Ukraine: Hotel Plan For Nazi Killing Field Opposed

KIEV, Ukraine -- Jewish groups condemned Thursday a plan by authorities in the Ukrainian capital to build a hotel on what a leading scholar said was a killing field in the Babi Yar massacre, a horrific chapter of the Holocaust.

Babi Yar memorial

The controversy erupted days before the 68th anniversary of the killing of more than 30,000 Jews in late September 1941 at Babi Yar, a ravine that became choked with the bodies of victims shot at its edges.

Legislators loyal to Kiev mayor Leonid Chernovetsky approved a plan last week to build dozens of hotels in the city over the next decade, including one across the street from a monument commemorating the victims.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel decried the plan, saying it disrespected the dead and demonstrated Ukrainian authorities' reluctance to investigate wartime collaboration with the Nazis.

"The plan to build a hotel on the site of the one of the worst Holocaust massacres is an example of utter insensitivity to the terrible crimes committed by the Nazis and their Ukrainian collaborators during World War II," the Center said in a statement. "We urge the Ukrainian authorities to take all necessary measures to prevent the building of such an obviously inappropriate edifice at Babi Yar."

More than 33,700 Jews were rounded up and shot at Babi Yar over 48 hours beginning on Sept. 29, 1941. In the ensuing months, the ravine was filled with an estimated 100,000 bodies, among them those of non-Jewish Kiev residents and Red Army prisoners of the Nazis.

The hotel would be built in the middle of the main killing site, according to Vitaliy Nakhmanovich, a leading Ukrainian Babi Yar scholar.

"You wouldn't build a hotel in Babi Yar because you would be afraid that nobody would go there," Nakhmanovich said. "But they build for people like themselves."

Oleksandr Bryhynets, who heads the Kiev city council's culture and tourism commission, said the planned three-star, 700-room hotel would be named Babi Yar. He called the plan immoral and said he would fight it.

"Such sacred places, which have already become the face of the city ... are no place for hotels," said Bryhynets, a member of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's faction in the city council. "The authorities have no morals."

Lawmaker Viktor Hrinyuk, from Chernovetsky's faction, said the hotel would not disturb any remains. He also said the plan was not final and subject to change.

"We need to start somewhere," Hrinyuk said, according to his party's press service. "When the land is distributed, then we can start discussions."

Jewish leaders have expressed concern over what they say are persistent instances of disrespect for Jewish heritage and of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, which lost 1.4 million of its 2.4 million Jews during the Holocaust.

The mayor of the western city of Uzhhorod is under investigation for making what was widely seen as an anti-Semitic remark referring to a leading politician and presidential hopeful.

Ukraine is also torn by controversy over the extent of wartime collaboration with the Nazis.

Jewish leaders also condemned Tuesday's decision by lawmakers in the western city of Lviv to call on President Viktor Yushchenko to secure the release of a Ukrainian-born man accused by German authorities of involvement in the murder of 27,900 people at a Nazi death camp.

The legislators say they believe 89-year-old John Demjanjuk, who lived for decades in the United States following the war, is innocent and that materials incriminating him were fabricated by Soviet authorities.

Source: AP