A top US diplomat was left red-faced after using a picture of a Jewish ghetto in Poland as part of his post on the 1944 deportation of Crimean Tatars, a blunder described as “disgusting” and which also drew ridicule on him.

James S. Gilmore III, the United States Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) decried the Soviet displacement of Crimean Tatars from the peninsula at the height of the Second World War, in a recent Twitter publication.

“On May 18, 1944, [Joseph] Stalin deported nearly 200,000 Tatars from Crimea, and we recall the victims of this act of brutality,” he wrote. The tweet also pulled no punches on modern Russia, claiming “thousands of Crimeans” were forced to flee because of “severe repression of opponents of its occupation.”

The publication might have looked very convincing, although, in his attempt to poke Moscow, the diplomat got his visuals wrong.

The illustration to the tweet depicted no Tatars but the eviction of Jews by the Nazis from a ghetto in Lodz.

The photo, available in the public domain – with the website of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) being the most amenable source – depicts Jewish men and women loaded onto freight trains bound for the notorious extermination camp in Chelmno, Poland. 

Commenters flocked to Ambassador Gilmore’s page to educate him on the historic background behind the image. Some called the blunder “disgusting and outrageous,” and blasted the diplomat for his ignorance, whereas others checked with USHMM for proof of the photograph’s origin.

It took some time for the official to realize the gaffe and, on Saturday, the image –not the ambassador’s wording, of course– was promptly replaced with that of the turquoise flag adopted by Ukraine’s Crimean Tatars.

“We apologize for any confusion and have changed the photo to not detract from the tragedy of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars nearly 76 years ago,” the US mission to the OSCE commented.

On May 18, 1944, #Stalin deported nearly 200K Tatars from #Crimea, and we recall the victims of this act of brutality. 76 years later, #Russia’s severe repression of opponents of its occupation has forced tens of thousands of Crimeans to flee the peninsula

And it seems history is repeating itself… Last year Ukraine’s embassy to the US was left red-faced over almost the same blunder. Their tweet (now removed) also featured the Holocaust photo in question to bemoan the “bitter history” of the Crimean Tatars’ deportation.

At the time, the Embassy wrote that this was “a day when we couldn’t stop Stalin,” with the “we” adding an odd flavor to the message. The deportation took place at the final stages of WWII, so “stopping” the Soviets – notwithstanding their deeds – could mean fighting for or siding with Nazi forces under the friend-or-foe logic of war.

Russia has condemned the 1944 deportation, in which Crimean Tatars were forcibly relocated to Soviet Central Asia en masse when it emerged that some of them had collaborated with the Germans. After the war, they were allowed to return to their native lands, but many faced bitter property disputes and suffered from low-key stigmatization.

Shortly after Crimea chose to cede from Ukraine and reunite with Russia, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree officially rehabilitating Tatars and other ethnicities originating from the peninsula. May 18 is now celebrated each year in tribute to the wartime deportees.

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