The project Protecting Memory was initiated by AJC (American Jewish Committee) in 2010 in order to protect and memorialize Holocaust mass graves and so preserve them for posterity. The German federal government has provided support for the pilot project since 2011.
Initial historical research drew on eyewitness accounts collected by Yahad-In Unum, a French organization led by Father Patrick Desbois, which has identified over 1,300 Holocaust mass graves in eastern Europe. In the course of the project, historians at the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies and the AJC Berlin Office assumed responsibility for research, visiting archives throughout Europe and conducting additional interviews.
The topography of the selected sites presented challenges. The mass graves were often overgrown or located on slopes threatened by erosion. In some cases, decades of use as cropland had made the contours of the mass grave sites difficult to identify. Occasionally, the gravesites had been plundered or vandalized.
The precise locations of the mass graves were determined by numerous eyewitness accounts and geophysical analyses. Cartographic demarcation helped to resolve questions concerning property ownership and facilitated agreements with local authorities. Since 2012, long-term right of use has been guaranteed by the official registration of these sites as “mass shooting sites of Jews during the Second World War.”
During soil analysis at mass grave sites, non-invasive methods were used so as to comply with Halachic law. Halacha requires that the final resting place of the dead remain undisturbed, meaning Jewish graves may not be violated. Therefore, representatives of the London-based Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe were always present during construction.
Architecture and Construction
A selection committee composed of project partners addressed questions of how the mass graves surfaces should be designed. The call for proposals issued included the following criteria: respect for Halachic law; protection from erosion, vandalism, and plundering; and regard for the site’s character and topography.
In addition, the sites were to include a central place of remembrance with a memorial stone and a historical marker that provided a brief history of the local Jewish community and its eventual murder.
After the calls for proposals, evaluation of submissions, and agreements with Ukrainian authorities, contracts for the first three projects were issued. In the summer of 2013, construction got underway at the sites in Rava-Ruska, Kysylyn, and Ostrozhets. In Prokhid and Bakhiv, work began in late summer 2014.
Read more about the winning designs under “Sites of Remembrance.”
Protecting Memory: Preserving and Memorializing the Holocaust Mass Graves of Eastern Europe includes the following partners:
American Jewish Committee
The Conference of European Rabbis
The Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe
The Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies
The Ukrainian Jewish Committee