The remains of Jews murdered during the Holocaust have become the target of grave robbers across the Ukraine, say local Jews, who claim the phenomenon has become common in recent years.
Mass graves, where the bodies of Jews slaughtered by the Nazis and their allies were buried, are increasingly being desecrated by looters hoping to find gold teeth or jewelry among the skeletons of Holocaust victims.
“Unfortunately, in the Ukraine there are many mass graves which are not sufficiently protected, where thousands of Jews were executed during the Holocaust,” said Michael Yehudanin, President of the European Forum of Russian-speaking Jews.
Yehudanim says that while efforts are being made to protect the remains of Holocaust victims, the struggle against grave robbers is an uphill battle.
“Seventy years after these terrible murders, their graves are being desecrated and looted. These crimes are absolutely inhuman. We are trying to strengthen the graves, to bring order, and clearly mark the mass graves so their significance is known and understood. Unfortunately there is only so much we can do and there are many graves, as well as many grave-robbers. ”
Yehudanin has been aided in his efforts by Dr. Dimitry Shiglik, a Ukrainian born businessman and President of the American Forum of Russian-speaking Jews. Both have invested in projects aimed at protecting the graves of Holocaust victims from desecration and looting. As the severity of the crimes and audacity of looters increase, however, Shiglik and Yehudanim say both local authorities and Jewish communities abroad must play a larger role in fighting grave-robbing.
Outside of the cities of Berdychiv and Zhytomyr, they note, dozens of mass graves have been desecrated in recent years. Some grave robbers have even removed remains to sell on Ukrainian markets as gruesome souvenirs, including skulls.
“We call on the Jewish communities and their leaders to join this struggle and take a more active role in protecting these mass Jewish graves in order to prevent their desecration, and call for severe punishments for the criminals,” said Shiglik.