Outcry as Ukrainian town plans to build real estate on Jewish mass grave

It’s estimated that 5,000 Jews were massacred at the site, as well as several Red Army prisoners of war and resistance fighters.

June 19, 2019 03:14
3 minute read.
Mass grave of Holocaust victims in the Ukraine.

Mass grave of Holocaust victims in the Ukraine.. (photo credit: MIKHAIL YEHUDANIN)


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Jewish groups “expressed outrage” on Tuesday after it was revealed that there are plans to sell and develop a mass grave of Jewish victims from the Holocaust into real estate housing in Poltava, eastern Ukraine.

The World Jewish Congress “expressed its outrage at the prospect of construction being carried out on a plot... containing the mass graves of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The graves, identified by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and the Ukrainian government, contain the remains of thousands of Jews and gentiles who were executed by the Nazis.”

Just prior to the Nazi invasion, several thousand of Poltava’s Jews managed to flee the town. But those who stayed were herded into a ghetto and later murdered in two operations by the Nazis in September and November 1941.

It is estimated that 5,000 Jews were massacred at the site, as well as several Red Army prisoners of war and resistance fighters. The town was once a buzzing hub of Ukrainian Jewry, and according to Yad Vashem, was home to 12,860 Jews prior to the outbreak of World War II.

Last week, Ambassador to the Ukraine Joel Lion wrote a letter to the mayor of Poltava, calling on him to halt the planned real estate development.

On Monday, Lion published the letter on Twitter.

“Mr. Mayor, in the name of those who cannot speak anymore, I’m calling upon your conscience to stop this historical injustice and leave ‘Pushkarivski Yar’ untouched,” he wrote. “It is a sacred ground where Jews and non-Jews were murdered.”

Lion explained that he is speaking “as a representative of the State of Israel, the state of the Jewish people, and as a son of Holocaust survivors,” and “on behalf of those who cannot speak anymore.

“[I] appeal to your conscience and to the members of your city council to stop this historical injustice,” he said, quoting from a passage in Genesis which says that “Our brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil.”

According to Ynet, there have been several attempted interventions by the local Jewish community and the Ukrainian Culture Ministry to stop the plan in its tracks, but to no avail.

A petition by members of the local community to the Poltava City Council has also been started in a bid to “stop the auction of these plots of land for construction.”

The town is no stranger to the desecration of Holocaust memorials and sites.

Last year on Hitler’s birthday, a Holocaust memorial dedicated to the town’s Jews was vandalized with graffiti, including “Heil Hitler,” and swastikas. The eyes of the “Grieving Mother” sculpture were also painted black, paint was smeared from the sculpture’s nose, and the inscription of the memorial was covered in black graffiti.

The words “Death to Jews” were also spray painted close to the memorial.

The “Grieving Mother” memorial has been victim to several acts of vandalism – most notably in July 2008, when it was daubed with graffiti that included Ukrainian nationalistic symbols, and antisemitic words and insignias.

WJC President Ronald Lauder slammed the mere prospect of construction on the site, saying that it “is deeply troubling.”

“It is critical in 2019, with rising nationalism and increasing attempts by some to whitewash history, that we work together to ensure that sites such as this one are preserved so they may serve as a reminder to the world of what can happen when hatred is permitted to thrive unchecked,” he said. “I am sure that, after further reflection, the Ukrainian government will act accordingly by honoring the memory of the victims and appropriately commemorate the atrocities that occurred on this hallowed ground.”

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