Monday, August 22, 2016

Ukraine’s honoring of war criminals leaves its Jews uneasy — and divided

Via Times of Israel:
However, even Zissels is confessing his discomfort at the post-revolution government’s controversial veneration of local pro-Nazi collaborators — amid an explosion of nationalist and anti-Russian sentiment — who were responsible for the murder of countless Jews and Poles during World War II.

In Ukraine, that means the rehabilitation of “heroes” like Stepan Bandera, who last month had a street named after him in Kiev; Symon Petliura, a 1920s anti-Semitic statesman who in May was commemorated on public television, and Roman Shukhevych, a militia leader who will also be honored with a street name in Kiev.

Such veneration has deepened divisions among Ukrainian Jews and heightened their concern over the government’s commitment to democratic values.

“These are not my heroes,” Zissels, the head of the Vaad organization of Ukrainian Jews, told JTA during a recent interview. “They’re being honored not for anti-Semitic crimes, but for their fighting for Ukrainian independence against Russia. And still I don’t like the naming of streets after them, which has divided Ukrainians and Ukrainian Jews.”

“Unfortunately,” he added, “most Ukrainians do like it and the Jewish minority, or any other ethnic minority, should not interfere with the choice of the Ukrainian people as they name their national heroes.”

Speaking out against this trend, Zissels said, “can and will serve Russian propaganda.”

    ‘Unfortunately most Ukrainians do like it and the Jewish minority should not interfere with the choice of the Ukrainian people’

Nearly all of Ukraine’s mainstream political Jewish groups share Zissels’ unease over the veneration of Bandera and Shukhevych. During the war, the two served as leaders, respectively, of OUN and UPA, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Their men butchered thousands of Jews and Poles, including women and children, while fighting alongside Nazi Germany against the Red Army and communists.

Unlike Zissels, however, other leaders are willing to publicly denounce this trend as Jews.

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