Holocaust memorial: There are no Jews left in Ukraine

The ghosts of the unborn are alive, and the abandonment and fate of my people is clear. -Maurice Glasman

The Holocaust Memorial Undone by Another War

Labour peer Maurice Glasman gives an impassioned speech and recounts his recent trips to Ukraine. He gives a sad and hauntingly disturbing picture of a community where in 1941 there were more than 2 million Jews now he is met with closed synagogues and the screams of the dead. A place where ‘there are many’ who rejoice at the restoration of the reputation of Stepan Bandera.

My Lords, I would like to acknowledge the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, and his lifetime of devotion to this cause. I too will go down the road opened up by my noble friend Lord Kestenbaum in talking more personally about this.

I spent all of August in Ukraine. Moving through Ukraine, I travelled from Kyiv all the way down to Odessa, and it brought home to me the reality of genocide. I was treated extremely well by my Ukrainian hosts and invited into the cathedral of St Michael for the mass of St Barbara, and into the cathedral in Odessa to observe the mass there. These masses were full, but all the way down—even in Odessa, which in 1941 was almost 50% Jewish—the synagogues were closed. There was no one there.

President Putin says that the goal of the war is denazification; I would say that a small footnote of the war is that it is the end of the Jewish community in Ukraine. They have left and it is abandoned. A community that in 1941 was more than 2 million and that gave us Jabotinsky, Leon Trotsky, Isaac Babel and the Baal Shem Tov is decimated. That incredible centre of Jewish civilization has gone, and that is the reality of the Holocaust. There are now no longer any Jews in Ukraine.

When I was in Odessa, on Friday night I went to the synagogue, where a man just stood there and said to me, “All gone—Jews all gone”. That is the reality of what we are looking at.

I witnessed some extraordinary things when I was in Ukraine, not least that the majority of the soldiers who were fighting for the freedom and sovereignty of Ukraine were Russian-speaking. To develop this point, and I would like the Minister to take note of this, the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, said in his opening remarks that there was a rinsing of reputations.

I want to raise this issue because the dead scream at me; when I am there, it is not the dead who I miss but those who were not born. I go and I have no family to visit or people to welcome me. The ghosts of the unborn are alive, and the abandonment and fate of my people is clear.

What really disturbed me when I was in Ukraine was the restoration of the reputation of Stepan Bandera. Wherever I went in the small towns, his image was there. When I met soldiers, they had portraits of him.

Bandera was an ally of Hitler, an active proponent of the OUN and the UPA. We should remember that between 1941 and 1943, there was no Auschwitz or industrial slaughter; it was all done by hand. The decimation of Ukrainian Jewry was done by all too ordinary people. In the village where my grandfather was born—in his shtetl—they were just slaughtered.

In Odessa, they were taken into the main square and slaughtered. In Babi Yar, as we should remember, 100 at a time went into the pit. They were all slaughtered in an alliance between the Einsatzgruppe, the German Nazi group, and local Ukrainian groups. Bandera was a central part of that.

I absolutely support Ukraine. I went to Ukraine to show my solidarity with its people against the invasion, but they created a national holiday for Bandera’s birthday only last week. I urge the Minister to please say that in this war, we absolutely support Ukraine but we must also resolutely oppose any rehabilitation of the murderers and perpetrators of the Holocaust.

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