80 years after Babyn Yar massacre: tools to keep the memory alive, learn the lessons

January 28, 2022

For two days, September 29 and 30, 1941, 33,771 people were exterminated. More than thirty thousand of them were Jews.
A zoom press conference was dedicated on Tuesday to the 80th anniversary of the Babyn Yar massacre ahead of an event “Lessons from Babyn Yar: History, Memory and Legacy” which is jointly organised by the House of European History in Brussels and the Kiev-based Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC).
The conference, organized in cooperation with the European Jewish Asociation, discussed lessons 80 years later, as well as unveiling new and unique tools to keep the lessons, history and memory alive, including actually putting faces and names to those murdered for the first time.
Among the speakers, French Father Patrick Desbois, founder of Yahad-In Unum and head of the scholarly council of BYHMC, stressed that Babi Yar was a criminal site where the genocide of the Jewish people took place in the center of a large city in a large country (Kiev, today Ukraine).
‘’The locals willingly aided the young fascists. The gunmen were given sandwiches and tea with little vodka in it as the mass executions lasted many hours,’’ he noted.
Father Patrick asked a practical question: where did the tons of items and valuables taken from the Jews before their execution go? ‘’It would seem that everything should be documented, but it is easier to find detailed evidence and statistics of the shootings than information about the confiscated property of those killed. It was as if the Germans were embarrassed to write about such facts.’’
He added, ‘’For me, this is another terrible evidence of the Babi Yar tragedy: human life is reduced to zero. It is only the result of statistics, nothing more. Even more terrible is that the USSR, on whose territory the tragedy took place, tried to hide the truth about Babyn Yar for a long time. Nevertheless, our generation has a goal: to find the hidden facts and restore the history of this bloody genocide.’’
“I visited Raka in Syria where there was a mass grave. Journalists came, journalists went. Perhaps in 80 years there can be a debate about what is a ‘fitting’ memorial. What is important is keeping the memory and lessons alive,’’ stressed Father Desbois.
One of the panelists, Marek Siwiec, Director of European Affairs at BYHMC,  provided information about many ongoing projects, each of which can contribute to the restoration of the truth about Babyn Yar.
Colossal work has been done: out of more than 33,000 dead, 28,428 names have been identified, and essential family and personal facts have been restored. All these invaluable findings became the basis of a vast program titled “Project Names.”
‘’It brought us closer to the real life of those who were shot at Babi Yar. They say that the death of one person is a tragedy, but the death of tens of thousands is a statistic,’’ said Siwiec, who is a former member of the European Parliament.
‘’Project Names’’ allows us to turn dry statistics into pain for everyone who was left in that terrible place, who did not live, who did not love, who did not leave their continuation on earth,’’ he added.
Another project mentioned by Siwiec, “Red Dot” (Red Dot Remembrance), is unique: more than 3,000 people provided information about the WWII war crimes. This app has so far registered 2,850 sites across of Europe of the ‘Holocaust by bullets’ which enables users to see and learn what took place wherever they are.
‘’These are mass extermination sites, eyewitness accounts, evidence supported by documents, which were kept with German punctuality and pedantry throughout the war,’’ explained Siwiec.
On the Babyn Yar massacre anniversary date of 29th September, 15,000 schools in Ukraine will participate in a “lessons of the Holocaust Day”.
‘’The key word underpinning all of our activities is education. It is only through education that the tragic disasters of the past can never be repeated,” said Siwiec.
Marek Rutka, a member of the Sejm, the Polish parliament, and chairman of the parliamentary group for the commemoration of the crimes at Babyn Yar and for a Europe free from genocide and hatred, explained that members of his political party  regularly visit the sites of the Shoah executions. ‘’They see heartfelt tragedies lead to politically literate conclusions about the need to talk about the Shoah on a European scale. There is no genocide without the tolerance of neighboring countries. These words can be taken as a motto for the whole debate.’’
Anton Schneerson, who contributed this article for European Jewish Press,  is a Ukrainian Jew living in Germany. The Jewish community of his hometown, Dnipro, managed to build one of the world’s most prominent Holocaust museum that deeply covers the Babyn Yar tragedy.
 
https://ejpress.org/80-years-after-babyn-yar-massacre-tools-to-keep-the-memory-alive-learn-the-lessons/

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Bukovina Governor Made a Surprise Announcement: Historic Nationalized 'Jewish House' to be Returned to Community

A series of historic events commemorating ‘Eighty Years of Tragedy’ and in memory of the Holocaust victims of the Bukovina region, took place last week in the ‘Jewish Shtetel’ of Chernivtsi, Ukraine. Hundreds of dignitaries, public figures, guests, and members of the Jewish community attended the events. During the events, the regional governor made a surprise dramatic announcement: the ‘Jewish House’ nationalized during the Communist regime will be returned to the community and serve as a warm home for education and enrichment programs.
Under the auspices of the Jewish community of Chernivtsi, led by Chief Rabbi Menachem Mendel Glitzenstein and the head of the community, Mr. Leonid Milman, and with the assistance of local government bodies and other Jewish organizations, six memorial events were held on Tuesday and Wednesday (July 6-7). These events took place in memory of those murdered in the Holocaust and to commemorate the tragic historical events that began eighty years ago and led to their murder.
The climax, during which the region’s governor surprised the participants with the historic declaration, took place during a memorial meeting on the corner of Bryanska and Pizkulturna streets, where the Maccabi stadium was located and from where thousands of Chernivtsi Jews were deported in 1941 to their deaths in the ghettos and in the camps of Transnistria. A commemorative plaque was unveiled and inspiring speeches were delivered by the Israeli and German ambassadors to Ukraine and by the regional governor Mr. Sergei Osachuk. During his speech, Mr. Osachuk announced that the famous Jewish building called the “Jewish House” would be returned to the local community and will serve as an educational and cultural center benefiting community members and tourists from across the globe.
Following the governor’s announcement, during an official meeting with the Israeli ambassador to Ukraine that took place between the events, the ambassador Mr. Joel Lyon asked the Governor to authorize the return of the magnificent ‘Temple’ building to the community. In response, the governor promised “to do everything possible to return it soon.”
Additional events included a memorial service in the square from which thousands of Jews were taken – exactly 80 years ago – to the mass graves; reciting of the Yizkor prayer in the ‘Valley of Killing’ near the town of Baila, led by the city’s Rabbi and Israeli ambassador to Ukraine, Mr. Joel Lyon; a historical exhibition curated by the local Jewish Museum under the direction of Mr. Nikolai Kushnir; an Intellectual Forum for the History of the Bukovina Holocaust, with the participation of rabbis, politicians, experts and journalists, and a special film festival focused on the memory of the Bukovina Holocaust. Many of these events took place at the premises of the Jewish House.
“These events have an additional purpose,” explains the Chief Rabbi and Chabad emissary to Chernivtsi, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Glitzenstein. “Beyond commemorating the memory of the Holocaust victims and events, we must boldly look at the spread of anti-Semitism in the world and do everything we can to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again. We must celebrate our Judaism with pride and without fear, spread light, and make the darkness disappear. The might of the events that have just been commemorated in the city, with the participation of government representatives and guests from across the world, prove that this is possible and in our hands.”
Tens of thousands of Jews from Chernivtsi and the Bukovina region are scattered around the world. Many of them are eager for information about their roots and relatives who lived in the city. The Jewish community has set up a commemorative project that helps them in a variety of ways to commemorate their loved ones and discover information about them. You can contact the community at the following email: ‏‪jewishczernowitz@gmail.com

A new memorial tombstone on a mass grave of Jews in the City of Sadigora, Ukraine

The Rabbinical Center of Europe (RCE) has unveiled yesterday morning a memorial tombstone on a mass grave of  the Jewish community of the City of Sadigora in Ukraine, that were slaughtered in 1941 by gangs of Ukrainians and Romanians that were granted “24 hours to do what they wanted with the Jews” by the Russian Command
“We played together – all of the children and suddenly our Jewish friends began to disappear”
RCE General Director, Rabbi Arye Goldberg:
“We are in the midst of an extensive operation to detect and establish tombstones on other mass graves of Jews who were slaughtered in Ukraine”
Israels ambassador to Ukraine, Joel Leon:
I call upon the new President of the Ukraine and Members of the Rada (parliament of Ukrain to adopt the Anti-Semitic definitions of the IHRA
Thursday, July 25, 2019, Ukraine, The Jews of Sagura in southern Ukraine, near the border with Romania and Moldova, thought that the Russian army’s victory over the German Nazi army during the fighting in the region in July 1941,  was the end of the war, and the end of the attacks on them by the Romanian Army who controlled the area and cooperated with the Nazis.
However, the Russian command allowed local Ukrainian and Romanian gangs a “24-hour window to do with the Jews as they will”. The relief sensations of the Jewish community of the region became a murderous nightmare: “We played together – all of the children and suddenly our Jewish friends began to disappear one by one” said this morning in a trembling voice, an elderly Ukrainian woman who was present at the time of the acts during the unveiling ceremony of the tombstone established by the  Rabbinical Center of Europe over the mass grave in which , about 1,200 Jewish children women and men were murdered and burried – some of them when they were still alive.
The mass grave and the hidden testimonies were found in part by Rabbi Mendi Glitzinstein of the nearby city of Chernivtsi who harnessed the RCE in order to establish a headstone on the mass grave. The unveiling ceremony that took place this morning, saw the distinguished presence of the district’s Governor, Eiom Vasilovitz, , Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine, Joel Leon, RCE General Director, Rabbi Arye Goldberg, Chief Rabbi of the nearby Jewish Community of Jetimore and Western Ukraine, Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm, members of the small Jewish community who survived  the massacre and Ukrainian neighbors, some of whom testified how they could feel the “earth burning underneath their feet” even days after the terrible massacre took place.
RCE General Director, Rabbi Arye Goldberg, said during the ceremony that the Rabbinical Center of Europe,  and its over  700 rabbi Members across the continent,  took this very important mission upon itself  and is now in the midst of an extensive operation of  locating and establishing tombstones on other Jewish mass Graves in the Ukraine. “We collect evidence and testimonies as much as possible from elderly Jews and Ukrainians who still remember. We than locate the mass graves and only after a team of experts confirms the findings, we establish tombstones for the memory of the victims.”
RCE and EJA Chairman, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, made it clear that the special activity for locating and establishing tombstones on the tombs of the victims was held in parallel with the effort to further and renew Jewish life throughout the Ukraine, as well as the restoration of synagogues and mikvehs.
Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine, Joel Leon who carried the Kaddish prayer in the ceremony, thanked the RCE for the initiative and its implementation in the field, and said that the embassy was conducting a special program for training Ukrainian teachers on how to teach the  lessons of the Holocaust in schools throughout the country. I call upon the new President of the Ukraine and Members of the Rada (parliament of Ukrain to adopt the Anti-Semitic definitions of the IHRA
 

 

Fussballclub Chelsea mit Preis gegen Antisemitismus geehrt

Der Londoner Fussballverein Chelsea FC ist mit dem diesjährigen King David Award gegen Antisemitismus ausgezeichnet worden. Der Club erhielt den Preis bereits am Dienstagabend im Vorfeld des Champions League Spiels gegen Juventus Turin im Londoner Stadion Stamford Bridge, wie die European Jewish Association (EJA) am Mittwoch mitteilte.
Massgeblich für die Auszeichnung war demnach die Kampagne „Nein zu Antisemitismus“, mit der der Verein seit 2018 für ein besseres Bewusstsein für Antisemitismus bei Spielern, Mitarbeitern und Fans beitrage. Das beinhalte auch die Zusammenarbeit mit internationalen und nationalen jüdischen Organisationen. Die Initiative geht auf den Clubeigentümer, den russisch-jüdischen Oligarchen Roman Abramowitsch, zurück.
Oberrabbiner Benjamin Jacobs, Oberrabbiner in den Niederlanden und Vorsitzender des Ausschusses zur Bekämpfung des Antisemitismus bei der European Jewish Association, sagte: „Das Chelsea-Modell sollte überall nachgeahmt werden. Wir wollen Ihnen Danke sagen. König David ist ein jüdischer Held. Chelsea ist jetzt ein Held für die jüdische Gemeinschaft. Wir sind stolz und erfreut, den König-David-Preis für das Jahr 2021 an den Fussballverein Chelsea zu verleihen, und wir danken Ihnen von ganzem Herzen für alles, was Sie getan haben.“
Die schlimmsten Beispiele antisemitischer Hetze fänden sich nicht selten in Fussballstadien, erklärte der EJA-Vorsitzende, Rabbi Menachem Margolin. Dagegen gehe Chelsea anders als viele andere jedoch aktiv vor. „Es ist wirklich beeindruckend, nicht nur die grosse Mühe zu sehen, die der Verein hier investiert, sondern auch den aufrichtigen Einsatz dafür, zuzuhören, zu handeln und so einen Unterschied zu machen“, so Margolin. Chelsea sei damit ein Vorbild „nicht nur für andere Fussballclubs, sondern für alle“.
https://www.audiatur-online.ch/2021/11/24/fussballclub-chelsea-mit-preis-gegen-antisemitismus-geehrt/

Europe: Synagogues sold for next to nothing

In Eastern Europe, historic synagogues are sold for the price of a used car.

On a visit to the city of Slonim in Belarus, Ilona Reeves fell in love with a 380-year-old dilapidated building that used to house one of the area’s largest and oldest synagogues.
Reeves, a 40-year-old author who lives in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, is a Christian, like virtually everyone who lives in the country. And the synagogue hadn’t been operational since before the Holocaust, when three quarters of Slonim residents were Jewish. Virtually all were murdered by the Nazis.
Still, Reeves looked at the structure, which had fallen into disrepair after years of use as shops, and saw something she wanted to save.
On a visit to the city of Slonim in Belarus, Ilona Reeves fell in love with a 380-year-old dilapidated building that used to house one of the area’s largest and oldest synagogues.
Reeves, a 40-year-old author who lives in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, is a Christian, like virtually everyone who lives in the country. And the synagogue hadn’t been operational since before the Holocaust, when three quarters of Slonim residents were Jewish. Virtually all were murdered by the Nazis.
Still, Reeves looked at the structure, which had fallen into disrepair after years of use as shops, and saw something she wanted to save.

“Standing outside the Great Synagogue of Slonim, I felt how small I am, we all are, in the face of such architectural monuments and traditions they represent,” she said.
With money that she’d freed up by selling her apartment in Minsk — partly to buy the synagogue — Reeves bought the synagogue in December for about $10,000 from the Slonim municipality on the promise that she restore it. She was the sole bidder.
The Slonim synagogue is just one of a number of similar structures to hit the market across Eastern Europe in recent years, and Reeves is among a small group of people who have committed to their upkeep.
“Buildings, including old buildings, that used to be synagogues appear on the market pretty regularly in Eastern Europe, and for relatively affordable prices,” said Michael Mail, founder of the UK-based Foundation for Jewish Heritage, which helps restore historic Jewish structures across Europe.
“But there’s often a catch, which is that restoration is complicated and costly,” Mail added.
Reeves knows that firsthand. She is now working on raising $2 million for the restoration project, which she hopes will take a decade but some professionals have told her might go on for 25 years.
The city of Vitebsk, located about 130 miles farther northeast of Minsk, recently offered essentially for free the hollowed remains of the Great Lubavitch Synagogue — where the family of the painter Marc Chagall used to pray — to anyone willing to restore it.
In 2016, a coffee shop called Synagoga Café opened in the old synagogue of Trnava, Slovakia. A non-Jewish contractor, Si­mon Ste­funko, bought the crumbling building some years earlier, renovated it according to the city’s strict preservation requirements and reopened it as an upscale hangout.
Financially, creating Synagoga Café didn’t make any sense, Stefunko said. The renovations cost millions of dollars that the coffee shop didn’t begin to mitigate even before it was shuttered last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. But he did it anyway “so something would remain from the Jewish community here,” Stefunko said. “I think it’s beautiful.”
The offloading of restoration costs represents the latest strategy for managing a glut of historical Jewish structures that have fallen into disrepair since most of Europe’s Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.
Before the genocide, Europe had an estimated 17,000 synagogues. Only about 3,300 of the structures remain standing today. Among those, only 776, or 23%, are being used as synagogues, according to the Foundation for Jewish Heritage.
Most of the surviving synagogues are located in Eastern Europe, where most of the structures that remained standing were nationalized following World War II by communist authorities who were anti-religious and often anti-Semitic.
Decimated by the Holocaust and the wave of emigration that followed the fall of communism, Jewish communities in places like Slonim and Vitebsk had virtually disappeared, leaving their former institutions in government hands.
In Belarus, which has a dictatorship with no laws for restitution of confiscated Jewish property, many of these structures were listed for protection by local authorities that lack the resources to restore them.
Making structural changes to buildings that are listed for protection is difficult and often illegal, requiring special permission from the state or municipality. The protected status often brings down the market price of the buildings because developers have no way of turning a profit by purchasing them.
But many buildings that had housed historical synagogues in Eastern Europe are not listed, meaning once they are sold to private owners they can be altered and even demolished.
The former Great Synagogue in the small town of Ostrino, in western Belarus, is on sale in an auction where the minimum bid is about $40. The new owner will face some requirements to preserve it, but may use parts as a warehouse or residential unit.
And in 2019, a 19th-century building that once was a synagogue in the village of Porazava, near Slonim, was sold for $6,000 to be used as a warehouse.
Similar situations occur also in Western Europe. In 2018, a 200-year-old synagogue in the city of Deventer, in the eastern Netherlands, became a restaurant after its upkeep became unaffordable to the local community, which includes a handful Jews.
Local governments in Eastern Europe have given back many properties that communist regimes had confiscated from Christian and Jewish faith communities.
Christian communities have been able to reclaim, restore or trade up many of the structures returned to them, sometimes with funding from the Vatican and the Orthodox Church.
Similar movement has also happened with some properties given back to local Jews, though with far less deep pockets of support.
In 2002, the municipality of Babruisk in eastern Belarus handed back to the local Jewish community a former synagogue that had been used as an army warehouse and later a tailor shop. The building, the only one of the city’s 42 synagogues still standing, was restored and inaugurated as a synagogue thanks to the fundraising efforts of an energetic local rabbi, Shaul Hababo.
In Moldova, Rabbi Shimshon Izakson is hoping to pull off a similar transformation at the former Rabbi Yehuda Ţirilson yeshiva and synagogue compound — a massive complex in downtown Chisinau that is so dilapidated that only the external walls remain.
But other times, Jewish communities that inherited historic former synagogues stolen from them when they were much larger were not able or willing to preserve them to the satisfaction of their own members.
Earlier this month, a massive chunk of the roof of the 18th-century Great Synagogue of Brody in western Ukraine collapsed. Another part of the building, which is government-owned and listed as a monument for preservation, imploded in 2006. Severely damaged in World War II by German troops who tried to blow it up, what remains of the synagogue is held up by structural scaffolding. No Jews live today in Brody, which used to have thousands of Jewish residents.
The Jewish community of Satu Mare in northern Romania consists of about 100 members. Following restitution negotiations in the 1990s, it owns an impressive 129 cemeteries and four synagogues, which are falling into disrepair because the community cannot afford to maintain them.
“In truth, this building is a drain on our resources, as are the hundreds of graves we need to preserve and fence,” Paul Decsei, the community’s pointman for managing the assets, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2017 from inside the city’s main synagogue, the Decebal Street Synagogue, an imposing but crumbling 19th-century structure. “But on the other hand, we can’t walk away from any of it. It’s our heritage and we have a responsibility toward it.”
That has also been the case with the Chevra Tehilim prayer house in Krakow, Poland. In 2016, the community-owned structure, which features culturally significant decorations on its walls, was leased by the Jewish Community of Krakow and reopened as a trendy nightclub called Hevre, despite protests by some community members who said it ruined the structure.
Reeves, who bought the building in Slonim before she had even seen its interior, cited its beauty as her reason to go ahead and make the purchase. She envisions a cultural or community space where Judaism would have a prominent place.
As a practicing churchgoer who grew up during communism, Reeves’ decision was rooted in her religious sentiment.
“I’ve always had a dream to build a church. Even a small, wooden one,” Reeves, a mother of one son, told JTA. “With the Slonim synagogue project, it feels like I’m halfway there. Or perhaps I’ve already met the goal.”

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