January 21st, 2010

Initiative to memorialize mass gravesites in Eastern Europe

Berlin – On January 20, one week before the Holocaust Remembrance Day, an initiative was launched to memorialize the sites of mass killings in Russia, Ukraine, and other Eastern European countries. In addition to the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and other international Jewish organisations, the initiative is supported by the Central Council of Jews in Germany. The goal is to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust by locating and protecting the largely forgotten grave sites. "I hope that the German government will play a leading role here," said AJC's Andrew Baker at the initiative's news conference. Stephan J. Kramer, Secretary General of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said that the German War Graves Commission could make an important contribution to the initiative. According to a report in the Berliner Tagesspiegel newspaper, the commission's President, Reinhard Führer, indicated that his organisation was willing to co-operate provided it was given funds and a mandate by the Foreign Ministry.

The initiative was prompted by the work of the French priest Patrick Desbois who has for years been interviewing witnesses and doing archival research in the former Soviet Union in order to document Nazi crimes committed in places other than the infamous mass killing sites in Germany and Poland. To date, his organisation Yahad – In Unum has identified approximately 400 sites of mass killings with numerous mass graves. Speaking in Berlin, Desbois said that the locals were often unaware of the existence of those sites and that usually only the oldest still knew about the graves. He stressed that time for conducting further research was running out. (21.01.2010)