Last week’s gathering at a Moscow synagogue to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II marked a “tremendous outpouring” by the Russian Jewish community, said Rabbi Arthur Schneier of New York.
But Schneier, who spoke May 10 before a congregation of more than 1,000 Jews, warned his audience that some groups today keep Hitler’s ideology alive.
In a telephone interview from Moscow, the rabbi, a Holocaust survivor himself, said the events elicited a wide “spectrum of feelings.”
“On one hand there’s elation and on one hand there’s pain,” he said.
“The message is clear: Hitler may be dead. But unfortunately, his ideology has not been put to death,” said Schneier, a Holocaust survivor who lost much of his family during the war.
The rabbi said it was particularly disturbing that young people are involved in skinhead and neo-Nazis groups. The reappearance of swastikas, armbands and other paraphernalia used by these groups also is unsetting, he said.
“We cannot close our eyes to the new plague of ethnic conflict and xenophobia,” said Schneier, who heads the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an ecumenical group that pursues religious rights issues around the world.
At the same time, he expressed joy at the presence of young people at the synagogue, a phenomenon he said would not have occurred 30 years ago.
A spark has been rekindled in the Jewish community, he said citing the sprouting of Jewish schools across Russia.
“God performs miracles in every generation of Jewish people,” he said.
Israeli President Ezer Weizman also spoke May 10 at the synagogue.
A day before the synagogue event, Schneier had joined world leaders to participate in ceremonies at Lenin Square. That night, the group attended a state dinner at the Kremlin.
While in Moscow, Schneier held meetings with several Russian officials, including Moscow Mayor Yuri Lushkov; Segei Filatov, President Yeltsin’s chief of staff; and Ivan Rybkin, speaker of the lower house of Parliament.
In the meetings, Schneier said he found a readiness on the officials’ part to help the local Jewish community. He said Rybkin offered to beef up security at Moscow’s Jewish institutions and Lushkov said he would help the community secure a facility that would serve as a much-needed matzah factory.
During a discussion about the growth of fascist groups in Russia, Filatov said he would recommend to lawmakers a bill to curb the activities of far-right groups, Schneier said.