Jewish groups push to find lost Holocaust mass graves
By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER
The Associated Press
Friday, January 21, 2011; 10:00 AM
BERLIN -- Jewish organizations launched a joint effort Friday to
identify, protect and memorialize thousands of forgotten Holocaust
mass graves across eastern Europe.
More than 2 million Jews in eastern Europe were rounded up by the
German military and shot, their bodies left in unmarked mass
graves, even before the Nazis began to organize mass killings at
the gas chambers in death camps like Auschwitz and Belzec.
"Entire communities were wiped out and those few who by some
miracle survived seldom returned," Rabbi Andrew Baker of the
American Jewish Committee told reporters in Berlin. Most locals
who witnessed the crimes are either dead or very old, he added.
"Only a short time is left to collect their testimonies, which are
often crucial in identifying the exact killing site," he said.
The committee along with Germany's Central Council of Jews and the
German War Graves Commission will coordinate work by groups in
Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Poland that are talking to witnesses,
identifying mass graves, marking and protecting them and
The German Foreign Ministry is donating euro300,000 ($404,000) to
the project, Baker said.
Several organizations have been working on the ground for the last
few years trying to identify the killing sites based on witness
accounts as well as German and Soviet historical documents.
Among them is Lo Tishkach, which has created a database of over
10,000 Holocaust mass graves and Jewish cemeteries across Ukraine.
Another organization, Yahad-In Unum, will conduct 15 research
trips in eastern Europe this year alone to identify further
The teams will be "driving up and down the back roads of small
villages in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Poland, knocking on doors
and asking the elderly ... to recount what they have seen during
the war," said William Mengebier of Yahad-In Unum.
Some 1.4 million of Soviet Ukraine's 2.4 million Jews were
executed, starved to death or died of disease during World War II.
Another 550,000 to 650,000 Soviet Jews were killed in Belarus and
up to 140,000 in Russia, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial
Museum. Most of the victims were women, children and the elderly.
The slaughter, which followed Germany's invasion of the Soviet
Union in June 1941, is sometimes called "Holocaust by Bullets." It
was the opening phase of what became the Nazis' Final Solution.
Last month, a group of researchers from the different
organizations traveled to five different killing sites in western
Ukraine that are in urgent need of protection, said Jan Fahlbusch
of the American Jewish Committee, who is in charge of coordinating
the joint project.
Among those sites was a mass grave in Rava-Ruska in western
Ukraine. Some 7,400 Jews lived there until they were forced into a
ghetto in August 1942 by the German army. In Dec. 1942, about
5,000 of them were shot and thrown into a mass grave in front of
the local Jewish cemetery.
The site is today covered by a swamp but, as part of the new
project, it will be sealed according to Jewish burial law and a
memorial will be erected to remember those who died there.
"It is important that the people who live there know what happened
in their home villages some 70 years ago," said Fahlbusch.
"There's a lot of ignorance among the local population and it is
important to raise awareness to the crimes of the past."