Aims and Objectives
Since 2010 the main aim of our project has been to achieve the sustainable protection and dignified memorialisation of mass graves, combined with active historical and educational work. The international project “Protecting Memory” was inspired by the work of the French organisation Yahad — In Unie and launched in 2010 by the American Jewish Committee Berlin. By 2015, five memorial sites dedicated to murdered Jews had been established in western Ukraine. On 1 April 2016 the Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe took over the running of the project. Fifteen additional memorial sites to murdered Jews and Roma along with an exhibition in Berdychiv were established between 2016 and 2019, in close cooperation with local and international partners.
The German Federal Foreign Office has been funding the project since 2010, which has enabled us to extend the scope of our work and to provide sustainable protection for the memorial sites established.
With the launch of the project “Connecting Memory” in 2020, our work has entered a new phase. On the basis of the experience gained over the past few years, we intend to create a conceptional and institutional framework to consolidate the objectives of the “Protecting Memory” project and to find long-term solutions to protect and maintain the mass graves. We aim to support and establish links between local initiatives that are involved in protecting mass graves and in researching the local history of the Holocaust. At the request of the Foreign Office, the project is to be extended to include Belarus and parts of the Russian Federation in addition to Ukraine. The project’s main areas of activity are as follows:
Protecting the Mass Graves
Protecting the mass graves involves a number of stages. First, the exact location and boundaries of the graves have to be identified. Non-invasive methods are used in order to comply with Jewish religious law (Halacha), which requires that the final resting place of the dead remains undisturbed. Our aim is to find and establish efficient and cost-effective methods for the non-invasive investigation of further graves.
The mass graves are to be given extensive structural protection and turned into dignified memorial sites with accompanying information. The plots of the mass graves and the adjoining land also require comprehensive administrative protection. This involves transferring the plots of land concerned into communal ownership and making corresponding changes to cadastral maps. Once constructed, the memorial sites are to be registered in the national register of memorials. Local partners and communities are closely involved in these processes so that they can assume responsibility for the sites concerned.
Wide-ranging historical research helps to determine the location of the mass graves, the number of victims, the fate of individual victims and survivors, the sequence of events during mass shootings, and the perpetrators involved. The history of the Jewish communities and their destruction during the Holocaust is presented in several languages on information steles at each memorial site. The research findings are made available to the public.
Educational activities and support for individual commemorative initiatives
Educational activities with neighbouring schools and local students are an additional aspect of our work and closely linked with historical research. The educational programme is intended to encourage teachers, schoolchildren, and students to explore their local history independently and to take on responsibility for the memorial sites.
Commemorative initiatives run by schools and local communities in the “Protecting Memory” localities receive funding and support from the project so that they can continue their educational work on local Holocaust history independently and integrate the memorial sites into local commemorative culture in the long term.
Sharing knowledge and experience
A further aim is to continue collaborating with the experts recruited for the “Protecting Memory” project and to involve additional partners from Belarus and parts of the Russian Federation. The project partners will work together to develop ideas and solutions for each country to help strengthen the role of local initiatives that assume independent responsibility for protecting the mass graves and are active in the field of Holocaust commemoration and education.
In the next few years, the aim is to establish links between those working on local Holocaust history and to support them in their commemorative activities. We consider it vital to exchange knowledge and experience with regard to the research and analysis of historical documents; the production of texts for exhibitions, commemorative plaques, and information displays; and the perspectives and opportunities offered by public history and historical learning at the local level.
Review of the situation in Ukraine, Belarus, and the Russian Federation
We will record details of World War Two mass graves and forms of local commemoration in all three countries and compile an overview of current initiatives, potential partners, and mass graves in particular need of protection. The review will also consider how much information is available in existing databases on Holocaust mass graves.
In order to promote the transfer of knowledge and experience related to the challenges and protection of mass graves, the results of the “Protecting Memory” project will be published as brochures, a final report, a touring exhibition for Ukraine, and a number of short films on the official opening of the memorial sites in 2019.
Sustainability of the “Protecting Memory” project
In 2020 there will be an evaluation of the work and the guiding principles of the “Protecting Memory” project. These principles and the experience we have gained over the last few years will be applied to the future work of local initiatives to protect mass graves in Eastern Europe and to research Holocaust history.