Russian Official Demands Cutting Holocaust Survivors’ Rights

Russian official: Why give Holocaust survivors free bus tickets "for the simple reason that they were not finished off."

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Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu,

Bus stop in Lithuania
Bus stop in Lithuania

A local Russian lawmaker from President Vladimir Putin's ruling party created a national furor on Friday by refusing to back free bus and train tickets for victims of Nazi-era concentration camps.

Andrei Yershov of the Smolensk city council in western Russia admitted to making the explosive comments during a free-ranging council debate on October 16.

A recording of that meeting -- a tape that has gone viral in Russia -- shows Yershov wanting to know early on in the debate "why is it that we owe the young prisoners anything".

"Why? For the simple reason that they were not finished off," the local city council member asked during the rowdy session.

According to Russian law, any Russian who was held in a concentration camp up to the age of 18 is entitled to a range of benefits, including free transport.

Those affected are chiefly the victims of the Nazi persecution of Jews during World War II, but the law can apply to anyone held in a concentration camp during the fighting.

The controversy spread when the tape reached the Internet and was posted on the website of the country's massively popular Pravda daily.

Smolensk region Governor Alexei Ostrovsky said on Friday that "the fact that Yershov should not remain a representative of the people was not even subject to debate."

But the lawmaker mounted a stiff defense of his case by saying that he would not resign until the local legislature offered free transport "to all the children of World War II" -- and not just the concentration camp survivors.

Six million Jews were murdered during World War II by the Nazis alongside large numbers from Central and Eastern Europe's Roma and homosexual communities. Smolensk is in the heart of what was a heavily Jewish region in the first half of the 20th century.

Putin's ruling party officials in Moscow condemned the lawmaker's comments but made no explicit call on him to resign.