WASHINGTON – Holocaust-era wounds were ripped open in Jewish people worldwide when now-confirmed reports that Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, taken over by pro-Russian militants, were handled leaflets and told they have to “register” as Jews and declare all their property.
Elderly Jewish women were reportedly seen crying as they were handed the pamphlets upon leaving synagogue Tuesday, the start of Passover, according to reports from the Jewish media.
“What makes this report so highly significant is that because there is such a strong and constant undercurrent of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, despite the fact that the ground there is drenched with Jewish blood, one never knows when it will erupt into a full blown ‘action’ such as this,” Sarah Stern, founder and president of endowment for Middle East Truth, said in a statement to WND.
Concerns immediately arose about the authenticity of the leaflets, but Russian separatist Denis Pushilin, whose name was stamped on them, denied involvement. According to Fox News, he called them a “complete lie” and deliberate “provocation,” accusing pro-Ukranian groups of using them to anger Jewish people and the international community so they would become involved in the conflict in Donetsk.
However, the damage was done.
“Because of the relatively recent history of our people in that region of the world, irrespective of whether or not it was a pro-Russian government demonstrators or a hoax, one has to give it an assumption of credibility,” Stern said. “In either case, it must have awakened old familiar fears and psychological traumas for the Jews who received the notices. It is highly credible that it could have been issued by either faction.”
She added, “The fact that it might have been a hoax issued by the Ukrainians simply illustrates the old anti-Semitic canard that we Jews control the American government or the media. Either way, because it is highly credible simply illustrates the high degree of anti-Semitism in the culture of Eastern Europe.”
One such example is the Beilis affair, where Ukrainians said that Jews on the eve of Passover 100 years ago murdered a 13-year-old boy and used his blood to make matzo bread. The infamous Beilis trial was followed worldwide, and the anti-Semitic policies of the Russian Empire were severely criticized. However, old ideals die hard. Thousands of Ukrainians still make the pilgrimage to the child’s grave.
The tone in the leaflets echoed Hitler-era rhetoric when daily round-up and extermination of Jews in the Donetsk area was commonplace.
“Evasion of registration will result in citizenship revoke and you will be forced outside the country with a confiscation of property,” read a translation of the flier. “All citizens of Jewish nationality over age of 16, living on territories of Donetsk People’s Republic, have to register with DPR commissioner of nationality before May 3rd, 2014, at the Donetsk Regional Administration, room 514, registration fee is $50. Must have in person $50 cash, passport, all available IDs, and documentation of ownership of real estate and transportation.”
Andy Hollinger, communications director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, told WND, “The history of violence against Jews in the region makes the notice deeply troubling. The museum calls on all Ukrainians to denounce attempts to target Jews or other groups for persecution and violence.”
There are about 15,000 Jews in Donetsk. Prior to World War II, approximately 30,000 Jews lived there. After the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Soviet authorities evacuated the majority of the Jewish population. German troops entered the city on Oct. 20, 1941. During the German occupation of Donetsk, several thousand remaining Jews were imprisoned in the ghetto established in the spring of 1942. When the ghetto was liquidated less than two months later, at least 3,000 Jews were murdered.
The U.S. government promptly denounced the fliers – with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calling the leaflets “grotesque” and “beyond unacceptable.”
Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted about the escalation of anti-Semitism in the country on Thursday.
“The true face of intolerance emerging in east Ukraine,” Cruz wrote.
In a statement to National Journal, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said, “Secretary Kerry’s statement reflects my disgust, dismay, and disbelief that in this century we would see such an attack on the Jewish people. The fact that no group or individual is taking responsibility tells me that it could well be part of a sick strategy to foment even more unrest in Ukraine.”
During the Holocaust, approximately 1.5 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in the territory of Ukraine.