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Germans March In Kyiv To Commemorate Nazi Victims

Participants in the "March of Life" in Kyiv today
Participants in the "March of Life" in Kyiv today
KYIV -- Two hundred Germans took part in the "March of Life" today in Kyiv, an event aimed at asking forgiveness from the victims of the Holocaust, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

The march, which brought together the descendants of Nazis and the descendants of Holocaust victims, culminated in the Babyn Yar, a ravine in the Ukrainian capital where during the German occupation of Ukraine from 1941-1943 a large part of the local population was executed.

Among the executed primarily were Jews, but also Soviet prisoners of war, partisans, Ukrainian nationalists, Roma, and anyone else regarded as a threat to German authority.

The "March of Life" is the initiative of Protestant Pastor Jobst Bittner of Tubingen, Germany, whose aim is to bring reconciliation between Jews and Nazi descendants.

Of the 200 Germans taking part today, Bittner said 40 know they are the descendants of officers who participated in the destruction of Jews.

"On the basis of our history we must speak out against anti-Semitism and Nazism. We must say that this must never happen again," said Bittner.

One of today's marchers, Hans Besten, is the grandson of a military doctor who was in Ukraine during the Nazi German occupation. Besten found his grandfather's passport and ascertained that he had been in Kharkiv, Poltava, Kyiv, and other Ukrainian cities when Jews were killed.

"My grandfather took part in this. This is a huge burden on my conscience. I came here to ask forgiveness," said Besten.

During the march, Besten met Leonora Groissman, 14 generations of whose family have lived in Kyiv. Many family members were killed during the German occupation. Besten and Groissman, both of whom are in their 40s, said they are determined to keep alive the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

This is the second time that the "March of Life" has been held in Ukraine. Since 2004 similar marches have been held in Poland and the United States.