Russian invaders kill 96-year-old Ukrainian Holocaust survivor
Boris Romantschenko (or Romanchenko) was killed on 18 March, when Russians bombed his apartment block in Kharkiv. He was 96 year old and had survived four Nazi concentration camps (Buchenwald; Peenemünde; Dora and BergenBelsen), but was killed by Russian invaders whose leaders are claiming that their aim is “the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine”. According to his granddaughter, Mr Romantschenko had difficulty walking and had refused to leave Kharkiv, even though the Northern Saltivka district where he lived has been particularly savagely bombed. The missile hit his apartment, which was totally gutted.
Boris Romantschenko was born in 1926 in the Sumy oblast of Kharkiv, and was first seized by the Nazis and taken for forced labour to Germany in 1942. After an unsuccessful attempt to escape, he was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp, and was later also held at the other camps.
After the Second World War, he was active in Holocaust remembrance work, and was the Vice President for Ukraine of the International Buchenwald-Dora Committee. In 2012, on the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald, it was Boris Romantschenko who read out the pledge which survivors had made “to create a new world where peace and freedom reign.”
In reporting Boris Romantschenko’s death at the hands of the Russians, the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorial Foundation expressed concern also about the safety of other Holocaust survivors in Ukraine. There is every reason for such concern as Moscow, while constantly denying that it is targeting civilians, has been systematically bombing apartment blocks, hospitals; schools and other clear civilian sites, especially in Kharkiv; Mariupol and Kyiv. Having been unable to seize the cities, due to huge resistance from the Ukrainian Army and Territorial Defence, Russia is resorting to massive bombing and shelling. The Mayor of Kharkiv, Ihor Terekhov reported on 21 March that 972 buildings have been devastated in Kharkiv since Russia’s invasion on 24 February, with 778 of these residential buildings. Since Russia has been bombing and shelling the Kharkiv oblast in general, including with cassette bombs, the full figures, both in numbers of buildings hit and in the death toll, are likely to be much higher.
The situation in Mariupol has been described as apocalyptic, with up to 300 thousand Ukrainians prevented by the Russian invaders from leaving, and deprived of heating, electricity and water. Simply venturing out into the street to try to find water or food is perilous, and Russia has bombed both a theatre and an art school although it was known that these were being used by civilians as bomb shelters. The bombing is also intensifying in Kyiv, where Russia has already shelled Babyn Yar, the site of one of the worst Nazi massacres of the Holocaust.
The elderly are among those probably most at risk as many have health reasons restricting their mobility. If they are alone, they may well not hear the syrens, or may be too frightened to leave their apartments.
On 3 March, three elderly Ukrainians, all survivors of the Nazi invasion of Ukraine and of the Holocaust, were forced to once again take cover, this time from the Russians. From a bomb shelter, with the Ukrainian and Israeli flags by them, they delivered a powerful address to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, telling him to take his army and get the hell out of Ukraine. “We want peace!”
The Russian invaders are attacking Ukraine and Ukrainians and they really do not care how many civilians are killed. All of this makes Putin’s lies about Russia’s aim being “the demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine so shockingly cynical.
On 28 February, members of the international remembrance committees of Auschwitz, Buchenwald-Dora, Dachau and other Nazi concentration and death camps, issued an appeal, demanding an end to the war. They condemned Moscow’s cynical abuse of Shoah and the memory of its victims in its propaganda.
“As bearers of the memory of the victims of Nazism, the signatories of this appeal denounce the use of the words denazification and genocide to justify the attack on Ukraine. We are legitimate in pointing out the weight of tragedy that they cover. We cannot accept that these words should be so abused.”
On 14 March, the Odesa Regional Association of Former Jewish Ghetto and Concentration Camp Prisoners issued a statement condemning both Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the false justification used for the invasion by Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin. The statement, made public by the Association’s Head, Roman Schwarzman, notes that, since 2014, the official Russian Federation propaganda has been pushing, both in Russia and to the international community, a lie claiming that those in power in Ukraine are Nazi collaborators, and not a democratically elected government. This lie is now being used to justify the carnage and destruction inflicted by the Russian Armed Forces on the territory of sovereign Ukraine.
“We members of the Odesa Regional Association of Former Jewish Ghetto and Concentration Camp Prisoners survived through a miracle the fire of the Holocaust and, unlike Vladimir Putin, experienced ourselves the horrors of war. We know what real Nazism is and not that generated by his diseased hallucinations under the influence of his own propagandists.”