Historical Background

Estimates suggest there more than 2,000 mass shooting sites on the territory of contemporary Ukraine. In remote ravines and forests, in the middle of fields, in former tank traps and sand quarries, Wehrmacht, SS, and police forces, supported by local auxiliary police and administrative offices, wiped out entire Jewish communities – often over the course of just a few days. In many cases, the victims were forced to dig the pits themselves and to undress. Usually, men were shot first, then women and children. Dramatic scenes unfolded at the pits as the Jews braced for impending death.

Many of these murder sites faded into obscurity after the war. For the few survivors, it was possible to remember their murdered family members, friends, and acquaintances only in private. Official Soviet historiography refused to recognise Jews as a distinct group of victims. When Jewish survivors or returnees were able to lay modest memorial stones, these had to be dedicated to “peaceful Soviet citizens”.

Only in the 1990s – in independent Ukraine – were memorial stones stating the Jewish identity of the victims erected in numerous places. However, hundreds of mass graves remain unmarked, unprotected, and neglected. Many are often used for agriculture or construction. Especially disconcerting are the traces of plundering. Most of the mass graves are not dignified sites of mourning and remembrance about the Jewish life lost. Almost none provide any information about the events that took place at such sites and the lives of those who perished there.

A map of present-day Ukraine showing the cities, towns, and villages where mass shootings of 500 or more Jews were carried out between 1941 and 1943. There are 300 locations of this kind alone. In addition, hundreds of other mass shootings involving fewer victims also took place throughout Ukraine.
A map of present-day Ukraine showing the cities, towns, and villages where mass shootings of 500 or more Jews were carried out between 1941 and 1943. There are 300 locations of this kind alone. In addition, hundreds of other mass shootings involving fewer victims also took place throughout Ukraine.