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EXCERPT FROM THE Interview with MEYLAKH SHEYKHET
UKRAINIANS ASSISTING JEWS DURING THE HOLOCAUST

MEYLAKH SHEYKHET



Date of birth – unknown

Place of birth – Korosten, Ukraine

Interviewed - 7 February, 2012

Interviewer: Orest Zakydalsky

Video interview

Language - Ukrainian

English transcript available 



Summary:

· Meylakh Sheykhet was born in the city Korosten, Zhytomyr oblast, Ukraine.

· He graduated from the Lviv Polytechnic National University and later from the Odessa National Academy of Telecommunications.

· Later, Mr. Sheykhet worked as a professor, allowing him to remain non-partisan.

· He has spent the last 25 years working at preserving Jewish cemeteries in Ukraine and restoring them to their former glory from their current sad, overgrown, very neglected state.

· Describes the importance of Ukrainians-Jewish cooperation.

· Explores 3 topics of interest: the graves in Sambir, the cemeteries in Berdychiv, and the Golden Rose Synagogue in Lviv.

· Mr. Sheykhet feels the Ukrainian diaspora should continue travelling to Ukraine, should help open free universities, should continue supporting Ukrainians in Ukraine so that they are not tempted to leave. Ukrainians in Canada should continue these combined efforts, they should learn about the problems facing Ukrainians and should help to solve them.


Excerpt from full interview:


When the Soviets came to power [in Western Ukraine near the end of World War II], they created an entirely new administration for everything, including new city plans in which all sacred places of worship were removed.

On all new topographic maps Jewish cemeteries ceased to exist, the synagogues ceased to exist, and if you take the Soviet urban plans, it would seem the Jewish population did not exist on this earth. However, [there were some towns where] thirty to fifty or even sixty percent of [the population] were Jews [who] lived alongside with Ukrainians and Poles, and [there] was a good neighbourly way of life. The [Soviets] took [away] everything. They ripped out maps from books with historic relevancy; they wanted to take away from the [local] people the understanding of the past, as if it had never existed. They [had] planted a destructive understanding of the past. Ukrainian Society was not to be considered as [a populace]. It was only the Soviets [who] gave Ukrainian Society any life, when, in reality, the Soviets tried to take away any [civil societal] life. For the Jewish population [starting in] the 1930s, education was banned, schools were closed, and religious institutions were closed.

Right now, from the perspective of maintaining Jewish cultural heritage, we [have] received support from the central state authority, but from local authorities we were getting very little support. And mainly because everyone is looking for some sort of benefit, even when it comes to protecting historical cultural heritage. Not only Jewish, [but] also Ukrainian [cultural heritage] was created on Ukrainian territory, by people who were citizens and who lived on this land and made a contribution to society.

[Jewish Ukrainians] would have stayed if there were better living conditions. You know that most Jewish people with Nobel Prizes have their roots in Ukraine. They are Jewish Ukrainians; that’s how we should accept them, and it is good for both of our people. Together we can achieve more than being separated from each other. We were together in the past, and have something to remember, even though there were very terrible times.

Regarding the situation of anti-semitism in Ukraine to this day, I can say that it remains an interest of certain social circles, who intentionally attract it to themselves. Since anti-semitism always acted as the tar, you know how we say that we have to separate the seeds from the weeds. When we are looking over an issue, we need to know the background and all the details.The seeds are our two people, and the weeds are the interest of businesses, politics, which were almost never together with the [interests of the] people. There is a very large number of Ukrainians who were ready and have given up their lives to fulfill God’s Will: Thou shall not kill. They gave up their lives without hesitating to save those good people with whom they lived; they are the Righteous of the World.  It is very important to expand the circle of the thousand Ukrainians who saved [Jewish lives].  Unfortunately, this is very hard [to do], and I can only hear from their younger relatives speaking about [Jewish family members who were saved by Ukrainians]. There is not much concrete evidence: no surnames [of people] who had Jewish last names. We could not gather further evidence. The Institute of Yad Vashem requires evidence from both sides: [from Ukrainians who saved Jewish lives and those who survived]. It is very important work to research the testimonials. Unfortunately, time passes and brings its own effects.

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