In the lead-up to the 75th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second World War, the Central Naval Museum of St. Petersburgh has hosted an exposition entitled ‘Jewish Warriors — Heroes of the Soviet Union.’ The name of the event is an allusion to the title that was bestowed upon individuals, for heroic feats performed in service to the Soviet state and society, and was in-fact the highest accolade that could be awarded by the Soviet government.
The event was dedicated to the memory of Jewish war veterans that were recipients of the above-mentioned award as well as those that were made Cavaliers of the Order of Glory — one of the highest grades of military distinction, conferred for exceptional valor in combat.
The grand opening of the exhibition was attended by the Chief Rabbi of Petersburgh, Rabbi Menahem-Mendel Pevzner and Rabbi Ahron Gurevitz the Chief Military Rabbi from the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia that organized the event, as well as the official representative of the Western Military District of Russia’s armed forces. They were also joined by the Consul General of the State of Israel Mrs. Olga Slov.
The launching of the event was used to host a round-table discussion entitled “The International Character of Victory in the Great Patriotic War.” The participants placed an emphasis on the fact that the chief aim of such discussions and historical research dealing with these subjects are “…not to compare one group against another by tallying-up the amounts of community members that lost their lives or medals earned, but rather to document and to give due to the efforts made by veterans of all backgrounds—efforts which proved to be collectively indispensable for the achievement of victory. “
The exhibition presented the story of thirty-five Jewish war heroes. They symbolize a wide range of duties of Jewish soldiers during the war – from serving as regular Red Army infantrymen to commanding naval commando forces, to serving as tankers and flying aces.
According to historical records, out of the thirty million soldiers that served in the ranks of the Red Army during World War Two, no less than 500,000 were Jews, about 200.000 of them never returned home. A half-million Jewish soldiers – it is a huge number in relation to a small proportion of Jews in the USSR population, it is approximately equal to the number of Jews in the American army. But an important feature was that in the first months of the war, the western territories of the USSR inhabited by Jews were occupied, and as a result, more than 2 million Jews became victims of the Holocaust. Jewish warriors fought at the front when their parents, their brothers, and children were killed by the Nazis and collaborators. At the exhibition, biographies of such Jewish warriors were also presented.
Telling this story today is an important step in the fight against anti-Semitism.