Ukraine remembers the “forgotten” Holocaust victims

Photo: Radio Svoboda 

Culture, Ukraine

Article by: Richard Herzinger, 6.29.2015

Five memorials for Holocaust victims are being dedicated in western Ukraine. They are intended to pay respect to around one million people who were murdered in mass executions and in concentration camps.

Directions sign to Holocaust memorial in Rava-Ruska. Photo: Radio Svoboda

The Lviv city hall was bathed in music last Sunday. A jazz festival was being held in the city, the pearl of western Ukraine. The colorful hustle and bustle in the streets underlined that, at least in this part of the country, European freedom has not only long since been set in mention, but has already arrived.

Inside city hall, however, the topic centered on the horrors of the past. The evening’s subject indeed has eminent meaning for the present and future of the new, democratic Ukraine. An official event recognized the successful completion of a five-year project: On Monday and Tuesday, five memorials will be dedicated on the sites of mass graves in western Ukraine. The memorial sites were planned and constructed by a coalition led by the American Jewish Committee (AJC). With this project, a regional network of Holocaust memorials has for the first time been established in Ukraine, which will be accompanied by educational and informational resources. The sites were identified by the Paris-based organization Yahad-In Unum as part of their documentation of Holocaust mass graves.

Deidre Berger, director of AJC’s Berlin office, emphasized the overwhelming resonance and support with which the Ukrainian authorities and local population received the project. Father Patrick Desbois, president of Yahad-in Unum, underlined the great willingness of still living witnesses to talk about the mass executions of Jews during the Nazi occupation, even if this meant describing their own (often forced) cooperation in the atrocities. After decades of rule by the Soviets, whose historical narrative contained no place for the extermination of Jews, the present opportunity to speak about it appears like a relief.

Photo: Radio Svoboda

Opening of the memorial in Kysylyn. Photo: Kysylyn city administration

Various speakers stressed that the mass executions of Jews in Ukraine represented a “forgotten part of the Holocaust,” which did not only take place in industrial death camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau. Approximately one million people were killed in the mass executions, and increasing public awareness of this aspect is a key goal. According to Deidre Berger, one has to assume the sad reality that the names and identities of all of the murdered individuals can longer be determined after the passage of so much time.

The deputy speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Oksana Syroid, and Oleksandr Feldman, a Ukrainian parliament deputy, made clear how important it is for a society like Ukraine’s, which aims to establish a secure foundation of democratic values, to conduct a comprehensive and honest appraisal of all sides of its history. “A society that cannot protect memory has no future,” said Syroid.

However, the “Protecting Memory” project can only be the starting point. Anatolii Podolskyi, director of the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies in Kyiv, estimates that there are around 2,000 undiscovered or not yet appropriately marked mass graves in Ukraine. The participants hope that more local initiatives to care for and maintain them will spring up. Only anchoring memory in the population can ensure the upkeep of the newly built memorials. “Ukraine is a vast mass grave,” said Volodymyr Viatrovych of the Ukrainian Institute for National Memory. He pointed to the existence of, in addition to Jewish mass graves, many other untouched sites of Nazi or Soviet massacres of the civilian population.

Photo: Die Welt

Photo: Die Welt

Foreign Office supporting the project with more than 1 Million Euros

The US ambassador in Kyiv, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, also emphasized the importance of comprehensive remembrance of the Holocaust for the further development of Ukraine’s democratic self-understanding. Representing Germany, the deputy president of the Bundestag, Edelgard Bulmahn (SPD), and the German ambassador in Kyiv, Christof Weil, addressed the guests and affirmed Germany’s responsibility to maintain remembrance of the unparalleled crimes of National Socialism.

The [German – Ed.] Foreign Office supported “Protecting Memory” with funds amounting to $1.3 million. Germany, however, is not only compelled to provide financial assistance, but also to support societies like Ukraine’s, which is taking the road to democracy, to critically assess historical terrors, said Buhlman. It also involves sharing the experiences built up by Germany’s post-war democracy in working through its history.


Ed. Note: Also see Radio Svoboda’s report (in Ukrainian) on the opening of the Rava-Ruska memorial.

Translated by: A.K.

Source: Die Welt (Germany)

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  1. Avatar puttypants says:

    I don’t know what to say. I have never believed that Ukrainians were responsible for these murders of Jews. I’ve never seen them as people capable of such horrors.

    1. Avatar Dagwood Bumstead says:

      The sad fact is that ALL people have among them those who are capable of such horrors. The Gestapo or the East German Stasi were little different from theCheka and its successors, for example.
      Certainly SOME Ukrainians were actively involved in the Holocaust for various motives- personal gain, feud with a neighbour, simple antisemitism etc.
      Although Judaism and Bolshevism had NOTHING to do with each other, there were many Jews in the Bolshevik movement and CPSU and Cheka and its successors. They were, however, atheists like all Bolsheviks. It was easy to link Judaism and Bolshevism because of this presence. Lenin himself was part Jewish, then there were Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Uritsky, Sverdlov, Kaganovich, Litvinov, Polina Molotova (wife of), Yurovsky etc etc. Abroad, Jews were also prominent in the Bolshevik/communist movement- Karl Radek, Rosa Luxemburg, Kurt Eisner, Max Levien, Eugen Leviné, Bela Kún, David Wijnkoop (founder of the Dutch Communist Party) to name but a few. People who had sufered at the hands of the communists were often all to ready to take their revenge on CP officials and Jews. Jews among the CP officials would only reinforce the propaganda about Bolshevism being a Jewish conspiracy. To this must be added antisemitism which had existed for centuries in not only the Russian empire but also in Poland, for example, mainly for religious reasons.
      The Germans had willing accomplices in not only the Ukraine but also in the Belarusian SSR, Poland etc. To this must be offset that there were also some incredibly brave people in those same territories who helped Jews in circumstances we can’t even begin to imagine.

  2. Avatar Turtler says:

    But of course, those fighting to defend Ukraine are Nazis.

    So say those bastions of integrity and competence like Putin, Trifkovic, and the like. The same people who are far too gifted and skilled to do research.