President Reuven Rivlin on Monday morning met at his residence with the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Volodymyr Groysman, who is on an official visit to Israel, accompanied by a delegation of government ministers who participate in a wider set of G2G meetings with their Israeli counterparts.
Between 1941 and 1945, an estimated 950,000 Jewish civilians were killed as part of Nazi extermination policies, with widespread collaboration from the Ukrainian population.
According to German historian Dieter Pohl, around 100,000 Ukrainian citizens joined police units that provided key assistance to the Nazis. Many others staffed the local bureaucracies or lent a helping hand during mass shootings of Jews. Ukrainians, such as the infamous Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka, were also among the guards who manned the Nazi death camps.”
“It is a real pleasure and honor to host you here in Jerusalem the capital city of Israel,” President Rivlin, who visited the Ukraine last year, told his guest. “I really believe that in order to bring a new era of understanding between our two peoples, we have to recognize the past. We appreciate very much what you are doing against hatred, against, fascism, and against anti-Semitism.”
According to The Simon Wiesenthal Center, “Ukraine has, to the best of our knowledge, never conducted a single investigation of a local Nazi war criminal, let alone prosecuted a Holocaust perpetrator.”
Prime Minster Groysman thanked the President and said, “We have just returned from a visit to Yad Vashem, it was a tragic page in history and is directly related to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, and we are proud to have had 2,500 ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ who represented Ukraine, it was a really tragedy, the murder of six million Jews just for being Jews, and this horrible figure includes 1.5 million children.”
The PM noted he had been particularly moved by his visit to the Children’s Memorial.
In 1941, after the Jewish adult population of Bila Tserkva, one of the largest cities in central Ukraine, had been killed, several Ukrainian local functionaries complained that some 90 Jewish children were left behind in an abandoned building, and needed to be executed. In a rare show of human emotions, two German army chaplains begged General Walther von Reichenau, commander of the 6th Army of Nazi Germany, to spare the children. Even Wehrmacht soldiers expressed revulsion at having to murder children.
Seeking a quick end to this episode, General von Reichenau rebuked his underlings and turned to the local Ukrainian recruits to do the job. One SS man who witnessed the murders on August 21, 1941, described them as follows:
“I went to the woods alone. The Wehrmacht had already dug a grave. The children were brought along in a tractor. I had nothing to do with this technical procedure. The Ukrainians were standing around trembling. The children were taken down from the tractor. They were lined up along the top of the grave and shot so that they fell into it. The Ukrainians did not aim at any particular part of the body. They fell into the grave. The wailing was indescribable. I shall never forget the scene throughout my life. I find it very hard to bear. I particularly remember a small fair-haired girl who took me by the hand. She too was shot later … The grave was near some woods. It was not near the rifle-range. The execution must have taken place in the afternoon at about 3:30 or 4:00. […] Many children were hit four or five times before they died.”
Prime Minster Groysman continued, “Mr. President, we appreciate your visit to Ukraine to mark the anniversary of the Babi Yar tragedy. The site was used to murder Jews and also people of Ukrainian and Roma ethnicity and other ethnicities because fascism and Nazism didn’t spare any ethnic group.” He added, “Today humanity has other challenges facing it, and Ukraine highly values human rights and human life and we have to fight for peace, we have to stand untied to protect our democratic values and to protect global peace.”
President Rivlin added, “When we say as Jews ‘never again,’ we are not preaching to our people, we learned the lesson, we know what we have to do, we know that the security, and the burden of security.” He continued, “When we are talking about what happened, we have to teach all the people in order that it will not happen again. Fascism is a phenomenon, Nazism is a phenomenon, and it was all over Europe, there were a lot of people who thought like the Nazis about the Jews, and every one of us has to learn the lesson for their own people. No one can ignore the facts of history.”
The two went on to hold an extended discussion about the developments in the region, and about ways to further strengthen the ties between Israel and Ukraine.