Nazi monument near Philadelphia draws outrage from Jewish groups

Monument to Nazi soldiers in Ukrainian cemetery under fire from American Jewish groups.

By Andrew Bernard, The Algemeiner

A Philadelphia-area monument to a Nazi military division has drawn condemnation from Jewish groups demanding its removal and calling it “one of the worst examples” of attempts to rehabilitate Nazi collaborators.

The 30-year-old monument to the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the Schutzstaffel — the Nazi military branch known as “the SS” — sits in a Ukrainian Catholic cemetery in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. The division was made up of military volunteers who were primarily ethnic Ukrainians.

Remaining hidden in place sight for years, the monument was noticed late last month in The Forward, which keeps an international database of monuments to Nazis and Nazi collaborators. Since then, the structure’s existence has triggered shock and outrage.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) on Tuesday called for the removal of the monument, which like similar monuments to Ukrainian collaborators attempted to conceal the unit’s Nazi connection under the guise of Ukrainian nationalism.

“More than 30 years have passed since the fall of Communism and the establishment of democratic governments in Central and Eastern Europe. They had never been forced to openly confront their own Holocaust-era past and the role of local collaborators and perpetrators,” the AJC said in a statement.

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“In fact, many first saw independence as an opportunity to rehabilitate wartime fascist leaders, honoring their anti-Communist struggles while ignoring their documented role in the murder of Jews.”

“We trust our Ukrainian friends and colleagues recognize that [the Elkins Park memorial] cannot remain,” the statement continued. “We urge them to act in the same spirit that motivated Ukrainian President Zelensky to correct these historical myths at home and remove this memorial stone from our community.”

The AJC added that it looks forward to working with the Ukrainian Federation of America and the local Ukrainian community to condemn and remove the monument.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) echoed that sentiment, saying that the Jewish civil rights group rejects any memorializing of Nazi or Nazi-adjacent groups.

“We have no objection to the national symbol of Ukraine appearing on any monument; however, we do object to monuments dedicated to Waffen SS soldiers,” ADL Philadelphia director Andrew Goretsky in a statement.

The 14th Grenadier Division of the SS, also called the 1st Galician division, was formed in 1943 and made up largely of ethnic Ukrainian volunteers from the Galicia region of Nazi-occupied Poland.

The unit has been implicated in war crimes, but as SS leader Heinrich Himmler noted in a speech to the division in 1944, the Jews of Galicia had already been murdered in the Holocaust before the group could collaborate with the Nazis.

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“Your homeland has become so much more beautiful since you have lost — on our initiative, I must say — those residents who were so often a dirty blemish on Galicia’s good name, namely the Jews,” Himmler said. “I know that if I ordered you to liquidate the Poles … I would be giving you permission to do what you are eager to do anyway.”

The division participated in the massacre of Polish civilians in 1944, but was not specifically accused of criminality after the war.

In 1945, the division was rebranded as the 1st Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army, which is how it is referred to on the Elkins Park monument. But the monument also includes the division’s emblem from its time as an SS unit.

Memorials to the unit have in previous years also been identified and condemned in Canada, where a large number of its veterans eventually settled. A similar memorial without the Galician insignia has also been found in Warren, Michigan.