The Nazis would ultimately kill more than 100,000 people at the site by war’s end, a toll that includes Roma and Catholics, among others. Two-thirds were Jews. Today more than 30 monuments mark the site, but they are scattered about as distractions. The scene continues to evoke Yevtushenko’s 1961 poem on the injustice of institutionalized forgetting.
The role of Holocaust education in a country where almost 1 million Jews were slaughtered is a complicated thing when the country in question is in the throes of shaping a fresh national identity and national memory for itself from some very raw emotional material; even more so, when it’s locked at the same time in a simmering military conflict against Russia, one of its former occupiers along with Nazi Germany during World War II.
With his army fatigues, long greying beard and black kippah, Cherkassky looked halfway between a combat soldier and a rabbi. He could just as well have been a captain in the Israel Defense Forces. But he is not; Cherkassky, yarmulke and all, is a Ukrainian patriot who has been fighting with Right Sector, the very nationalist militia [Russian leader Vladimir Putin has been denouncing for anti-Semitism.