MOSCOW (AP) -- He is Russia's best-known ultranationalist, a flamboyant politician who praised Adolf Hitler and accused Jews of provoking the Holocaust -- all the while staunchly denying his own Jewish roots. Now Vladimir Zhirinovsky has confirmed that his father was Jewish, and says many of his relatives perished in the Holocaust. "My father was a Jew, a Polish Jew," the 56-year-old Zhirinovsky wrote in his book published this week. "His name was Volf Isaakovich Eidelshtein." Public records found by a reporter in 1994 showed that Zhirinovsky was given the name Eidelshtein at birth, but changed it when he was 18. But the nationalist member of parliament had long insisted the documents were fake and said the find had "nothing to do with reality." "Only Russian, all (my) family is Russian," he told The Associated Press in 1994. His behavior suggested that if he were Jewish, he was doing his best to forget his origins. Zhirinovsky has accused Jews of bringing Russia to ruin, taking Russian women abroad for prostitution, and selling healthy Russian children and transplant organs to the West. This spring, he refused to honor a moment of silence for the Nazis' Jewish victims, saying Russia's lower house of parliament should not stand in their memory when there were millions of other Nazi victims including Russians. After a campaign built on firebrand nationalism, Zhirinovsky's party won nearly a quarter of the national vote in a 1993 parliamentary election, prompting tens of thousands of Russian Jews to apply for foreign visas in case they would have to flee the country, Jewish activists have said.
But Zhirinovsky's popularity has faded in recent years, and his latest acknowledgment could be an attention-grabbing device, typical of the politician known for his sensational statements, fiery speeches and maverick ways. The chief rabbi of Russia's Federation of Jewish Communities, Berl Lazar, also suggested that Zhirinovsky could be following a recent trend among Russia's Jews to advertise their roots, after decades of choosing to hide them amid official discrimination and popular harassment. Acknowledging one's Jewish origins has become a kind of fashion in Russia, Lazar said -- a fashion that appears to have been advanced by President Vladimir Putin's demonstration of support for Jewish communities and his attendance of Jewish events. "People today are proud to come out and say: 'Yes, I am Jewish,'" Lazar said in a telephone interview. "We see it throughout the country. Thousands and thousands of people who knew they were Jewish and were hiding it ... are opening up their closets." Yet, Zhirinovsky's acknowledgment of his origin is halfhearted at best. In the book, titled "Ivan, Close Your Soul," Zhirinovsky repeatedly states he considers himself an ethnic Russian, and is proud of that. He also makes no attempt to apologize for his anti-Semitic harangues, and dwells on his pet themes of Jewish domination of the world's politics and finance. "Why should I reject Russian blood, Russian culture, Russian land and fall in love with the Jewish people only because of that single drop of blood that my father left in my mother's body?" he writes. Russia has a long history of anti-Semitism, both during the czarist and Soviet eras, and there have been incidents of vandalism and isolated violence aimed at Jews in recent years.
But polls indicate that hostility toward Jews has ebbed as Russian nationalists have found other targets for their anger -- primarily Chechens and other often dark-skinned natives of the Caucasus Mountains region.