Can you name three concentration or death camps?
Most adults, especially Jews, can name three without thinking too hard — Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Terezin, Sobibor, Ravensbrück, Majdanek, Treblinka or many others.
Now, can you name three sites of mass execution of Jews murdered by bullets during WWII?
Stumped? You are not alone. Yet, there were over 2,600 such places where over 2 million Jews and others were murdered in genocide by mass shooting. Before there were gas chambers, the Einsatzgruppen — roving Nazi death squads — went to the victims who were massacred in their villages, small towns and large cities. They were killed in front of their neighbors. While examples are plentiful, here are just a few.
• 23,600 Jews — men, women and children — mostly originating from Hungary were exterminated near the town of Kamenets-Podolski in August 1941.
• In Kiev, on Sept. 29-30, 1941, nearly the entire Jewish population of the city was shot at the edge of the Babi Yar ravine.
• Between Christmas and the New Year of 1941-1942, about 50,000 Jews from Odessa and neighboring region were killed in Bogdanovka.
• 300 people in Zablocie, Belarus were taken in 93 horse-drawn carts to pits where they were shot in September 1942.
• Between 14,000 and 18,000 Jews were killed Aug. 27-28, 1942, in Sarny, Ukraine.
Sarny was the town where my mother grew up and where my grandfather, great-grandparents and other family members were systematically executed into ravines where massive pits had been prepared.
The Phoenix Holocaust Association is leading a community-wide education program to reveal a chapter of history that has remained silent for far too long. Holocaust by Bullets is a program of Yahad-In Unum (Together In One), a global humanitarian organization dedicated to discovering genocidal practices around the world, providing documented proof of crimes against humanity. It is a leading voice of protest on behalf of past and present victims of mass murder. Founded in Paris by Father Patrick Desbois, Yahad-In Unum has been documenting the evidence of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe for nearly two decades.
Holocaust by Bullets will be a three-month program throughout greater Phoenix from January through April 2020. Father Desbois will deliver the keynote address for Genocide Awareness Week on April 20, 2020.
Leading up to Father Desbois’ visit, the local community will have many opportunities to learn about the methods used by Father Desbois to seek out eyewitnesses to the executions and how he works toward identifying each execution site and mass grave.
At the core of the program is a 2,000 square-foot exhibition that showcases Yahad’s painstaking research enabling visitors to learn about the organized murder of Jews in broad daylight through eyewitness video testimonies, photographs and quotes.
The exhibit will be installed at both Phoenix’s Burton Barr Library and at Noble Library at Arizona State University, Tempe. There will be a second smaller exhibition at the Arizona Capitol Museum. Docent-led tours will be available at all three locations. Teacher training is an important part of the program and educators will have two seminar opportunities led by Yahad-In Unum educators.
The first of several community presentations leading up to the exhibit opening takes place on Nov. 19 at the Kivel Campus of Care for its residents and staff. I will show video testimonies from Father Desbois’ interviews with nearly 6,000 eye witnesses. In addition, I will share my family’s story including the trip my daughter and I took with my then-88-year-old mother to say Kaddish at the ravine in Sarny. Soil from that mass grave was brought back to Scottsdale and was buried with my mother. JN