This Holocaust Memorial Day, a group of young Russian-speaking Israelis is calling attention to the stories of their grandparents — Soviet heroes who defeated the Nazis, living on the margins of Israeli society.
By Edi Zhensker and Berry Rosenberg
A lot of us stare at them and wonder: who are these elderly people who speak Russian? What are they wearing on their chest? Who gets so many medals? Many wonder whether it is some weird 90s fashion trend that these immigrants brought with them, and which they refuse to let go of. Others have a hard time pronouncing the word “veteran” and confuse it with “veterinarians,” which hurts them immensely.
The truth is that some of these elderly Russian-speaking people we often see on lined at the supermarket or at our health care clinics were actually combatants in tank, infantry and air force divisions of the Red Army who fought against the Nazis. Some of them bravely stood at the Blockade, the punishing siege the German army imposed on the city of Leningrad (today St. Petersburg), were forced to flee their homes in one of the biggest population transfers in history, “the evacuation,” and joined the partisans or survived the war in territory occupied by the Nazis in the Soviet Union. The Nazis annihilated around 90 percent of the Jews in that area. These veterans lost all their property, their friends and family on their way to the Allies’ victory in 1945.
Tens of thousands of them and their children immigrated to Israel over the years and settled here quietly, without us noticing. Most of them lived and still live in poverty and isolation. Some of them still live among us, utterly transparent, invisible. They are not part of the Israeli discourse, their stories of heroism and pride they carry with them are not part of the State of Israel’s narrative, despite their relevance to the end of World War II and the survival of the Jewish people.
One day a year, May 9, Victory Day over the Nazis, is their holiday. It is the day they emerge from their anonymity and isolation and feel historic pride, whether they were medics in the Red Army, or those who invaded Berlin. It is the day they wear their many medals from the war and go outside, to celebratory marches in the hearts of their cities, to tell their stories. They march...Read More