(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Ukrainian Jews are outraged over the erection of a monument to the perpetrators of an eighteenth century massacre that killed thousands of their co-religionists.
Residents of the western city of Uman earlier this month unveiled the statue to Ivan Gonta and Maxim Zheleznyakov, who were among the leaders of a 1768 uprising against Poland, and carried out a pogrom, which, according to some estimates, killed between 20,000 and 30,000 Jews.
According to Russian-language media reports, the five-ton granite monument, topped with statues of Gonta and Zheleznyakov, was built with funds donated by local businesses, a fact that enraged Russian Jewish Congress president Yuri Kanner.
Much of the local economy in Uman rests upon the annual high-holiday pilgrimage to the grave of the hassidic master Rebbe Nachman, who requested that he be buried there to be close to the martyrs.
Calling it “a monument to thugs built by Jewish money,” Kanner asserted that building such a memorial near the mass grave of the victims was “not just blasphemy [but] savagery.”
This is a “glorification of those whose hands are stained with blood,” he wrote in his blog.
Eduard Dolinsky of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee blamed the far-right Svoboda party for the monument. Svoboda was accused of attacking a Jewish tent city in Uman immediately prior to Rosh Hashana this year, and there is frequent tension between Jewish pilgrims and Ukrainian locals.
He added that it appears that there is no great outcry among Ukrainians regarding the issue, citing the expected presence of Ukrainian Orthodox Patriarch Filaret at a ceremony blessing the monument on Saturday.
“No comment from the government or from civil society has been made about this. Everyone is calm and this is a shame,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
Jewish groups in the country have begun putting pressure on Filaret to make reference to the Jews killed in Uman during the ceremony, said Vyacheslav Likhachev of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.
“I think that in the common Ukrainian mass identity and mass historical self-identity, people even don’t know that there were Jewish victims of Gonta and Zheleznyakov,” he said, explaining that the pair had been placed in “a pantheon, a long historical list of persons from Bohdan Khmelnytsky to Stepan Bandera who struggled for Ukrainian independence.”
Both Khmelnytsky, who was a Ukrainian leader in the seventeenth century, and Bandera, who was a prominent nationalist leader in the twentieth, were responsible for mass killings of Jews and are considered seminal historical figures in contemporary Ukraine.