On the Russian Invasion of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin’s Abuse of Language

By Fortunoff Video Archive - March 2, 2022

On the Russian Invasion of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin's Abuse of Language

We condemn Russia's unprovoked and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine. We mourn the death of Ukrainian civilians and Ukrainian soldiers defending their homeland. We praise Russian citizens and soldiers courageous enough to protest. We note that Ukraine is home to one of Europe's largest Jewish communities, whose members fight on battlefields or flee as refugees along with their fellow Ukrainian citizens.

We express our outrage at Vladimir Putin's deliberate, coldhearted, and Orwellian abuse of the language of the Holocaust. His claim that Russia must invade Ukraine to "denazify" and end a "genocide" is a fivefold evil: it is a lie; it is a diversion from his own fascism; it is an expression of antisemitism; it is a pretext for war crimes; and it is a trivialization of the Holocaust.

Putin's atrocity talk is a lie. There has been no "genocide" of Russian speakers in contemporary Ukraine. There are no "Nazis" in government to remove. Russian speakers in Ukraine enjoy greater freedoms than Russian speakers in Russia. They can speak freely and they can run for office. The duly elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelens'kyi, is a speaker of Russian. He is also a Jew.

It is a diversion. In using the language of the Holocaust, Mr. Putin and Russian leaders seek to divert us from the criminal character of this war, and the fascist template that it follows. To make war in the name of racial brotherhood and ancient glory is fascist. We are meant to forget that Mr. Putin's regime is admired by racists around the world.

The atrocity talk is an expression of antisemitism. To claim falsely that Volodymyr Zelens'kyi is guilty of "genocide" and deserving of "denazification" is to revive an old antisemitic canard. It is to say that the Jews are the real Nazis, and others are the real victims. It thus justifies "revenge" against Jews.

It is thus a pretext for war crimes. To maintain (falsely) that a genocide has taken place is to build the rhetorical foundation, as Mr. Putin has done, for a tribunal to judge the (falsely) accused. The mendacious atrocity talk sets the stage for a sham Nuremberg in which the innocent are to be punished according to the whim of a dictator.

The atrocity talk is a trivialization of the Holocaust. When the language we need to describe the Holocaust is twisted in order to lie, to divert attention from fascism, to express antisemitism, and to prepare the way for war crimes, then the memory of the Holocaust has been willfully debased. The last time Kyiv was bombed and taken by force was in 1941 by Germany. Then followed the largest massacre of the Holocaust, at a ravine outside Kyiv known as Babyn Yar.

These last three decades, during the period of independent Ukraine, we have come to understand the centrality of that Holocaust by bullets. Ukrainians, like all of us, still have much to learn from that history. That learning has been interrupted by a Russian army approaching Kyiv. Yesterday Russian bombs exploded in Babyn Yar, killing more human beings. This desecration speaks for itself, as it must, until once again we find the words.

Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies


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