The remains of more than 250 Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust in the ‘massacre in the basement’ were found.
By Paul Shindman, World Israel News
Almost 80 years after they were brutally murdered by the Nazis, the remains of the bodies of 286 Jews, mostly women and children, were found in a basement under the market square in the Ukrainian town of Sataniv, Ynet reported.
According to Yad Vashem, the Germans captured Sataniv on July 6, 1941 with its population of about 1,500 Jews.
KGB documents and testimonies of Jews returning to the city after the war say the Nazis rounded up 286 Jews and put them in two basements – where they killed them with gas.
“The Nazis did not even use bullets and killed the Jews with terrible cruelty in the cellars,” said Rabbi Alexander Feingold, rabbi of the Khmelnytskyi and Ternopil districts in Ukraine, where about 7,000 Jews now live.
After the war the cellars were opened, but it was decided to leave the bodies in place with a sign indicating that they had been murdered by the Nazis. Above the basements was a ruined house, and over the years the entrances to them disappeared. A large market then operated over the site for many years.
For the past six years, Rabbi Feingold has waged a struggle with the authorities and with the landowners to allow him to search for the remains of the bodies and remove them. The landowner refused, and the community waged a legal battle against him in which they lost. Eventually, they were able to reach an agreement with him and the community took ownership of the land.
In 2019, searches began at the site, and one of the basements was discovered. About 200 sacks were collected at the site with human bones.
“We brought in experts from Israel and the Ukraine and we could not find the second basement,” says Rabbi Feingold. “It was very hard work. We did a lot of drilling and lifted the ground with bulldozers, but we didn’t find any. At that point we were already discouraged. About two weeks ago we made another attempt, and then we managed to find the second basement opening.”
Inside the basement, the remains of the other bodies were found, along with pieces of clothing, children’s shoes, and even parts of a siddur, or prayerbook, with which they went to their deaths.
“It was very difficult to collect the remains because they were embedded in the ground. We also found a mezuzah there, and from this we conclude that above the basement was a Jewish house,” Feingold said.
“We are keeping all the bags [of remains] in the basement, and after we finish the work we will bury them in a mass grave in the old Jewish cemetery in the city where Jews have been buried for over 500 years. When you see shoes of children aged two and three it is impossible to describe the feeling. It’s really creepy,” Feingold said, adding that the community will establish a park in memory of the victims near the site of the massacre.
After the basement massacre, hundreds more Jews were murdered before Sataniv was liberated by the Red Army on March 25, 1944.