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“Protecting Memory” – remembering the Holocaust in Ukraine

Liubar, 29 June 2019: Maia Bondarchuk, the only Jew living in the town, with a photo of her grandparents, who were murdered near Liubar.

Liubar, 29 June 2019: Maia Bondarchuk, the only Jew living in the town, with a photo of her grandparents, who were murdered near Liubar., © Anna Voitenko, Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

27.08.2019 - Article

Up to 1944 over one million Jews were murdered in mass shootings by the German occupying forces in what is now Ukraine. The Federal Foreign Office is promoting efforts to create memorial sites and address the past.

The mass shootings of Jews in the territory of the former Soviet Union remain a little known chapter in the genocide of European Jews. The systematic murdering began with the attack on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. In total, up to 1944, more than one million Jewish men, women and children were killed by firing squads and buried in mass graves. Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and residents of mental institutions also died in the mass shootings.

Making perpetrated crimes visible

There are an estimated 2000 sites of mass shootings in what is now Ukraine alone. After the war, many of the sites were forgotten. Hundreds are still unmarked, unprotected and neglected. It is only since 2010, through the “Protecting Memory” project launched by the American Jewish Committee, that five sites have been transformed into dignified memorials and the places where the crimes were committed made visible. At the same time, younger generations have been taught about what happened through an education programme for the region’s schools, fostering a culture of remembrance.

Continuing the work of remembrance

Since 2016, the international follow-up project “Protecting Memory”, which the Federal Foreign Office is supporting with around 1.9 million euros, has set itself the goal of preserving neglected and forgotten mass graves of Jews and Roma as dignified memorial and information sites. The project thus actively helps preserve the memory of the victims for the present and the future. The Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is working with its Ukrainian partners to preserve 15 memorial sites, including some for Roma victims.

Ensuring that the past is addressed

In the context of oral history projects, schoolchildren talk to eyewitnesses about the events.
In the context of oral history projects, schoolchildren talk to eyewitnesses about the events.© Anna Voitenko, Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

A key component of the project is researching and addressing the past. That applies to the efforts to locate the sites as well as to the work of remembrance and to raising awareness of the crimes. The scientists involved in the project are pioneers, for in many cases hardly any research findings exist with regard to the sites concerned. Yet comprehensive work to address the past is crucial to strengthening the work of remembrance in the long term. For this reason all the memorial sites feature memorial stones with information on the victims, perpetrators and background to the events.

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