Photo above: Rava-Ruska village profile on the Yahad Interactive Map
March 11, 2016
As my week in Ukraine and Poland with Fr. Desbois comes to a close, I am faced with the moral responsibility to reflect on what this journey through the land of my ancestors’ means to me. The villages where my great great-grandparents established lives, and created a culture that now informs every decision I make is now obliterated – the only evidence of their existence passed down through the fading memories of great-grandchildren and on an interactive map made by Yahad.
The innocent people who lived in these villages, my people, lie there today in mass graves that are often unmarked, not memorialized or done improperly. Today, their graves are the biking paths, picnic areas, and backyards of the residents who now call these villages their home. Some of them are buried in the mass graves at Aushcwitz-Birkenau, which I was unaware existed before this trip as are most who visit the concentration camp, or extermination camps like Belzec where 500,000 Jews were killed and where 350,000 corpses rest, on the Ukrainian-Polish border. Yet, despite the recently constructed memorial at the village of Rava-Ruska in Ukraine for the approximately 8,000 Jews that were not deported to Belzec, but who were brutally murdered and buried in a mass grave, looting around the extermination site still occurs. In fact during our visit, I saw several pieces of bone (a leg, a vertebrae, and a fragments of a skull) that was the result what appeared to be recent looting by village locals. This is unsurprising, considering there were several houses within walking distance of the mass grave, making it some resident’s backyards.
After seeing the absolute materialization of evil, I feel as if I have only learned half of what actually happened in the Holocaust. This leads me to inquire as to what the rest of the world, who did not grow up in a town where nearly 30% of their high school was Jewish, and does not go to a university where Fr. Desbois teaches, has learned about the Holocaust. And I am frightened to hear the honest answer.
The Holocaust is undoubtedly the worst crime against humanity that has ever occurred in human history, was done on transnational scale with a specific mission of exterminating the Jewish people and was perpetrated by a developed country. The Holocaust is the epitome of genocide. Surely, the Holocaust is unequivocally the most incomprehensible condensation of pure evil ever committed in modern history and the primary culprit was my people. However, absolutely no human being deserves to be treated the way European Jewry was treated by the culprits of these atrocities alive, or dead.
The Yazidis in Iraq are being slaughtered the same way many of Europe’s Jews were 70 years ago and the world is silent. Although I know little about the Yazidis, and have absolutely no connection to them other than that we both are human beings, that is enough for me to have a moral obligation to take a stand against what is happening to them, just as what happened to 6 million of my people. From my trip to the land that I come from, where there is no trace that my people lived there only 70 years ago besides their bones lying on the land in which they once walked, I have learned that human decency simply left Europe during the Holocaust and that much of Eastern Europe has still not fully recovered in 2016.