BERLIN (JTA) — A project to save Holocaust-era mass graves from oblivion in Eastern Europe has received about $400,000 from the German Foreign Ministry.
Thousands of sites of mass shootings in fields and forests across the region have been neglected, and the stories of what happened there nearly forgotten, said Andrew Baker, director of international Jewish affairs for the American Jewish Committee, on Jan. 21 in Berlin in marking the first anniversary of the project.
The project is coordinated by the AJC, the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the German War Graves Commission.
The stories must be preserved and told to the next generation, the sites must be marked and the record must be corrected where Soviet ideology erased the fact that victims were Jews, Baker said.
The funds will enable further documentation of sites and collection of testimonies. Preservation work will require further funds, he added.
A team coordinated by the AJC’s Berlin office, under the direction of Deidre Berger, surveyed several sites in 2010. Among them was Kysylyn, where about 500 Jews were shot to death in a field 68 years ago.
The project was inspired by the work of the French Catholic Priest Patrick Desbois, who since 2001 has visited sites of mass shootings of Jews in Ukraine and collected eyewitness testimonies.
Few people are left who could point the way to such sites, William Mengebier of Yahad-in-Unum, Desbois’ Paris-based organization, said during the news conference in Berlin on Jan 21. He described interviews with elderly Ukrainians who may not recall dates of killings, but who offer to take researchers to the sites themselves.
Others participating on the missions include Rabbi Joe Shik of the London-based Conference of European Rabbis, and its cemetery project, Lo Tishkach; the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe; and the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies.
More than 1 million Jews were murdered by mass killing units during World War II. In all, about 6 million Jews were killed by shootings, gassings in death camps and through slave labor.