Scholars Issue Statement Objecting to Russia’s Use of “Denazification” to Justify Ukraine Invasion

February 26, 2022
A toy and a note book lie among the debris by the apartment block in 6A Lobanovsky Avenue which was hit with a missile on February 26, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo by Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images)

Several scholars who have studied the fields of World War II, Nazism and genocide have signed a statement denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “denazification” rationale to justify his invasion into Ukraine.

The statement, which was published on a Google Doc on February 25, was first drafted by Johns Hopkins University Associate Professor Eugene Finkel and Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP) Research Fellow Izabella Tabarovsky, with the assistance of UCLA Professor Aliza Luft and University of North Carolina (UNC) Greensboro Assistant Professor Teresa Walch. The statement reads: “Russian propaganda regularly presents the elected leaders of Ukraine as Nazis and fascists oppressing the local ethnic Russian population, which it claims needs to be liberated. President Putin stated that one of the goals of his ‘special military operation’ against Ukraine is the ‘denazification’ of the country.” The scholars added that they “strongly reject the Russian government’s cynical abuse of the term genocide, the memory of World War II and the Holocaust, and the equation of the Ukrainian state with the Nazi regime to justify its unprovoked aggression. This rhetoric is factually wrong, morally repugnant and deeply offensive to the memory of millions of victims of Nazism and those who courageously fought against it, including Russian and Ukrainian soldiers of the Red Army.”

They did acknowledge that “like any other country, [Ukraine] has right-wing extremists and violent xenophobic groups” but that does not justify “the Russian aggression and the gross mischaracterization of Ukraine. At this fateful moment we stand united with free, independent and democratic Ukraine and strongly reject the Russian government’s misuse of the history of World War II to justify its own violence.”

Prior to the drafting the statement, Finkel tweeted that he is “not a great believer in open letters but the rhetoric of liberation from the Nazis, genocide etc. does require a response, just for the record. Don’t drag us into your madness.”

Walch urged other scholars in the relevant fields to sign their name to the statement. “We cannot allow history to be warped and misused to justify violence and war in Ukraine,” she wrote.


The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has previously issued a statement similarly condemning the “denazification” rationale. “Invoking Nazism to legitimize Russia’s aggression is unacceptable. Ukraine is a democracy with equal rights for its Jewish citizens, including the right to be elected to its highest office, as President [Volodymyr] Zelensky has demonstrated,” they said.

The USC Shoah Foundation similarly said they were “deeply disturbed” and Putin’s use of the term “denazification,” noting that Ukraine has “a Jewish president who lost family members in the Holocaust.” They called Putin’s claim of “genocide” in Ukraine to justify his invasion to be “unfounded.” “We must call out and educate against Holocaust distortion and the toxic language so often used to foment violence and undermine democracy.”

The Auschwitz Memorial Museum also posted a statement saying that “it is impossible to remain silent while, once again, innocent people are being slaughtered purely because of insane pseudo-imperial megalomania.” “The free and democratic world must show if it has learned its lesson from the passivity of the 1930s,” they later added.


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