust in UkraineRoundup
tags: Holocaust, Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky
In his March 20 speech to Israeli lawmakers, Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky invoked the Holocaust as analogous to what his country is currently experiencing.
“I have the right to this parallel and to this comparison,” he said in his video address.
But as a historian of the Holocaust in Ukraine, I know how problematic this comparison is. Zelensky, who played a history teacher on TV, should know better, too.
The war is horrific, and Russia’s apparent deliberate targeting of civilians is abominable. But like most wars, this war is being fought over the political control of a territory and the sovereignty of a people; unlike the Holocaust, it is not an attempt to murder every single member of an ethnic, racial or national group. In contrast to Zelensky’s assertion, the threat is not the same.
For example, Zelensky could, theoretically, turn over the power of government to a Russian appointed puppet and allow his people to live as a Ukrainian minority within an oppressive Russian state. It’s not a good choice, but it is a choice. The Nazis provided no such option for the Jews of Europe. There was no choice that led to physical survival, no offer to surrender.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, too, has invoked the Holocaust when justifying his invasion of Ukraine, claiming that it was his intention to “denazify” the country. That, too, is disingenuous. Ukraine is a free and democratic state, with a government that was popularly elected and that has, for the most part, protected the rights of all its citizens.
It is little wonder, though, that the Holocaust has such resonance in Ukraine. Over one quarter of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, approximately 1.5 million people, were killed within the territory of what is now Ukraine. Millions of non-Jewish Ukrainians also perished under German occupation as prisoners of war, slave laborers, soldiers, partisans, and ordinary townsfolk and peasants. Zelensky is right that the war was “a tragedy for Ukrainians, for Jews, for Europe, for the world.”
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