Activists of the Svoboda (Freedom) Ukrainian nationalist party hold torches as they take part in a rally to mark the 108th birth anniversary of Stepan Bandera.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has called on the Ukrainian government to take legal action against marchers who yelled antisemitic slogans, in an event held on New Year’s Day to mark the birthday of Ukrainian Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, whose followers murdered thousands of Jews at the beginning of the Holocaust.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Hennadii Nadolenko by the Center’s director for Eastern European affairs, Holocaust historian and Nazi-hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff urged legal action against those demonstrators who called for the Jews’ expulsion and noted the participation of Bandera’s followers in Holocaust crimes.
“On New Year’s Day, in the center of Kiev, thousands marched to mark the birthday of Ukrainian nationalist leader Stefan Bandera, whose followers actively participated in the mass murder of Jews during the initial months following the Nazi invasion of Ukraine,” he wrote.
“Even worse, according to media reports, some of the marchers shouted the notorious antisemitic slogan ‘Juden raus’ (Jews out!) in German, which clearly constitutes incitement to antisemitic violence. I urge you to convey our sense of pain and outrage to the Ukrainian government and encourage them to take immediate legal action against those responsible for this antisemitic behavior,” the letter stated.
Zuroff told The Jerusalem Post
on Thursday that he had yet to receive a response from Nadolenko, which he expected might be delayed due to the upcoming festive period in Ukraine.
Thousands attended the event in the center of the Ukrainian capital on Sunday, holding up Bandera’s portrait, while an unidentified person shouted “Juden raus” on a loudspeaker, prompting many participants to repeat it, a video published by the Federal News Agency showed.
Bandera’s movement included an insurgent army that fought alongside Nazi soldiers during part of World War II. Supporters claim they sided with the Nazis against the Soviet army, believing that Adolf Hitler would grant Ukraine independence. Bandera was assassinated in 1959 by Russia’s KGB in West Germany.
Oleksandr Feldman, a Ukrainian Jewish lawmaker and president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, also called on authorities to investigate the march and prosecute those responsible for the hateful slogans.
“I still can’t get over hearing it at the rally in honor of Stepan Bandera’s birthday,” Feldman wrote in an emotional post on Facebook Tuesday. “I admit, I’m choking up with tears. I love Ukraine, love the Ukrainians.”
Adding that the chants came from a “gang of a few idiots who don’t represent anyone,” he nonetheless wrote: “I can’t ignore it when I, a man who worked so much for my country and city, created the hundreds and thousands of jobs, am being screamed at by some bastards to leave my homeland.”
Feldman also accused the Svoboda party, a far Right movement whose leaders and followers often have engaged in antisemitic hate speech, of being responsible for what he termed “a provocation” during the march.
Bandera is being celebrated across Ukraine as a national hero. In July he had a street named after him, also in Kiev, despite protests from the Jewish community.
Several other Ukrainian nationalists with ties to antisemitic acts and policies before and during the Holocaust have been the subject of veneration in Ukraine in recent years, especially after the ousting in 2014 of President Viktor Yanukovych, in a bloody revolution over his alleged corruption and ties to Russia.