Honoring Zakarpatia-Transkarpathia Jewry in Ben Shemen Forest.
(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
With several hundred people in attendance, KKL-JNF and the World Organization of Zakarpatia-Transkarpathia Jewry honored the memory of the 100,000 Jews from that region who were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust, at a moving dedication ceremony for a trail and plaza in the Ben Shemen Forest on Sept. 30, 2015.
“Today we stretch out our hands to the people of that wise community. Their story is part of the story of the Jewish people,” said KKL-JNF Israel Fundraising Director Michael Ben Abu. He acknowledged the especially large crowd who had come from all over Israel for this dediation ceremony. “We are proud to partner with the World Organization of Zakarpatia-Transkarpathia Jewry for this project.”
Among those present at the ceremony were the Mayors of Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Ono, Hungarian Ambassador to Israel Dr. Andor Nagy, Ukrainian Ambassador Hennadii Nadolenko, representatives of Yad Vashem and of the Museum of Hungarian Speaking Jews.
“It is very emotional for us to be here in this forest in Ben Shemen
, with the scenery which reminds us of the land which we are all connected to,” said second generation holocaust survivor and director of the World Organization of Zakarpatia-Transkarpathia Jewry Yitzhak Klein.
Located in the Carpathian Mountains, Zakarpatia experienced many changes between World War I and World War II. Currently part of Ukraine, Zakarpatia was under Czechoslovakian rule until its annexation by Hungary following the destruction of Czechoslovakia by fascist Germany in 1939. With the rise of Nazism, the fate of the 130,000 Jews, including religious laborers and craftsmen, Hassidim, Zionists and secularists, was in peril. In the 1940’s the majority of Jewish men were forced into Hungarian labor battalions. In 1941, 20,000 Jews were deported and shot in Kamentz-Podolsk.
In the ensuing years, Hungary established 17 ghettos from which 100,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz in 1944, where the majority perished. Following the war, some of the survivors made their way back to Transcarpathia -which had become part of the Soviet Union -while others moved to Israel and other Western countries. Most members of the community made Aliyah in the 1970’s and 1990’s. Today only a few hundred Jews remain in Transcarpathia.
“We, the second generation, decided to bring new life to the community and in 2001 we created our organization and are continuing with the traditions in memory of our loved ones who lived there for hundreds of years and who died in the concentration camps,” he said. “We in the organization see ourselves as witnesses and a bridge to these traditions. You need to tell about the communities’ traditions of music, food, crafts and pass on the heritage of the Jews of Zakarpathia.”
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Finally, when they decided to honor the memory of this community, it seemed most appropriate to do so together with KKL-JNF, he said. The site includes a large semi-circular stone bench for visitors, a memorial plaque and a sign with a description of the community and the names of 300 villages and the number of Jews who lived in them.
He thanked KKL-JNF for their management of the project as well as the Hungarian and Ukrainian ambassadors and the many community families for their help in completing the project.
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