NEW YORK (EJP)—The city of Vinnitsa, in west central Ukraine, once a historic center of Jewish life in the country, has decided to celebrate an anti-Semitic nationalist leader and to unveil a monument in his honor this weekend.
Symon Petilura and his Ukrainian People’s Republic are blamed for the murder of tens of thousans of Jews in programs under his watch in 1918-1921.
The memorial for Symon Petliura was unveiled Saturday in Vinnitsa, on Defender of Ukraine Day, a national holiday. It is located in an area once known as Yerusalimka, or Jerusalem, and located next to a small synagogue that is still in operation.
In a statement, the World Jewish Congress denounced the move to celebrate Petilura.
WJC CEO and Executive Vice President Robert Singer said in a statement:“The World Jewish Congress is distressed by the Vinnitsa municipality’s disgraceful and regrettable decision to celebrate the anti-Semitic nationalist leader Symon Petilura as a ‘Defender of Ukraine’ and by Vinnitsa Regional Chairman Valery Korovy’s description of him as an ‘honest man.’’’
“Petilura was anything but an honest man. He was a cruel barbarian, indisputably responsible for pogroms in which 35,000-40,000 Jews were murdered.’’
“He and his Ukrainian People’s Republic were more than just Ukrainian nationalists – they were also avowed and brutal anti-Semites, intoxicated by the thrill of carrying out unimaginably vicious and inhumane crimes against innocent people.’’
“It is inconceivable that a man, who today we would not hesitate to call a terrorist, should be honored in the very same city in which he and his regime tried to wipe out a rooted and strong Jewish population.’’
“We have witnessed a significant revival of Jewish life in Ukraine over the last 25 years, with hundreds of synagogues, and dozens of school and cultural institutions established with the support of all Ukrainian national governments since the 1990s.
“The erection of a statue of Petilura in one of the historical centers of Jewish life in Ukraine sends the wrong message to the Ukrainian people and to future generations, and undermines the critical process of democracy and tolerance.’’
“The celebration of anti-Semites – including so-called nationalist ‘heroes’ – cannot and should not be abided. We urge the local Vinnitsa authorities to retract their celebration and take all possible steps to have the Petilura monument removed,” Singer said.
Petliura was murdered by Sholom Schwartzbard, a Russian-born Jew, in Paris. He was acquitted by a French court even though he admitted to it after the court found that Petliura had been involved in or knew of pogroms by members of his militia.
Fifteen of Schwartzbard’s relatives perished in the pogroms.