News that the mass grave of thousands of slain Jewish men, women and children was ransacked by Ukrainians in their lust after fabled riches, cannot but churn the stomachs of even those most inured to evidence of enduring Judeophobia. In one of his most memorable rebukes (2Kings 21, 19), the Prophet Elijah asked: “Have you murdered and also usurped?” Seven decades after the Holocaust this question is still painfully applicable to all too many in Europe, especially to the Nazis’ most avid collaborators.
These proliferated appallingly in areas with Ukrainian inhabitants. So it was in the vicinity of the then-Polish city of Lvov (which started out as the Austrian Lemberg and is now Lviv in Western Ukraine). Ukrainian accomplices there did much of the Nazis’ dirty work with undisguised relish.
Apparently, the evil spirits of those dark years haven’t yet abated.
Historically, Ukrainian anti-Semitism is legend for its crudity, ferocity and innateness. Ukrainians’ reputation for ongoing racism and ever-virulent intolerance is equally well-earned. Jew-revulsion never quite went out of fashion among broad segments of Ukraine’s population.
The latest grave-looting incident occurred on June 20 in Volodymyr-Volynsky, just north of the once heavily Jewish Lvov. No less than 18,000 Jews were shot in 1941 into open trenches at that location. Their neighbors, eagerly lending credence to any anti-Jewish slander, perpetuated the myth of Jewish lucre buried with Jewish corpses. This still fuels greed and Ukrainians keep digging for spoils among the frail skeletal remains, looking for gold teeth or for whatever jewels the doomed Jews may have supposedly hidden on their persons.
Volodymyr-Volynsky’s macabre treasure-hunt isn’t a one-off. It was already reported in 2010 and in 2011 and now again. Odds are that this also isn’t the only location for such ghastliness.
What aggravates the outrage, though, is the fact that when such predations are reported to the authorities, they consistently refuse to do anything about them, not even to put up memorial plaques or markers of any sort. The boundaries of the mass-graves still aren’t minimally delineated or fenced. This was true before the current conflict and continues under the new government.
Moreover, the areas of greatest ghoulishness aren’t in the east, which is plagued by clashes with pro-Russian forces, but in the west in what was once the very Jewish province of Galicia.
But not only there. Although in Ukraine’s west anti-Semitic manifestations are markedly less restrained, anti-Semitism is also endemic in the heart of the country. And everywhere, outpourings of abuse on the fringes of Ukrainian society are matched only by establishment’s antipathy. Unforgettable is the Kiev Municipality’s 2009 plan to erect a hotel precisely where the Babi Yar memorial is located. Nearly 34,000 Jews were machine-gunned there by the Nazis in 48 hours on Sept.29 and 30, 1941. Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s 1961 epic poem shamed the Soviets into erecting a monument at the site.
Kiev’s blueprint for that monument’s removal was only scrapped after loud protests which official Ukraine originally greeted with unabashed resentment. Yet the very fact that the desecration could have at all been considered – indeed obstinately insisted upon – signifies disdain.
There can be no excuse for such official callousness, not even at this time of turbulence for Ukraine. Indeed, if Ukrainians wish to impress the watching world with their credentials as members of civilized society, they ought to make the very negligible token gestures of safeguarding the final resting place of many thousands of tortured and executed Jews and they should forthwith bring to trial the morbid raiders who make even grave-robbery and body-snatching pale in comparison to their gruesome quest for imaginary wealth. This is something which Ukrainian patriots should be deeply ashamed of and not turn a blind eye to.
The anti-Semitism which was initially unfashionable in postwar Western Europe is burgeoning again in the shape of anti-Zionism, whereas in Ukraine it’s vulgar and in-your-face – as it was before the Soviets temporarily compressed the genie in their bottle.
Such phenomena should have been unthinkable subsequent to the Holocaust and today’s Europe should regard them as a badge of dishonor.
The primitivness and amorality of those people are beyond comprehension.
In my humble opinion, they should be ERASED from the face of the earth.
The only thing that ever surprises me on reading about the grave robbers in the Ukraine, as well as in so many other parts of Europe, is that people are still surprised by such acts of barbarism and wanton displays of insatiable blood thirsty avarice.
If one left a small piece of cheese on the floor of a country barn, would it be surprising to return in the middle of the night with a flashlight and find a hoard of rats fighting over that morsel.
Though people like to claim one cannot stereotype people into specific categories of behavior, I have never found that to be true. Indeed, one can definitely separate human beings into three specific general groups and the Holocaust provides a perfect example of this fact.
There was the first group who saw and clearly understood what was happening to the Jews and averted their eyes. “Hear no evil, See no evil”.
Then there were the sadistic barbarians, the cold blooded opportunists, who joined with enthusiastic glee in the slaughter, the pillaging, the raping and the inflicting of pain and endless death.
And then there were the individuals in the third and smallest group who placed their lives and that of their families at mortal risk, to try to fight the Nazi evil and its countless facilitators by resisting in every way possible at a time when to hide or even help a Jew meant an immediate death sentence.
The names of many such courageous human beings are displayed in the Garden of the Righteous Gentiles at Yad Vashem. Of course many of the names of such people are lost to history- more is the pity.
One may argue till the end of time that the above is a naïve simplification and that there are an infinite degrees of microscopic permutations to be observed and studied amidst all the many possible modes of human behavior in every conceivable situation.
But imagine for a moment that you, yourself, are a Jew who had just escaped from one of the Death Camps and arrived at the door of a small hut in the forest, hungry, thirsty and totally terrified.
There were really but three alternatives to be expected. The person who opened the door, might slam it in your face shouting: “go away before you get me killed also”.
Or that person might consider the typical generous reward if he turned you in to the local Authorities.
Or there was always that very slim chance of a Miracle in which you were welcomed inside, to hide in that house, be fed and then perhaps hidden in the cellar or in the barn or even in a deep hole dug into the ground and covered with wood and hay, where you might live for months at a time- or perhaps even years.
Yes- it is amazing what a human being will do to survive.
Has not the world, and in particular the Jew, always been forced to contend with human beings who fall into one of the three general groups discussed herein ?
My heart bleeds for all the Jews of the world still living in countries in Europe, vestiges of two thousand years of visceral Anti-Semitism, who for one reason or another, economic, emotional and/or a combination of the two, are unable to summon up the requisite physical and Spiritual strength to pack their bags, cut all ties to the past, and relocate to the State of Israel, where they could live in safety and breath free for the first time in their lives.
It is not at all surprising to me that the descendants of the Jew killers of the past still dig up and loot the graves of their past victims from long ago, in the hope of perhaps finding a skull with a single gold tooth still inside.
But what always surprises me and pains me to the depths of my Soul is that there are still Jews all around the world who have yet to “come home” to the place of their ancient origins- the place of the “Fathers”.
Far more Outreach must be done. The Jews of Europe have suffered enough, and more than enough, all through history and right up to the present day.
It is high time they finally came home.
I make no excuse for Ukrainians, but I wonder what roll Jewish communists had in the elimination of the Kulaks?
Mr. Zimbalist, I see your comments often and many of them make sense. This time however you aren’t only way off but you seem to have been taken in by the worse kind of anti-Semitic justification for anti-Semitism – the Ukrainian model.
I am surprised at you and deeply disappointed that anyone in the Free World would give credence to this heinous lie, repeat it and spread it. Hitler himself justified exterminating ALL JEWS because of the fact that some Jews were Communists. Moreover, the sins of the Bolsheviks and Stalin cannot be attributed even to all Jewish communists, never mind to all Jews – including the majority of Jews who were not communist but were persecuted by communism.
The notion that all Jews are liable for what Lenin, Stalin et al did is Hitlerian. And Hitler’s Ukrainian collaborators avidly espoused this line, as many Ukrainians do to this day!
According to the Ukrainian mainstream justification for their rabid anti-Semitism and Holocaust-collaboration, the Jews had it coming for the cooperative farm disaster pre-war. This isn’t just a lie. It is also blood libel which shed rivers of Jewish blood.
In the viciously anti-Semitic Ukraine it is unfortunately still de rigueur to equate (if not justify) WWII’s Jewish bloodletting with the Stalin-instigated 1932-33 Ukrainian famine. If you swallow this despicable blood libel, why not go the whole hog and argue that all of the murders of Jews in all corners of Europe were justified because Jews baked matzot with the blood of Christian tots; that the burning of Jews at the stake was justified because of Jews had poisoned the wells and spread the Black Death; and of course the persecution by the benevolent Catholic Church and the Crusaders’ carnages were justified because of the Jewish sin of deicide.
Think a little harder Zimbalist! You should be more careful before giving us the benefit of your ill-considered two cents’ worth.
Brutality in eastern Europe and the Ukraine is quite common; even passé. But you’re not going to get practices like grave robbing to stop, until and unless you can somehow get the Ukrainians to take responsibility for their role in the Holocaust. Example-look at what’s happening in neighboring Lithuania. Dr. Efraim Zuroff and Rabbi Dovid Katz have been trying, for years, to get the Lithuanians to own up to their hideous behavior towards Lithuania’s Jews, during the Holocaust. They’ve had a bit of limited success; but their efforts have been mostly in vain. Eastern Europe has a long history of atrocities, dating back to the days of Vlad the Impaler, and continuing through the Bosnian wars of the 1990’s. Not to make light of how Ukrainians and Lithuanians have treated the Jews; but in the medieval atmosphere of these dark places, grave robbing isn’t surprising.
One stark reason for this hideous, frenzied digging up and looting mass graves of murdered Jews is the shortage of living Jews in the Ukraine now for the perpetrators to kill and plunder.
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