September 17, 2007

Ukrainians Recall Memories of the Holocaust

From NY Sun:

From the porch of her mud hut, Vera Filonok saw tens of thousands of Jews shot, thrown in a ravine, and set on fire. Many were still alive, and they writhed in the flames "like flies and worms."

The memories of what she saw in 1941 have seared her soul for six decades, but until recently, she had talked about it with no one except neighbors in her remote Ukrainian village. Then a soft-spoken French priest came to town.

Father Patrick Desbois and his small team of investigators have spent six years canvassing the towns and villages of Ukraine to patiently hear elderly people tell of what they saw during those terrible years when they were young. He says his team has pinpointed more than 600 mass execution sites, about 70% of them previously unknown. It has surveyed about a third of Ukraine, he says, and estimates there are at least 2,500 such sites throughout the Texas-sized country.

The work of Father Desbois and his Yahad-In Unum group is adding important new information to the history of the Holocaust — a period exhaustively studied in some countries but still veiled in much of the former Soviet Union. With the Soviet collapse, the declassification of Soviet war archives, and the general opening up of this country of 47 million, it has now become possible to speak to the witnesses.
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