Sites of Remembrance
Almost every Ukrainian town or village has one or more memorial sites honouring the victims of World War II. In some cases, these memorials are located at the actual places where violence occurred and at mass grave sites, while others have been set up in symbolic locations. Some of the memorials were built in the first decades after the end of the war, while others were established as late as the 1990s, after Ukraine had gained independence. Yet there are also sites of perpetration that are unmarked, known only to a few people, or have faded into oblivion. Each of these sites is associated with individual human destinies and stories that need to be preserved where possible.
Nearly 1.5 million Jews were murdered on the territory of Ukraine during the German occupation. More than a million of them were shot dead in remote ravines, forests, fields, former tank trenches or sand quarries by Wehrmacht, SS and police units with help from local accomplices and buried in mass graves. Entire Jewish communities were wiped out, often in a matter of a few days. The existence of around 2,000 mass grave sites of murdered Jews reflects the consequences of the Holocaust for Ukraine.
Tens of thousands of Roma, psychiatric patients, prisoners of war, and actual or alleged political opponents of the occupation regime also fell victim to the Nazi policy of extermination.
»Connecting Memory« considers remembrance sites on several levels:
- as scenes of crime and mass violence
- as burial sites for the victims murdered by the German invaders and their accomplices
- as places where the process of remembering or forgetting is constantly evolving
- as a reflection of the current situation regarding the significance of these sites for society
We perceive an urgent need to find appropriate and sustainable ways of protecting and preserving these sites of remembrance.
When we work at Holocaust burial sites, we respect Jewish religious law (Halacha) and endeavour not to disturb the peace of the dead. When working on the sites of the genocide against Roma, it is important to make the history of the Roma visible, even if there is virtually no specific information about the deceased victims. Moreover, it is important not to reduce local history to one of victimisation, but also to record the cultural, economic and social life of the murdered people and their role in local communities. Local history should also be inscribed into the broader context of Ukraine’s multicultural history, as well as into the global context of the history of the Holocaust and World War II.
Today, many sites of remembrance have been destroyed, are inaccessible, or face destruction as a result of Russia’s war against Ukraine. It is necessary to preserve knowledge of these landscapes of memory and to continue to document the ways in which they evolve. It is equally important to support and document local initiatives, commemorative practices, site maintenance and local historical research, as this work is an important part of memorializing the landscapes of remembrance.