Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Jewish mass grave uncovered in Ukrainre

from CNN.com

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- A mass grave believed to contain the remains of thousands of Jews killed by the Nazis has been found in southern Ukraine, a Jewish community representative says.

The grave was found by chance last month when workers were digging to lay gas pipelines in the village of Gvozdavka-1, near Odessa, Roman Shvartsman, a spokesman for the regional Jewish community, said Tuesday.

The Nazis established two ghettos during World War II near the village and brought Jews there from what is now the nearby nation of Moldova as well as Ukrainian regions including Odessa, Shvartsman said. In November 1941, they set up a concentration camp in the area and killed about 5,000 Jews there, he said.

"Several thousand Jews executed by the Nazis lie there," Shvartsman said.

Shvartsman said the Jewish community had known about the mass killing in the area, but had not known exactly where the bodies were left.

Yitzhak Arad, a Holocaust scholar and a former director of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, said he was not surprised by the discovery because the village was a known site of mass executions of Jews during the Holocaust. He said some 28,000 Jews were brought to the area from surrounding towns in November 1941, and put the death toll at 10,000, with 500 people dying every day.

Holocaust expert Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he did not recall Gvozdavka-1 specifically, but was not surprised by the reported finding.

"I'm not surprised that, even in these days, there are discoveries such as these. It underscores the enormous scope of the plans of annihilation of the Nazis and their collaborators in Eastern Europe," Zuroff said.

Hundreds of mass graves exist in Ukraine, likely with many yet to be uncovered, Zuroff said. "Ukraine was an enormous killing field, hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered," he said.

Anatoly Podolsky, director of the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies, said there are believed to be some 250-350 mass grave sites from the Nazi occupation, during which some 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews are believed to have been killed -- including those massacred near their homes and those deported to camps elsewhere.

Podolsky said most of the sites had been discovered, many since the 1991 Soviet collapse, but that there were still some left to find.

UPDATE (6/8/07):
The graves are currently unprotected and remains exposed to the elements.

KIEV, Ukraine (AP)- Jewish community leaders in southern Ukraine asked Thursday for control over the land where a mass grave believed to contain thousands of Holocaust victims was found.

The community asked local authorities to cede the land so the site could be commemorated and respected properly, said Avraam Volf, the leading rabbi for Odessa and southern Ukraine.

"People have been walking on this territory, cars passing it, cattle driven," Volf said in a statement. "We must do everything possible to prevent such blasphemy."

The mass grave was discovered by chance last month by workers digging gas pipelines in the village of Gvozdavka-1, northwest of Odessa, regional Jewish leaders said earlier this week.

Jewish leaders in Ukraine and Holocaust scholars said thousands of Jews were brought to the area in November 1941, and that as many as 10,000 were killed.

Promise of assistance
Village council leader Vera Kryzhanivska pledged to help the Jewish community, and said the council would discuss the land request next week.

"I can predict that the decision will be positive," she said.

The Jewish community said it planned to erect a fence around the site, rebury the victims and put up a monument. Experts from Europe and Israel are expected to come to the site next week to consider identification and reburial efforts.

"Not only the dead need this, the living need it most of all. All people regardless of nationality or belief need it," Volf said.

Jewish community members held a commemorative service at the site Thursday and met with local officials.

Roman Shvartsman, from Odessa, said three additional sites with remains had been found, and that residents had suggested there were likely two more.

"Anywhere you dig you find bones — teeth and craniums," Shvartsman said. "It was terrifying."

Kryzhanivska said part of the land was used for grazing and farming and part for keeping tractors and other machinery.

"We knew about this mass grave along the river. But we didn't know where exactly it was located," she said.

Ukraine's Jewish population was devastated during the Holocaust — a tragedy powerfully symbolized by Babi Yar, a ravine outside the capital of Kiev, where the Nazis slaughtered some 34,000 Jews over two days in September 1941.

About 240,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis in the Odessa region, which was occupied by the German-allied Romanians, according to Shvartsman. A mass grave with remains of about 3,500 Jews was found in the region last year.

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