After the Nazis captured Kharkov, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in 1941, they murdered as many as 30,000 local Jews. The Nazis sought to systematically destroy the community, home to Europe’s second-largest synagogue, witnesses said, and in the space of December, 1941 to January, 1942, alone, some 15,000 Jews were massacred, most of them buried in a mass grave in a ravine outside the city named Drobitsky Yar.
Of late, the community has been reviving, and is estimated at 40,000, with a new Jewish community center opened two years ago, and an active Chabad community.
After the Nazis captured Kharkov, they also systematically killed the animals in the local zoo, Ukraine’s oldest, dating back to 1896. Many of the animals had died in the Nazi bombing of the city, others died during the Nazi occupation, and almost all the rest were killed by the Nazis when they retreated from Kharkov before the Russians in 1943. A local resident tried to hide a giraffe in his apartment building, the story goes, but it was spotted and killed by the Germans.
Three rhesus monkeys fared better. As detailed to a recent Israeli visitor to the city, these three were smuggled into the big concrete office block nearby, and managed to survive the war, looked after by locals.
The zoo, too, has been reviving of late, and it features a monument to those three monkeys — located near the current monkey area.
Not only did this trio survive the war, but their dynasty lives on, too. The wartime trio were taken back to the zoo when it was revived after the Nazi era, encouraged to breed, and their direct descendants are among the current denizens.