In English, I would name this the "Museum of Martyrs". So it is called by the Jews when they are asked about the literal meaning of "Yad Vashem".
A rabbi, a professor of Hebrew Theology, explained to me that this is not so. Literally, it must be translated thus: "Yad": arm, "Va": and, "Shem": name. Hence, the entire title is "Arm and Name". These two words are taken from an Old Testament psalm, which tells how the Jews fell into hard Babylonian captivity and Jehovah cheered them: "You will lose, o Israel, both sons and daughters. But I will give you an arm (strength) and a name (glory) and your arm and your glory will be more important than sons and daughters".
Therefore, these two words, incomprehensible to those who are unfamiliar with the psalm, are an involuntary remembrance that although millions of Israel's sons and daughters died, the Jews still have the strong arm and name of the chosen people.
Yad Vashem occupies several hectares on the forefront of Jerusalem. The earlier-disused, rocky terrain has been smoothed out and transformed into a large plaza with several buildings which house the administration, museum, library, archives, mausoleum, a large obelisk and monuments on the spacious plaza, and the "Garden of the Righteous". The latter is a row of saplings, planted for those who, at the risk of their own lives in Europe occupied by Hitler's Germany, saved Jews. Beside each sapling is a plate with the name and surname of the "Righteous", and his nationality or country. School children from all over Israel are brought to see "Yad Vashem". The main, open rooms of the museum are filled with paintings and statistics of the holocaust in Hitler's Germany.
While I was observing this section of "Yad Vashem", two young students drew everyone's attention. One was crying hysterically, and the other attempted to calm her.
I approached them and asked why she was crying.
"How can I look calmly at this? It was there, in Auschwitz, that my grandmother died, my grandfather, aunt, my uncles on both my father's and mother's side... This is terrible barbarism! Horror! For you perhaps, it's hard to believe this... You can't imagine...
"Not only can I imagine it, but I saw it with my own eyes, I personally experienced it," I said, and showed her the concentration camp number on my arm. She jumped up, threw herself on my neck and began to kiss me passionately.
"You were there? You're one of them? You yourself endured that hell?!..."
"Yes, but I'm not a Jew, I'm a Ukrainian".
She froze, not believing her ears. She recoiled; her arms fell.
"How so, Ukrainian? You were a prisoner, you have a number on your arm, and Ukrainians were with the S.S., helping the Gestapo murder Jews!"
She, her companion and others gazed at me with an expression of the utmost wonder and disbelief.
"You are, possibly, a Ukrainian-Jew; or your father or mother were Jewish..."
"No," - I said. "I am a full-blooded Ukrainian and all my ancestors from the time of Moses were full-blooded Ukrainians. You are the victims of anti-Ukrainian propaganda. Hitlerians conducted propaganda to the effect that the Jews murder a Christian boy every year, to use his blood for 'matzah'. And Russians and other Nazis conduct similar propaganda against Ukrainians, as if Ukrainians helped to murder Jews. I myself was in Hitlerite prisons and concentration camps for four years. There were thousands of Ukrainians like me and thousands of them died. The Germans destroyed, as you read here, six million Jews. Also three million Ukrainians. They shot Jews by hundreds and gassed them in concentration camps. They worked Ukrainians to death in the prison camps, shot them, publicly hung them in all the towns and cities of Ukraine...
"I know that this is hard for you to believe. In America there are many who don't believe in the existence of a Jewish "holocaust". In California there is a so-called scientific American organization, which claims that the Germans never gassed nor shot a single Jew..."
I saw by the faces of everyone who was listening that truly they found it hard to accept as truth that which I told them. They looked at me as upon a creature from Mars. A Ukrainian - a four year-prisoner of Hitler's prisons and concentration camps, with the brand of Auschwitz on his arm?.. And there were thousands like him - Ukrainians?
The garden of the "Righteous" consists of rows of trees alongside and behind the main building. With my wife I carefully looked at the plates beside each tree, searching for Ukrainian names. We found only one inscription: "Ukraine": name - Olena Viter. We analyzed the last name of those who are designated as being from "Poland" or the "USSR". We noted names which appeared to be Ukrainian: Maria Babych, Olena Hryhoryshyn, Mychajlo Yatsuk, Theodor Kalinchuk, Domka Semeniuk, Ochrim Syrotchuk, Andrij Stanko, Wasyl Swystun, Isidor and Jaroslava Volosyanski, Bohdan Zahajkevich and family, Katerina Shevchenko. We also noted names, on the secretary's list, of those nominated for having a tree planted: Lyachovich from Los Angelos, who saved the Jewish Dr. Yosipovich, and Kachmar.
The director of the Secretariat's office, Vera Pravsnitz, welcomed us very graciously, having seen the Auschwitz number on my arm. Upon hearing that I'm Ukrainian, she was startled and shook her head in disbelief. I explained briefly. She listened politely, and expressed a desire to help me. Ukrainians among the "Righteous"? No one had ever broached such a question to her, and she never thought about it. There is no separate heading for "Ukrainians", since there was no need for it. Olena Viter clearly submitted "Ukraine", and so it was written for her. Other than that no one else posed this question. She knew about the problem of the nomination of Metropolitan Sheptytsky as one of the "Righteous", for several times there was talk of this in the Committee and the secretary saw active correspondence regarding this matter. She knew that Metropolitan Sheptytsky saved many Jewish lives. But why he had not been named "Righteous" until now, she didn't know. Perhaps the director of the Eastern European Division, Dr. Livia Rotkirchen, would know.
I stopped in to see Dr. Rotkirchen. My reception was identical to that in the Secretariat's office: an affable smile and sympathetic courtesy, when she heard that I am a former "Auschwitzer", and saw the "number" on my arm - and consternation, when I told her I am Ukrainian.
"A Ukrainian? Well, then, we're neighbors, you're Ukrainian and I'm Rumanian, and both of us - Jews".
"No," I corrected her. "You are a Rumanian Jew but I am a Ukrainian Ukrainian. Possibly, you know a great deal about Ukrainians".
"Yes, I do, but unfortunately, nothing good. You know, I'm a Jew, and Khmelnytsky, the 'Hajdamaky', Petlura... and recently, the Ukrainian Police... I was born in Rumania and am now preparing a thesis about the destruction of Jews in Rumania; and I consistently encounter reported avowals of how the Ukrainian police helped German Nazis destroy the Jews".
"In Rumania? Ukrainian police in Rumania? How did the Ukrainian Police get there?"
"Well, you know that in Rumania, in Bukovina and Bessarabia, there are many Ukrainians: it was said, more than a million".
"And they always lived there? They always had their own government, their own police?"
"Well, no, it was Rumanian - Rumanian government and Rumanian police".
"And you didn't hear that Rumanians persecuted the Ukrainians, placed them in prisons?"
"Yes, I heard. You know, some Ukrainians were Nationalists, others Communists, some wanted to take back Bukovina and Bessarabia in order to attach it to an independent Ukraine, and others - to the U.S.S.R. So the Rumanians persecuted them. They trusted none of the Ukrainians".
"Interesting: they didn't trust them, didn't like them, persecuted them, but at the start of the German-Russian war, they immediately created a Rumanian police from those very same Ukrainians, which they even called 'Ukrainian Police'? Didn't they fear that the Ukrainian police, now being armed with weapons, would avenge themselves on the Rumanians for their persecution?"
"Hmm... I never thought about that very deeply. I guess they weren't afraid, because the officials in the police were always Germans and Rumanians and the Ukrainians were only 'rank-and-file'".
"How in the world did they communicate? Ordinary Ukrainians knew neither the German nor Rumanian languages. And how is it that ordinary rankers, Ukrainians from the Ukrainian Police in Rumania, organized ghettos on Rumanian territory and exterminated Jews, while the Rumanian government allowed them to do this?"
"I have never been confronted with such questions before. But, you know, all Ukrainians are anti-Semitic. They always beat Jews in Galitsya, in Ukraine".
"For what? How can it be: Jews always liked Ukrainians, and Ukrainians beat them for that? Why?"
"I don't know. They taught us so in Jewish schools, they write thus in our books".
"And have you heard of the Ukrainian Metropolitan Sheptytsky?"
"Yes, I know, he saved many Jewish families from death at the hands of the Germans and he saved over ten rabbis".
"You have studied the matter of Jews in Rumania during the Second World War. Did the Rumanian Orthodox patriarch, the Rumanian Catholic Metropolitan, the bishop or at least one of the Rumanian priests compose written protests against the destruction of Jews by the Germans and Rumanians? Did they actively help the Jews, save their lives, risking their own lives as well as the existance of Rumanian churches?"
"No, I never heard of this, I never saw any documents that would verify this. On the contrary, we have documents to the effect that the Rumanian government and especially the Rumanian party, the "Iron Guard", helped Germans destroy Jews.
There, you see! And all the same, you say that it was not the Rumanian government nor the Rumanian 'Iron Guard' who hated the Ukrainians even more than the Jews, but the Ukrainians who, 'worse than the Germans', destroyed Jew. Why such Ukrainophobia?"
"I don't know. I'm only repeating that which all Jews think and say of Ukrainians. I myself see before me, for the first time in my life, a Ukrainian who was a prisoner of Auschwitz. I believe you, when you say that there were thousands of Ukrainians such as yourself. It's just that I have never heard about it before.
"But you heard of Metropolitan Sheptytsky? Why don't the Jews talk about him. And here in Yad Vashem, you don't even want to thank him properly and acknowledge him as one of the 'Righteous'. His portrait should be here, in the first room of the museum, with the clear inscription that he, the Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, was the only one in Europe who made written protests to Hitler and Himmler against the Jews' destruction; that he himself, and in his charge, hundreds of Ukrainian priests, monks and nuns saved Jewish lives at the risk of their own. Why isn't that here?!"
"I don't know. Talk about the matter of Sheptytsky with the Holocaust Committee, the director of Yad Vashem and his assistant director".
The director of Yad Vashem, Dr. Itzak Arad, and his assistant, Dr. Gideon Hausner, had a more clearly-defined anti-Ukrainian stance. Yet they were polite and restrained. The Auschwitz "disclosure" on my arm is a surprise to every Jew and stops anti-Ukrainian assailment. They do not differentiate - they say - among those who saved Jews, with regard to their nationality. If someone presented himself or herself as being Ukrainian, upon application for the title of "Righteous", then so it was inscribed on the plate beside the sapling.
Both of them remember, that on Olena Viter's plate, "Ukraine" is clearly stated, since she submitted it thus.
"Help us find those Ukrainians who saved Jewish lives, let the rescued submit an announcement to acknowledge their saviors as 'righteous', and let those nominated clearly present themselves as Ukrainians. Demand that he or she be marked on their plate as 'Ukrainian' and so they will be. It will be good for all Ukrainians when here, in Yad Vashem, visitors will read how many Ukrainians actually saved Jews," I pleaded.
Both men, moreover, are familiar with the affair of Metropolitan Sheptytsky. This matter was already reviewed seven times by the Commission, but there never was any positive decision made. The reasons for this are best known by the head of the Commission, Dr. Moshe Beysky and his assistant, the head of Eastern European Affairs, Head Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Dr. David Kahana, but chiefly Rabbi Kahana.