Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov bit off more than he could chew recently when he lamely tried to justify Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine on the grounds of fighting Nazism in that former Soviet province.
Moscow’s wildly unsubstantiated claim that its naked aggression was aimed at “de-Nazifying” Ukraine was, to put it mildly, a huge stretch.
Ukraine is a democratic state and its president since 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish. There are neo-Nazis in Ukraine, just as there are fascists in Russia, Britain, Canada, the United States and an assortment of other countries. But to boldly declare that Ukraine is a neo-Nazi state per se, as Russian President Vladimir Putin had the audacity to do when his forces launched an invasion on February 24, is to indulge in an exercise of profound cynicism and to engage in a flimsy coverup for an unmitigated, imperialist land grab.
Clearly, Russia’s official pretext for invading Ukraine, a sovereign state whose legitimacy Putin rejects, was implausible. Yet Russia continues to flog this dead horse, judging by Lavrov’s misleading statements.
Interviewed on an Italian television show on May 1, he was asked to defend Putin’s unhinged portrayal of Ukraine as a “Nazi” state despite the fact that its president is Jewish. “So what if Zelensky is Jewish?” replied Lavrov, a seasoned diplomat who has been the foreign minister for the past 18 years and who should have known better. And in an attempt to reinforce his weak argument, Lavrov said, “I could be wrong, but “Hitler also had Jewish blood.” In an inflammatory aside, he added, “Wise Jewish people say that the most ardent antisemites are usually Jews.”
To no one’s surprise, Lavrov’s comments were the objects of derision and condemnation, particularly in Israel, which has adopted a fairly neutral position toward the current war in Ukraine.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett denounced Lavrov’s verbal darts as “lies.”
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, whose father was a Holocaust survivor and whose grandfather was murdered by Nazis, was especially incensed. Describing them as “outrageous, unforgivable and infuriating,” he demanded an apology from the Russian government and summoned Russia’s ambassador, Anatoly Viktorov, for a “tough conversation.”
Dani Dayan, the chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, dismissed Lavrov’s skewed version of history as “delusional and dangerous.”
Disappointingly enough, Russia has not issued an apology and has doubled down on Lavrov’s specious claims.
On May 3, the Russian Foreign Ministry claimed that Israel supports Zelensky’s “neo-Nazi regime,” an exemplar of “the most extreme antisemitism.” The ministry also noted that Nazi-appointed-and-intimidated Jewish Councils in sealed ghettos collaborated with the Nazis and are “remembered for absolutely monstrous deeds.”
On May 4, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova charged that “Israeli mercenaries” are fighting alongside the far-right Azov regiment in the port city of Mariupol, which has been captured by the Russians. A few Israeli volunteers have indeed joined the Ukrainian army, but they have done so without the knowledge or approval of the Israeli government.
Lavrov’s foray into revisionism, and Russia’s defence of his rhetoric, is truly astonishing.
As Zelensky aptly observed, Russia is effectively blaming Jews for abominable Nazi crimes. As Lapid correctly noted, Russia is guilty of spreading “antisemitic rumors.” And as Dayan said, Russia is turning Jewish Holocaust victims into Nazi criminals.
Still worse, Lavrov had the temerity to imply that Hitler was of partial Jewish descent. This outlandish claim was disseminated by Hans Frank, the Nazi governor of occupied Poland, after World War II. Frank, who was executed in 1946, claimed that Hitler’s paternal grandfather, a Jewish merchant from Graz named Frankenberger, was Jewish.
The most reputable historians have uniformly dismissed this cockeyed allegation.
“Rumors that there were Jews in Hitler’s family have no proven foundation,” wrote the German historian Volker Ullrich in Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939. Research has revealed that not a single Jewish family lived in Graz when Hitler was born, he said. “There is no evidence that Hitler ever took speculations about his supposed Jewish grandfather seriously, to say nothing of feeling threatened by them,” wrote Ullrich.
The British historian Ian Kershaw, in Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris, reached the same conclusion.
Rumors claiming that Hitler was partially Jewish were the talk of cafes in Munich in the early 1920s and were published in the foreign press during the 1930s, said Kershaw.
It was even claimed that Hitler’s father, Alois Schicklgruber, was sired by a member of the Rothschild banking family.
Kershaw completely rejects Frank’s fantasy about Hitler’s Jewish ancestry. “Frank’s story gained wide circulation in the 1950s,” he writes. “But it simply does not stand up.”
In line with Lapid’s recommendation, Lavrov needs to educate himself about Hitler and the Holocaust. Instead of spreading false and malicious rumors, he should read a credible history book about these tragic events.