The Jewish people’s response is demonstrated by “standing here today, wearing a pin with a blue, not a yellow, Star of David and representing the State of Israel,” said Ambassador to Ukraine Joel Leon.
By Jonathan Benedek
For the first time in its history, the Ukrainian parliament, referred to locally as “Verkhovna Rada,” on Thursday marked both International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The event was organized by Kiev’s Rabbi Jonathan Markovich, Israel’s Honorary Consul in Ukraine, Oleg Vyshniakov and Chairman of the Ukraine-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Association, Member of Parliament Alexander Konitsky.
The program was held against the backdrop of a minor spat between Jerusalem and Kiev concerning marches that were held throughout Ukraine in the beginning of the month marking the 111th birthday of the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). In light of the OUN’s complicity in the murder of thousands of Ukrainian Jews by Nazi Germany, the Israeli Foreign Ministry released a statement criticizing the “glorification of anti-Semites and murderers of Jews.”
‘I Am Proud to Stand Here Today’
During his address, Rabbi Markovich spoke of his grandfather, after whom he is named and who was murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust.
“I would like to tell you all about the Austreicher family that lived in Ukraine during the second World War, The family’s father was Rabbi Jonathan Benjamin and his wife was Feiga Esther. The murderers brought the family into a room, along with their three granddaughters, and burned them. I am proud to stand here today and to affirm that I, Jonathan carry on the name of my great-grandfather who was burned in this land just because he was a Jew!”
Rabbi Markovich concluded by reciting a memorial prayer for all the souls of the Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.
Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine, Joel Leon, referenced the extent of Nazi Germany’s Holocaust of Ukrainian Jewry. “Of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, 1.5 million of them including men, women, children and babies, were murdered here, in the territory of Ukraine,” he said.
Leon added that members of his own family, including his great-grandfather, were also murdered. He said the Jewish people’s response to such atrocities is demonstrated by “standing here today, wearing a pin with a blue, not a yellow, Star of David and representing the State of Israel.”
Leon also took the opportunity to call upon the Ukrainian government to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes both “rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism.” While acknowledging that the number of anti-Semitic acts perpetrated in Ukraine is in decline, Leon stressed that the same cannot be said about overall anti-Semitic sentiment and rhetoric in the country.
Daniel Gatmanzov, chairman of the Parliamentary Finance Committee who also serves as co-chairman of the Ukraine-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Association, said in his address: “The Holocaust was a disaster not only for the Jewish people but for the whole world and specifically the Ukrainian people.
‘We Must Respond Sharply’ to Anti-Semitism
“During World War II, my family lived in occupied Kiev. Several families lived in the building. One day, their Jewish neighbors were taken by the Nazis. They left my grandmother’s family alone because they were not Jewish, but they took their neighbors just because they were Jewish. They were generous and decent people, but they never came back. They remained in Babi Yar (a ravine in Kiev where Nazis murdered tens of thousands of Jews).
“I see it as a personal tragedy, and if someone does not see it as a personal tragedy, something is very wrong with that individual,” he said. “Therefore, in our remembrance of the catastrophe that occurred on this date in our country, we must respond sharply, quickly and decisively to any expression of anti-Semitism.”
The event was also attended by Chairman of the Assembly of Nationalities of Ukraine, Rovshan Tagiyev; members of the parliament’s Budget Committee, Anatoly Zhabort and Alexander Trukhin; leader of Nativ in Ukraine and Moldova, Felix Gurevich, Holocaust survivors and other MPs. It concluded with the lighting of candles in memory of those who perished and by the recitation of the Kaddish memorial prayer.