Russian President Vladimir Putin has ventured into the charged battle over the rival historical narratives of World War II by claiming that 40% of Jewish Holocaust victims were Soviet.
Putin is in Jerusalem for the largest-ever gathering focused on commemorating the Holocaust. But it has been marred by the historical squabbles.
Speaking during a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday, the Russian leader said the Red Army not only freed the Auschwitz death camp but also “made a decisive contribution to victory over the Nazis,” he added.
“The Soviet people and the Russian people suffered greatly during the war, when it comes to the Holocaust, some 40% of the Jews killed there were from the Soviet Union.”
It was the latest chapter in a bitter dispute over Soviet actions in World War II. Putin has been leading a campaign to play down the Soviet Union's pre-war pact with the Nazis and focus instead on its role in defeating them.
Of the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis, historians say about 1 million were Soviet. Putin appeared to be adding an additional 1.5 million Jewish victims from eastern European areas occupied by the Soviets under their pact with the Nazis.
Poland's president skipped Thursday's event to protest the central role given to Putin. Poland, which has been criticized for its own wartime revisionism, accuses Putin of unfairly blaming it for the war's outbreak.
The former KGB man also called for an end of anti-Semitism. "Now you [Rivlin] said we don't know where anti-Semitism ends, unfortunately, we know that the end is in Auschwitz," said Putin. "One must pay attention and not let this happen ever again."
Putin, on a brief visit, also attended a dedication ceremony of a monument honoring the nearly 900-day Nazi siege of the Soviet city of Leningrad, the Russian leader's hometown.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke during the ceremony, reiterated Putin’s sentiments praising the Soviet soldiers for “saving the world from a terrible tragedy.”
“The residue of pain has remained, what was lost, was lost forever,” he added.
"Your brother did not survive the siege. The pain of losing a brother is well known to me," said Netanyahu, whose brother Yonatan was killed leading the Operation Entebbe hostage rescue mission in 1976.