• Rita Schweibes (Ukraine) at one of the many mass graves in Ukraine. | Photo: Christians for Israel

Commemorating the Holocaust in Ukraine

Koen Carlier - 27 January 2023

27 January is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, also in Ukraine. But the commemoration is more sensitive now than in other years, because of the war.

At some places, there will be a small-scale commemoration, but because of the air alert that could go off at any moment (day or night), people will not want to take any risks.

Holocaust by bullets

The unknown to many but no less horrific chapter that took place during the Holocaust in Ukraine is gaining notoriety, thanks in part to various organizations, and the book Holocaust by bullets by French priest Patrick Desbois.

During the Holocaust, at least 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews were murdered by bullets. The more than two thausend Jewish mass graves are the sad witnesses to this. Babies and children were not even ‘worth’ a bullet and were buried alive.

Christians for Israel also helped to tell and make this chapter of the Holocaust known in Western Europe. This was done by organizing trips to Ukraine and placing monuments on Jewish mass graves (32 up till now). The most recent monument was unveiled in October 2021, on a field near the border with Moldova, in the presence of the local rabbi. It was just a few months before the war broke out.

During the Holocaust Remembrance Day in Nijkerk in January 2019, Holocaust survivor Rita Schweibes (pictured above) from the town of Tulchin told her story, a precious moment for her. Unfortunately, Rita has been ill and weak for quite some time now.

On the run

What people thought unthinkable for a long time sadly became a reality last year. Hundreds of Jewish elderly and Holocaust survivors fled the war. We could and can help them in a practical way.

During the long evacuation drives from the war zones in eastern and southern Ukraine, we asked: Why are you leaving now? This yielded a variety of answers, such as:

  • We always found a reason not to go, but now we can no longer postpone our return to Israel.
  • Now we can still go, but maybe not later, as we saw in Mariupol.
  • Our children and grandchildren begged us to come to Israel now, while we still can.

Several Holocaust survivors from cities such as Dnepr, Zaporohze, Kherson, Mariupol, Odessa, Kharkov and Sumy have been safe in Israel since 19 January.

Among them the nearly blind and nearly deaf Roman, who was born in 1934. As a 7-year-old boy, he fled with his 4-year-old brother, at the hand of his mother. The grandparents were left behind in a village somewhere between Dnepr and Krivog Rog. It will all work out, they thought. Until the moment all the Jews from the village were rounded up and shot at the edge of the village.

Roman’s little brother was already living in Israel and now Roman is following in his footsteps. He is going to live with his granddaughter in Sderot, near the Gaza Strip.

27 January

Today, our staff in Ukraine will make some visits to Holocaust survivors, but we will especially rejoice with those hundreds of Holocaust survivors who have fled the country and returned to Israel since the outbreak of the war.

Are they better off there? Just ask our team members Alina and Anemone, who are in Israel at the moment visiting dozens of them.

They get responses like: “That you helped bringing us to Israel from Ukraine under extremely difficult circumstances was already a miracle, but that you are also coming to visit us here is beyond our comprehension! Now that we are in Israel, we wonder why we didn’t come sooner.”

Ghost towns?

Will Cherson, Zaporohze, Dnepr, Kharkiv also become ghost towns like Mariupol? We do not know, nor do we want to think about it too much. When several Jewish leaders from all those places call us, we notice a big difference. A few months ago, they were still reasonably positive, but now, they have lost confidence.

The city of Kherson in the south of Ukraine is bombarded daily by Russian missiles.

The city of Kherson in the south of Ukraine is bombarded daily by Russian missiles. | Photo: Christians for Israel

What we do know, is that the Lord will not leave His children, young and old, in the diaspora. But He is also sending out a warning: ‘Flee from the land of the north, up Zion!’.

‘The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

Then He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.

Then He said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, My people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’”

Ezekiel 37:1-14

About the Author