Ukraine war rekindles painful memories for Holocaust survivors in Southern California – San Bernardino Sun

Sofiya Fikhman was about 3 years old when her father enlisted in the Soviet Amy and her mother and grandparents fled on foot her hometown on the outskirts of Odessa before the Nazi Army began the mass murder of the Jewish population.

In the span of about 80 years, Fikhman’s life has taken many unexpected turns: she survived the Nazi ghetto, moved to the United States and raised a large family in West Hollywood, in the area also known as Little Odessa.

About nine years ago, she began volunteering for the Russian Language Public Library, across the street from Plummer Park. There, she connected with other Russian-speaking expats and war veterans, as well as other Holocaust survivors.

Fikhman said hearing about civilians being bombed by Russian forces — especially at and Babyn Yar, site of a World War II massacre of Jews — is taking a toll on her. Tuesday afternoon’s missile assault at Babyn Yar, which aimed to take down a nearby TV tower, killed five civilians.

Babyn Yar is one of the world’s most recognized symbols of the Holocaust. In 1941, during a two-day period, about 33,770 Jews were massacred by Nazi forces.

“Those of us who grew up during World War II, can’t see what is happening in Ukraine without tears,” said Fikhman, 83. “The ‘war’ is a very scary word. People of my generation have vivid memories of it.”

Thankfully, local officials said cherished memorials in the are were unscathed, including a large public menorah, a new synagogue and a monument memorializing Soviets and prisoners of war who perished during WWII. The BBC reported that a museum building which was not yet in use caught fire, and that trees around the area were burned and uprooted.

Ukrainian forces stand near a broadcast tower in the Jewish cemetery located in Kyiv’s Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial site on March 1, 2022. (Photo: State Emergency Service of Ukraine via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the assault “beyond humanity.”

Yad Vashem of the Holocaust memorial museum in Israel told the New York Times in a statement that Babyn Yar had “irreplaceable value for research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust.” And the U.S. Holocaust Museum tweeted that its officials were “outraged.”

Since the start of the invasion on Feb. 25, synagogues across Ukraine were turned into bomb shelters.

“Putin seeks to distort and manipulate the Holocaust to justify an illegal invasion of a sovereign democratic country is utterly abhorrent. It is symbolic that he starts attacking Kyiv by bombing the site of the Babyn Yar, the biggest Nazi massacre,” said Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Babyn Tar Holocaust Memorial on Tuesday in a statement.

“We remind the Russian leadership that Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kherson, Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities were last subjected to massive bombing by Nazi Germany during World War II, now they are burning under the blows of Putin’s army, under the false and outrageous narrative of “denazifying” Ukraine and its people,” he said.

The Mirror Field monument, part of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Site, in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2021. Photo: Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

The bombing of Babyn Yar by Russian forces sparked criticism from rabbis and government officials around the world.

Israel’s Foreign MinisterYair Lapid, said on Twitter the country would help restore the site.

“What is the point of saying ‘never again’ for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar? At least 5 killed. History repeats,” said on Twitter Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskiy, who is ethnically Jewish. Several of his relatives were among nearly 1,5 million Jews killed in Ukraine by Nazi soldiers.

In 1941, after leaving her hometown in Odessa region, Fikhman and her family found a house in the remote area of Ukraine and were welcomed by a Ukrainian woman who allowed them to hide in the basement of her house with several other Jews.

Eventually, Fikhman’s family was forced to run again before they were caught by German soldiers and sent to a ghetto where they shared a small room with 13 other people.

“When you are a child and live in extreme circumstances, you become an adult very quickly,” she said.

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