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Israeli Troops Visit Memorial in Ukraine

September 6, 2003

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) _ About 200 Israeli soldiers gathered Friday to commemorate one of the largest Nazi massacres of Jews, beginning a visit aimed at educating young Israeli servicemen about the Holocaust.

Israeli soldiers stood at attention as one of them played taps and Israel’s Ambassador to Ukraine Nomi Ben-Ami laid two wreaths under a 10-foot menorah erected to commemorate tens of thousands of Jews executed by Germans during World War II.

``There’s no more fitting place to begin your visit here, so as not to forget the destruction and tragedy and your mission to protect the State of Israel and Jewish brethren wherever they may be,″ Ben-Ami said in Hebrew at the ceremony at Babi Yar, the place in Kiev where Nazi forces executed more than 100,000 Jews and others.

The visit was part of the ``Witness in Uniform″ program created to build awareness among Israel’s armed forces about the Holocaust. This was the first such trip to Ukraine, although soldiers have made 13 trips to Poland and Lithuania in the past three years.

``To see the future, officers need to see the past, it gives them more power to protect the state,″ said Col. Ganim Hamada, the military attache at Israel’s embassy in Ukraine.

Airman Noam Shimoni, 23, whose great-grandparents were killed at Treblinka in Poland, said the impact of the visit was ``very strong.″

``I have an almost daily connection to the Holocaust ... but more than half of all Israeli people have no connection to (it), so it’s very important,″ Shimoni said.

The Babi Yar massacre began in late September 1941 when Nazi forces occupying Kiev ordered Jews to gather with their warm clothes and valuables, as if they were to be taken somewhere. The Jews then were marched to the steep Babi Yar ravine and shot.

More than 33,000 Jews were killed in a few days.

Babi Yar also came to symbolize Soviet attempts to suppress Jewish identity. A memorial built there in 1966 mentioned ``citizens of Kiev and prisoners of war,″ but not Jews.

In 1991, Jewish groups put up the menorah about a half-mile away from the Soviet monument.

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