(JTA) — Russia’s main Jewish group will send its largest delegation ever to Auschwitz, where participants in an annual program will hear about Polish bravery and complicity in the Holocaust, a top rabbi from Moscow said.
The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia will send 1,100 teenagers and young adults to the World War II death camp in Poland as part of its Eurostars trip, which brings Russian Jews to Western Europe and other parts of the continent, federation President Alexander Boroda told JTA on Wednesday. The trip starts Monday in Austria.
At the state-run museum, the participants in the program, which began in 2006, will learn about “the death machine” that the Nazis operated to kill approximately 4 million Jews at Auschwitz alone, said Boroda, a Chabad rabbi. They also will hear about the efforts of many Poles to save Jews from the genocide. But they also will be taught about “Polish traitors who betrayed Jews to the Nazis and helped the Nazis,” he said.
Boroda said rescue and betrayal occurred in Poland on a larger scale than any other European country.
The treatment of complicity by Poles in the Holocaust is a sensitive issue in Poland, further complicated by the passing in February of controversial legislation in Warsaw that criminalizes blaming “the Polish nation” for Nazi crimes, as the law states.
Boroda said the law cannot be allowed to affect Holocaust education.
“No law can change the reality of what happened, and there is clear historical evidence of this, so we will not take such laws into consideration,” he said.
Boroda said the trip’s cost of approximately $1.2 million was donated by Russian-Jewish billionaire Roman Abramovich.
“His impact on each Jewish community in Russia is unparalleled,” Boroda said of Abramovich.
Before visiting Auschwitz, the participants will tour Jewish sites in Austria, the birthplace of Adolf Hitler. They will land there on April 30, the 73rd anniversary of the Nazi leader’s death by suicide. They also will visit Switzerland.
Boroda said his organization views with concern the veneration of “Nazis who killed Jews” in Ukraine and in the Baltic countries today, “making Holocaust education more crucial than ever before.”
On Saturday, the Ukrainian city of Lviv will host a nationalist event where activists plan to parade in the uniform of a Nazi Waffen SS unit known as the 1st Galician, whose troops were mostly ethnic Ukrainians. In Latvia, veterans of another SS unit marched last month with hundreds of ultranationalists through the capital Riga, where the veterans march is an annual event.
“When these deeply offensive things happen, it feels like the Nazis have risen from the graves to Russian Jews, many of whom fought and gave their lives to kill the Nazis and almost all of them lost relatives in the Holocaust,” Boroda said. “It’s why we cannot remain silent.”