Ukraine is witnessing a surge in nationalism - and it's at the expense of the Jewish community's tragic history.
There've been several marches commemorating the nationalist movement's World War Two leader, and even the authorities regard those who collaborated with the Nazis as patriotic heroes.
Fotiy Volodimersky was twenty years old when he signed up to join the Ukranian Nationalist Insurgent army.
His goal was to fight the Soviets, who he saw as an occupying force. But like other nationalists he had another enemy – the Jews. He blamed them for co-operating with the Soviets and killing Ukrainian prisoners of war.
“There were some among us who were forced to go to war. But it is not often that their memory is recalled. They were nicknamed “Bandera people” and were driven like cattle before the attacking units, without weapons or uniforms. My school friends had to join the army. They conducted a forced crossing of the Vistula, and they all died there, having no arms,” Fotiy Volodimersky says.
In a three-day pogrom that ended 68 years ago today the Jews of the Ukrainian city of Lvov were dragged by Ukrainian nationalists into the streets. They were publicly humiliated and their property confiscated. About four thousand were killed.
“They were not forced to do that. I mean it was completely their own initiative. I’m talking about the local population, this Nachtal group was not the only group that participated in the pogrom. There were simple, ordinary citizens, who carried it out. They were not forced to do that,” Dr. Daniel Blatman from Hebrew University of Jerusalem says.
An exhibition of declassified documents is on display in Moscow. It sheds light on the movements of the Ukrainian nationalists and outlines how the groups collaborated with Nazi special services. These pictures show one of their headquarters.
These documents were shown to Israel’s holocaust museum, Yad Vashem. But they didn’t need them – they already had first hand accounts of tens of thousands of survivors who saw just how ready the local populations were to hand them over to the Nazis.
But it’s a controversial point in Ukrainian-Soviet history, as the present Ukrainian government refuses to see these men as murderers.
“Sad as it is, the current Ukrainian government is implementing a program on making heroes out of the organization of Ukrainian Nationalists of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. We can’t forget the numerous ethnic purges of Poles and Jews. The current Ukrainian government tends to ignore and forget about those victims. I consider it absolutely unacceptable,” director of Historical Memory Fund, Aleksandr Dukov, says.
Marta Weiss was denounced by someone who lived in her community. A Holocaust survivor from the Czech Republic, she says locals across Europe took the opportunity given by the Nazis to kill Jews.
Their motivation was nationalism – or simple greed. On her tenth birthday, she was sent to the Auschwitz death camp with her sister.
“My sister was beaten with a cat-of-nine-tails to admit that she was Jewish – she denied it. Of course everybody, as you can imagine, everybody came to see what was happening, all the neighbors. When they heard them ask her where her sister was and she told them I went to the park, they said ‘no she didn’t, she went that way, towards the station.’ Now what was the reason – what did I do to them that I should tell them no, I went there? The only reason was anti-Semitism, and they didn’t want a little Jewish girl, child to survive,” Weiss recalls.
Despite the evidence, nationalists like Fotiy Volodimersky are proud of their role in history. They refuse to acknowledge their part in the massacre of Jews, simply stating they were fighting for their motherland.