A museum that will be committed to justice

The task of locating the sites of Holocaust mass graves in the Ukraine is both vital and urgent

By Oleksandr Feldman, October 14, 2010

If you make your way beyond the outskirts of Kiev, deep into the forests of the neighbouring village of Radomyshl, you will come across an unmarked clearing amid the lush, green surroundings. But this bare patch of ground, like hundreds of other sites across the Ukrainian landscape, conceals a horrific and generally untold story.

Beneath the grass and the lilies growing wildly lie the bodies of hundreds if not thousands of Jewish victims, summarily murdered during a brief span of days in the early part of 1942. The massacre was carried out by Nazi killing squads and local, paramilitary collaborators. All too often, the inhabitants of nearby villages joined in the killing spree.

Such ground contains the stories of some remarkable families, who exemplified centuries of Jewish tradition and rich, Eastern-European, Jewish culture. Families whose members' lives were brutally ended leaving them no opportunity of saying goodbye. The Nazis assumed that their Jewish victims would be quickly forgotten as the unmarked killing fields faded into the countryside. It seems they were right.

Now, decades later, even as historians desperately try to document how many souls were lost to the "Final Solution", if these clearings in the Ukrainian forests remain unnoticed, the lives that ended there will vanish as if they had not existed.

It is critical for humanity at large that every one of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis should be remembered to ensure that such savage crimes are never repeated. It is incumbent upon us in the Jewish community, who understand the true dangers of hate-filled and genocidal regimes, to do everything in our power to make sure that every victim of the Holocaust is properly remembered.

It is this obligation that drives the initiative to create a Ukrainian Jewish museum, a place where visitors can learn about the remarkable, centuries-old history of one of the Jewish world's proudest communities. No less importantly, the museum will embody a vital commitment to identify such anonymous sites of slaughter as that near Radomyshl.

The clock is against us. Regrettably, political factors have prevented action in the past. Now we must apply every available resource to the task as quickly as possible while there are still living survivors. They are crucial in helping to identify these mass graves. Some were able to remain alive as small children, fleeing into the forests and hiding behind trees as they witnessed their family members being slaughtered and thrown into the pits.

While the Nazis forced Jewish labourers to cover the bodies and disguise their unimaginable crimes, those who were able to escape would eventually be able to reveal the truth. We will, God willing, identify every unmarked, mass grave of Holocaust victims in the Ukraine - and ultimately everywhere in Europe. And we will do this in conjunction with the commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the Babi Yar Massacres outside Kiev that will take place in September 2011.

This effort requires the support of Jews the world over. To truly understand the breadth of the Holocaust and the massive toll it represented for humanity, all affected communities deserve to be remembered in a way that respects those who were lost and, most of all, ensures that their deaths - and their lives - will never be forgotten.

Oleksandr Feldman is a member of the Ukrainian parliament and chairman of the Ukrainian Jewish committee

Last updated: 11:38am, November 9 2010