WJC urges Ukrainian Orthodox Church leader to act against glorification of Nazi soldiers

 

24/8/13

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church should work to stop clergy from participating in neo-Nazi events in Ukraine, the World Jewish Congress said today in a letter to the head of the church. WJC President Ronald S. Lauder asked Patriarch Filaret in a letter to speak out against events glorifying the Nazis. Lauder referred to a recent ceremony near Lviv marking the 70thanniversary of the creation of the Galician division of the Waffen SS, in which Ukrainians fought on the side of Nazi Germany.

The WJC president wrote: “I was horrified to see photographs […] of young Ukrainians wearing the dreaded SS uniform with swastikas clearly visible on their helmets as they carried the caskets of members of this Nazi unit, lowered them into their new graves, and fired gun salutes in their honor. I was especially troubled by the participation in this ceremony of a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that appeared to give a religious legitimacy to the rehabilitation of the SS.”

In late July, Ukrainians wearing SS uniforms were photographed trudging through trenches and fire rifles in a reconstruction of a key battle against the Soviets during World War II. An Orthodox priest led a ceremony for fallen soldiers of the Nazi unit, sprinkling his blessing over several men sporting swastikas who lowered a coffin in a ritual reburial.

In his letter, Lauder expressed hope that Filaret would use his “moral authority to prevent any further rehabilitation of Nazism or the SS, and that you will call on the clergy of your Church not to participate in any future ceremonies or events that glorify or legitimize a uniform that epitomizes the evil of genocide.”

Lauder also mentioned that Oleg Pankevich, a lawmaker for the extreme-right Svoboda party, took part in the reburial ceremony.

“As you know, leaders of Svoboda, like their counterparts in Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece, frequently engage in anti-Semitic rhetoric that has ominous implications,” Lauder wrote the church leader.

He said that the World Jewish Congress would hold a meeting of its Executive Committee in Kiev next year and invited Patriarch Filaret to attend the gathering.

Full text of the letter of Ronald S. Lauder to Patriarch Filaret

Your Excellency:

I vividly recall the evening you and other Ukrainian religious leaders spent at my home in April of 2012.  I also know from Rabbi YaakovBleich of your longstanding friendship with him and with the Jewish community. I greatly admire both your commitment to strengthening the bonds among Ukrainians of different faiths your opposition over the years to anti-Semitism and other forms of racial and religious prejudice.

It is in this spirit I am writing to you today to express the deep concerns of Jews throughout the world at the recent glorification of the Ukrainian Halychyna (Galician) Waffen-SS division during a reburial ceremony in the village of Gologory in Western Ukraine on July 28. I was horrified to see photographs, some of which I enclose with this letter, of young Ukrainians wearing the dreaded SS uniform with swastikas clearly visible on their helmets as they carried the caskets of members of this Nazi unit, lowered them into their new graves, and fired gun salutes in their honor. I was especially troubled by the participation in this ceremony of a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that appeared to give a religious legitimacy to the rehabilitation of the SS.

As you know, men and women wearing the uniforms of the SS and the Waffen-SS committed unspeakable atrocities against Jews and members of other religious and ethnic groups during World War II. As you so wisely and sensitively said in your remarks following your visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in May of 2012, while the inhumane Holocaust atrocities are unlikely to be repeated in the future, “the evil can happen in another form if people are indifferent to its emergence at the beginning.”

We are also deeply troubled by the fact that Oleg Pankevich, a deputy from the ultra-nationalist Svoboda party, also took part in theGologory reburial ceremony.  As you know, leaders of Svoboda, like their counterparts in Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece, frequently engage in anti-Semitic rhetoric that has ominous implications.   Urging Ukrainians to join the Halychyna SS division in 1943, Volodymyr Kubiyovych, the head of the Ukrainian Central Committee, declared that:

“The long-awaited moment has arrived when the Ukrainian people again have the opportunity to come out with guns to give battle with its most grievous foe — Muscovite-Jewish Bolshevism. The Fuehrer of the Great German Reich has agreed to the formation of a separate Ukrainian volunteer military unit under the name SS Riflemen’s Division “Halychyna” … You must stand shoulder to shoulder with the unbeatable German army and destroy, once and for all, the Jewish-Bolshevist monster.”

In this context, the frequent references by Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnibokto a “Moscow-Jewish mafia” take on a sinister significance.

I hope that you will your unique moral authority to prevent any further rehabilitation of Nazism or the SS, and that you will call on the clergy of your Church not to participate in any future ceremonies or events that glorify or legitimize a uniform that epitomizes the evil of genocide.

I hope to have the opportunity to meet with you again soon.  The World Jewish Congress, which represents more than 100 Jewish communities throughout the world, is planning to hold a meeting of our Executive in Kiev in 2014, and it will be our privilege to have you with us as our honored guest on that occasion.

As we approach the most sacred time of the Jewish calendar, allow me to extend my best wishes to you and all the members of your Church.

Respectfully yours,
Ronald S. Lauder

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