Secretary Blinken Faces a Big Test in Ukraine, Where Nazis and Their Sympathizers Are Glorified


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 6, 2021. (Efrem Lukatsky / AFP via Getty Images)

From the moment he was nominated for secretary of state, the media has made much over the Holocaust’s impact on Antony Blinken. Blinken’s stepfather was a famous survivor; his upbringing made the Holocaust an indelible part of Blinken’s identity. Indeed, last month Blinken lambasted America’s callousness during the genocide, going so far as denouncing a World War II–era State Department official for refusing to aid Jews fleeing Europe.

The speech was hailed as a righteous reckoning—and it was. But condemning long-dead officials is one thing. Today, Blinken will have a chance to stand up for Holocaust victims in a far less comfortable environment. He will visit Kyiv, a city where, merely a week ago, hundreds marched in honor of a Nazi SS division. The march was denounced by Germany and Israel, but not the United States.

Blinken’s visit becomes a crucial test, considering that Ukraine is a key US ally: Addressing Kyiv’s blatant glorification of Nazi collaborators would be an opportunity to rise above the failures of his predecessors, placing the Holocaust above geopolitics.

Last Wednesday’s march was in honor of SS Galichina, a Ukrainian volunteer division in the Waffen-SS, the Nazi Party’s military arm responsible for the Holocaust. In 1944, SS Galichina was personally inspected by Heinrich Himmler, Hitler’s second in command and one of the principal architects of the Holocaust. The division’s record of war crimes includes the Huta Pieniacka massacre, when an SS Galichina subunit exterminated around a thousand Polish villagers, chiefly by burning them alive.

The sight of hundreds proudly carrying placards with SS divisional insignia in the middle of a European capital proved too much even for Ukraine’s allies. The German and Israeli ambassadors vigorously condemned the march, as did the Israeli foreign ministry. Initially, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said nothing, releasing a condemnation only after Germany and Israel weighed in. Meanwhile, Blinken’s State Department remained silent; the day after the march, a State spokesperson called out Ukraine’s corruption but mentioned nothing about the SS commemorations.

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