Approximately one-third of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust were murdered in what Father Patrick Desbois has called the ‘Holocaust by bullets’ – mass shootings that largely took place across Eastern Europe in thousands of forests, villages, streets, and homes. In many instances, German perpetrators and their local collaborators eliminated entire communities in a matter of days or even hours.
And yet these Killing Sites remain relatively unknown, both in regional histories and in the larger remembrance of the Holocaust. With the passing of both survivors and witnesses, efforts are underway by a range of actors who are determined to locate and preserve these sites and to name their unidentified victims.
Recognizing the importance and urgency of this work, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) launched a Multi-Year Work Plan project on Killing Sites in 2011 to raise public awareness, offer support and expertise to diverse initiatives in this field, encourage further research, and pursue commemoration for educational purposes. As the first milestone of this plan, IHRA experts convened a major international conference on Killing Sites in Krakow on January 22–23, 2014.
As this volume reveals, the ambitious program brought together an impressive mix of organizations, scholars, and experts who examined a range of subjects, including the state of current research; promising pilot projects; complex national and religious legal issues; developments in forensic archaeology; and regional efforts to integrate Killing Sites into educational curricula, among others. Just as important, however, the Krakow conference highlighted the challenges that remain and the vital importance of the work that must still be done.
This publication includes nineteen articles based on the papers presented at the conference, reflecting both research and fieldwork. The participants in this book share with each other and with the reader the various challenges that they have faced, as well as their successes or lack thereof in overcoming obstacles. They tell of challenges of identifying mass Killing Sites; tracing the story of each site; legal, Halakhic (Jewish law), cultural, and political issues; efforts to involve local people and authorities as well as national authorities in the preservation and commemoration of these sites; conflicting memories that could lead to distorted commemoration, as discussed for example by Father Jacek Waligóra; or a desire to forget the events and the mass killings in some cases.