Ukraine chief rabbi denies honoring alleged Nazi collaborators
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Ukraine chief rabbi denies honoring alleged Nazi collaborators

Yaakov Dov Bleich says criticism came after he attended commemoration event at Jewish burial place for Holocaust victims which was preceded by nearby ceremony for militiamen

Yaakov Dov Bleich, right, chief rabbi of Ukraine, with Canada's ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, left, and primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, His Beatitude Epifanii, second from right, Aug. 21, 2019 (Aliona Nikolaievych/Barcroft Media via Getty Images via JTA)
Yaakov Dov Bleich, right, chief rabbi of Ukraine, with Canada's ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, left, and primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, His Beatitude Epifanii, second from right, Aug. 21, 2019 (Aliona Nikolaievych/Barcroft Media via Getty Images via JTA)

JTA — A chief rabbi of Ukraine disputed reports that he had helped commemorate a monument for those who are believed to have fought for a militia whose members killed many Jews.

Rabbi Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich said the reports earlier this month originated in the fact that he attended a commemoration event at a Jewish burial place for Holocaust victims in Sambir, near the western city of Lviv. That ceremony, he said, directly followed another ceremony nearby in which a monument for alleged militiamen was unveiled.

Bleich said he neither prayed for nor eulogized the alleged militiamen believed to be buried there. He also spoke at the event about the need for interfaith cooperation, he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The event featuring two ceremonies was part of a compromise, Bleich said, aimed at having crosses removed from the immediate vicinity of the Jewish bodies. The compromise entails the erection of a monument for 17 non-Jews believed to be buried there and to have belonged to the UPA/OUN nationalist militias, which cooperated for a time with Adolf Hitler’s army against the Soviets during World War II.

Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, on Facebook criticized Bleich’s presence at the August 21 event, adding that Bleich had “inaugurated” the monument along with other dignitaries. Dolinsky did mention the existence of two ceremonies.

Bleich insisted his presence in Sambir was “all about the ‘kever achim,’” Hebrew for mass grave.

Sasha Nazar, who works for the Lviv-based Hesed-Aryeh Jewish group, attended both ceremonies of the event and said that “in no place did the rabbi commemorate the people believed to be from UPA.”

But Dolinsky, who did not attend the event, told JTA he regards the event as having only one ceremony — “the unveiling of the cross dedicated to OUN-UPA members.”

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