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Jewish World Marks V-E Day with Low-Key Commemorations

Beyond the spotlight of commemorations in Berlin and Moscow, Jews around the world marked the 50th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany with their own smaller ceremonies.

In Israel, events were low key compared to those in Europe.

"How can we celebrate victory when a third of our people died?" Likud Knesset member and Holocaust survivor Dov Shilansky said on Israel Television.

"We Jews must not call this a day of victory, but rather the day Nazi Germany was defeated."

Ceremonies in Israel focused on the 1.5 million Jewish soldiers who fought in the Allied armies. Among them were the 3,000 Jewish Brigade volunteers from Mandate Palestine who fought alongside British forces, as well as Jewish veterans of the Soviet army, members of the underground and fighters inside the ghettos.

In honor of their efforts during the war, two public squares in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were renamed "Jewish Fighter’s Square" for one week.

Included in the various ceremonies was a salute to the immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are Red Army veterans.

More than 500,000 Jews fought in the Red Army. Of them, 13,000 now live in Israel.

In Jerusalem, some 1,000 Red Army veterans paraded through the city center. And in Tel Aviv, more than 15,000 olim from throughout the country attended a ceremony in Hayarkon Park.

Many were dressed in their old uniforms, proudly displaying their war decorations.

Veteran Wolf Solomonov, speaking on Israel Radio, said in Russian, "Israelis are not sufficiently aware of the war itself. They think only of the Holocaust. But we fought a bloody and hard war against the Nazis, and we won."

"None of us ever dreamt then that the day will come when we celebrate the victory’s 50th anniversary with our children and grandchildren in the State of Israel," he added.

Some Israelis went abroad to commemorate the occasion. Several Israelis were among the 15 Jews invited to participate in Austria’s weeklong series of activities.

For Austria, the end of the war marked the restoration of democratic rule after seven years of Nazi domination.

All 15 of the Jewish guests — also from the United States, Denmark, England, Sweden, South Africa and Argentina — had been forced to leave Vienna after Hitler’s annexation of Austria.

The restoration of democratic rule was commemorated at a joint session of both chambers of the Austrian Parliament, during which Austrian President Thomas Klestil and the president of Parliament, Heinz Fischer, delivered addresses sharply critical of Austria’s close ties to Hitler’s Germany.

The Jewish guests took part in all the official celebrations, including a parliamentary session, where they were greeted with applause when Fischer pointed out their presence in the audience.

Klestil admitted that Austria had made a mistake not to "call these citizens back to their home immediately after the war."

In Holland, more than 1,400 Jews filled the 300-year-old Sephardi synagogue in Amsterdam on Sunday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the country’s liberation from the Nazis.

The ceremony was organized jointly by the city’s Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Liberal congregations, with the participation of Ashkenazi Chief Cantor Hans Bloemendal and Liberal Jewish Cantor Avery Tracht.

The ceremony took place despite the well-publicized objections of former Chief Rabbi Meir Just, who objected to the participations of non-Orthodox Jews.

He and his supporters had maintained that the memory of the more than 100,000 Dutch Jews who perished in the Holocaust would be desecrated by the participation of "heretics" at the event.

Among Dutch officials attending the ceremony were Premier Willem Kok and former Amsterdam Mayor Ed van Thijin, who is Jewish.

Both men stressed the importance of opposing anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

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