Citing Ukraine War, Buchenwald Camp Drops Russia From Holocaust Ceremony

Government officials from Russia and its ally Belarus won't be invited, but the foundation running the former concentration camp said it does not play down the suffering of those countries' citizens in World War II

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
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Boris Romanchenko of Ukraine, second from right, attending a commemoration at Buchenwald near Weimar, Germany, in 2015.
Boris Romanchenko of Ukraine, second from right, attending a commemoration at Buchenwald near Weimar, Germany, in 2015.Credit: Michael Reichel/TSK/Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora foundation/AP
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

Russian and Belarusian officials will not be welcome at the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp, the foundation that runs the site said Tuesday, blaming Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Buchenwald, near Weimar, Germany, was liberated by U.S. forces on April 4, 1945.

In a statement online, the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation said the boycott of Moscow and Minsk comes in response to military actions that have endangered survivors. It said the move should not be construed as an effort to play down the suffering of Russians and Belarusians during World War II.

“Former prisoners are threatened by the Russian attack on Ukraine, many are on the run. We have therefore informed the embassies of the two countries that they are not welcome on the anniversary,” the foundation tweeted.

“However, we will expressly commemorate the Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian concentration camp victims. A young Russian and a young Ukrainian will speak the oath of Buchenwald. Wreaths in the national colors of Russia and Belarus will be on the memorial sign.”

The Belarusian Embassy in Israel told Haaretz that "The refusal to Belarusian and Russian diplomats representing their peoples to honor the memory of their compatriots tortured to death by the German Nazis in the Buchenwald concentration camp looks cynical and indicates attempts to politicize historical memory."

The statement continued, "It's amazing that this politicization is advocated by representatives of the foundation, which, it would seem, by virtue of its very purpose, should strive to ensure the preservation of this memory."

According to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem, over 43,000 people were killed at the camp between 1937 and 1945.

Tuesday’s announcement comes just over a week after the foundation reported that its regional vice president for Ukraine, Boris Romanchenko, had been killed by a Russian strike on his apartment building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

Inmates at Buchenwald after their liberation by U.S. troops in April 1945.Credit: U.S. Army/AP

During World War II, the 96-year-old Romanchenko, who was not Jewish, was imprisoned at the Buchenwald, Peenemünde, Mittelbau and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. Later, with the Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation, he helped keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. His death highlighted just “how threatening the war in Ukraine is for concentration camp survivors,” the foundation said.

Russia says its invasion aims “to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine,” a claim mocked around the world, including by Ukrainian Jews.

The Russian embassy in Israel did not reply to requests for comment. Belarusian troops have not fought in the war that started on February 24, but part of the Russian invasion was launched from Belarus.

On Saturday, a Russian artillery strike severely damaged a memorial at the Drobytsky Yar massacre site on the outskirts of Kharkiv, prompting a condemnation by Yad Vashem and leading Ukraine’s Defense Ministry to claim that “the Nazis have returned. Exactly 80 years later.”

Rescuers working at a regional administration building after it was hit by Russian cruise missiles, Mykolaiv, Ukraine, Tuesday.Credit: State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Reuters

This isn’t the first time Russian officials have been excluded from a Holocaust commemoration over their country’s actions in Ukraine. In 2015, Poland made it known that it did not want to see representatives of Moscow at the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. This followed the annexation of Crimea and the Kremlin’s support for a violent insurgency in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Speaking instead at Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, Russian President Vladimir Putin compared the Ukrainians’ efforts to regain their lost territories to Nazi war crimes, adding that “the peaceful population of Donetsk, Luhansk and other towns and cities have been shot for months in cold blood.”

Speaking at Yad Vashem in 2020, Putin claimed that 40 percent of the Jews who died in the Holocaust were Soviet citizens, sparking criticism from historians.

At the time, Moscow was battling Warsaw in a war of words over Holocaust complicity, with Putin accusing Poland of cooperating with Germany in 1938. In turn, Polish President Andrzej Duda charged Russia with downplaying its invasion of Poland in cooperation with the Nazis the following year.

With reporting by JTA.

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