(January 17, 2020 / JNS) For the first time in its history, the Ukrainian parliament, referred to locally as “Verkhovna Rada,” marked both International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The event on Thursday was organized by Kiev’s Rabbi Jonathan Markovich; Israel’s Honorary Consul in Ukraine Oleg Vyshniakov; and chairman of the Ukraine-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Association and Parliament member Alexander Konitsky.
The event was held against the backdrop of a minor spat between Jerusalem and Kiev concerning marches that were held throughout Ukraine in the beginning of the month marking the 111th birthday of the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN).
In light of the OUN’s complicity in the murder of thousands of Ukrainian Jews by Nazi Germany, the Israeli Foreign Ministry released a statement criticizing the “glorification of anti-Semites and murderers of Jews.”
During his address, Markovich spoke of his grandfather, who he is named after, and who was murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust: “I would like to tell you all about the Austreicher family that lived in Ukraine during the Second World War. The family’s father was Rabbi Jonathan Benjamin and his wife was Feiga Esther. The murderers brought the family into a room, along with their three granddaughters, and burned them. I am proud to stand here today and to affirm that I, Jonathan, carry on the name of my great-grandfather, who was burned in this land just because he was a Jew!”
He concluded by reciting a memorial prayer for all the souls of the Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.
Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Joel Leon referenced the extent of Nazi Germany’s Holocaust of Ukrainian Jewry. “Of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, 1.5 million of them, including men, women, children and babies, were murdered here, in the territory of Ukraine.”
Leon added that members of his own family, including his great-grandfather, Menachem Mendel, were also murdered. He said the Jewish people’s response to such atrocities is demonstrated by him “standing here today, wearing a pin with a blue, not a yellow Star of David and representing the State of Israel.”
Leon also took the opportunity to call upon the Ukrainian government to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes both “rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism.”
While acknowledging that the number of anti-Semitic acts perpetrated in Ukraine is in decline, Leon stressed that the same cannot be said about overall anti-Semitic sentiment and rhetoric in the country.
The event was concluded with the lighting of candles in memory of those who perished and by the recitation of the Kaddish prayer.
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