"There are people today who want to re-write history. The museum will help to show what it was in reality."

This week it was announced that plans for the Russian-Jewish Museum of Tolerance, to be the world’s largest Jewish museum, were approved in Moscow. In a largely symbolic gesture of support, Vladimir Putin, as president in 2007, promised to donate one month’s worth of his salary as Russian president to the building of the museum. Putin made his pledge as a response to a request from Russia’s chief Rabbi Berl Lazar for the President to expedite the Jewish community’s long-delayed plans for such a museum.

The new museum would be the centerpiece of Moscow’s existing Jewish community center, which was financed and built by the Moscow municipality about five years ago. A historic building in the community center would house the new Museum of Tolerance and would sit alongside institutions already open, including the center’s soup kitchen, a community health center, and a Chabad school. Construction of a yeshiva and a Jewish university are also nearing completion.

A committee for the new museum announced approval for the building plans, according to Baruch Gorin, the Moscow Jewish community’s spokesman, who added that the museum will celebrate the history of Jews in Russia, with exhibits of Jewish art and artifacts from Jewish religious life, as well as a section dedicated to the Holocaust and the Russian-speaking Jews who perished during the Nazi invasion of western Russia.

A center for Jewish studies will serve as an adjunct to the museum, complete with a major Jewish library and conference rooms for Jewish community events, according a report in Haaretz. In the report, Gorin said that construction is slated to begin early next year and the building will be unveiled in 2011. Among the sponsors of the project are the Russian Cultural Foundation, the Moscow Jewish community, and a group of private Jewish donors led by billionaire Lev Leviev.

The original building, built in 1927, and covers 9,000 square meters (about 100,000 square feet), and when additional floors will be added underground, the entire museum will total 15,000 square meters of floor space (163,000 square feet), making it the world’s largest Jewish museum.

A spokesman for the Russian Federation of Jewish Communities said that the historic building was donated by the Moscow municipality with the blessing of Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who understood the importance of teaching the Russian public about the Holocaust and Jewish history. Spokesman Tal Rabina said that the mayor hopes the study of Jewish culture at such a museum will help put an end to the legacy of anti-Semitism in Russia.

Rabbi Lazar had told Putin that Russia needed such a museum to serve as a warning against a return to a dark Russian past.

Russia has one of the world’s worst histories of anti-Semitism. Prior to the 1917 revolution, countless pogroms, often instigated by the Tsar’s militia, led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews. In 1903 the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion was published with the consent of the Tsar and brought classical anti-Semitic libels into the modern age. Throughout the period of Soviet dictatorship, Jews were unofficially singled out in a nationwide campaign of discrimination, persecution, imprisonment and exile. In modern Russia, anti-Semitic attacks occur at one of the highest rates in the world.

"There are people today who want to re-write history," Rabbi Lazar had said to Putin. "The museum will help to show what it was in reality."