KIEV - Sixty-five years after 33,000 Jews were massacred in the Babi Yar ravine in Ukraine, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem and several Jewish organizations are teaming up to identify the approximately 1 million Jews killed in the former Soviet Union during World War II.
As researchers interview the last surviving witnesses and examine old documents, the question they hear repeated over and over again is: "Where have you been until now?"
A state memorial ceremony will be held on Wednessday at Babi Yar, near the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, where German and Ukrainian soldiers and policemen carried out the mass murder. But it is not clear exactly whose deaths are being commemorated, since more than 90 percent of the Jews killed there have yet to be identified.
Yad Vashem has recorded the names of some 3,000 Jews killed at Babi Yar. While it also has the names of some 7,000 Jews from Kiev who were killed in the Holocaust, the museum's researchers don't know where they died or were buried.
The incomplete records stem from the fact that at the time of the massacre, only the number of dead was reported, and not their identifying details. Other Einsatzgruppen squads - mobile killing units that murdered about 1 million Jews between 1941 and 1943 in the western Soviet Union, northern Romania and eastern Poland - operated in a similar way.
The project to identify Soviet victims, which began on Holocaust Remembrance Day, in April, has so far collected several thousand "pages of testimony" filled out by the relatives and acquaintances of those killed in the Holocaust and a few dozen lists of victims' names and memory books written by survivors of various cities and towns.
The project was initiated by Yossi Hollander, an Israeli entrepreneur in the hi-tech sector who lives in the United States. Yad Vashem is working with Jewish organizations that operate in the former Soviet Union and Jewish communities in the area.
Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate, said the museum had the names of more than 90 percent of Jewish victims killed in western and central Europe, 35 percent to 40 percent of those killed in Romania, Hungary and Poland - and only about 20 percent of those killed in the former Soviet Union.
Some 600,000 Jews were killed during the Holocaust in Ukraine alone, and some 300,000 in Belarus, according to Yad Vashem.
Researchers have gleaned the names of the victims from records kept by the Germans as well as pages of testimony and record books. Yad Vashem has collected about 3.5 million pages of testimony so far, of which only a few hundred thousand relate to people from the former Soviet Union.
One reason for the paucity of information on Soviet victims is that Yad Vashem has focused on collecting pages of testimony in Israel and Western countries, while very little has been done to retrieve data from witnesses and survivors living in the former Soviet Union.
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