19 August 2007

Ukraine: What really happened in Ispas?

An AP story just out tells the story of the Ukrainian village of Ispas and what happened there.

An undated photo shows the deportation of Romanian Jews to Transnistria over the Dneister River during World War II. More than 150,000 Jews were deported to Romanian occupied Ukraine (July 1941-June 1942. Some survived, many were killed or died of starvation and disease. (See below for slide show link of Ispas photos)

ISPAS, Ukraine -- It is a story of courage and kindness during the first tragic days of the Holocaust in Ukraine - the tale of how a village rose up against an anti-Semitic gang of killers to save its Jewish neighbors.

A researcher stumbled on the inspiring story this year. Now some of Ukraine's Jewish leaders plan to raise a monument, host a delegation of students from Israel and stage a ceremony Wednesday honoring this small farming community in western Ukraine.

But 66 years later there are conflicting accounts of what happened in Ispas during that terrible summer of 1941, when the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union triggered an outbreak of anti-Semitic violence.

Residents and one survivor say the 2,000 villagers risked their lives for the sake of about 100 Jews, an account supported by some leaders of Ukraine's Jewish community and the scholar who uncovered the tale.

Survivors and experts do not agree what happened in Ispas. Although more than 2,000 Ukrainians have been honored by Yad Vashem for rescuing Jews, most were individual personal acts. If the Ispas story could be confired it would be unique - a community helping its Jews.

There is a drive to honor Ispas, spearheaded by a leader of the Ukranian Jewish community. One former resident, now living in Tel Aviv, said that although neighbors stopped a gang from killing the Jews, the villagers then robbed them and forced them from their homes. She adds that the village doesn't deserve a prize.

Some of today's current Ispas villagers were children and remember the events:

Nadiya Vinnytska's father, Volodymyr, was the village priest. He ran from his house to confront the attackers barefoot, Vinnytska said, because he didn't have time to put on his shoes.

"Calm down. I will not allow you to kill Jews," the priest said, according to Vinnytska, now 83. "They are the same people as us."

The Israeli researcher - who uncovered the story and believes it - is Alexei Shtrai, who says "we just have to prove it."

Yad Vashem spokeswoman Estee Yaari says the story needs to be investigated further.

Read the Washington Post article here. Yahoo also carried the USHMM photo as part of an Ispas slide show here, while the Yahoo story is here.

The story also includes links to the US Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem and the Yad Vashem victims' names database


  1. It would be truly wonderful to honor the town of Ispas if they helped their Jewish neighbors. However, I agree that the events of 1941-1942 need to be thoroughly investigated. There are many questions and few details. If only a few people can be identified as helping, and many others killing and looting, perhaps a monument only to those who were known to have helped would be more appropriate.


  2. Hi, Janice,

    Thank you for your comment. It is an intriguing story and I'm sure the experts will be investigating as thoroughly as is possible. I'm looking forward to updates and, of course, will blog as soon as I learn anything.