Memory of the Holocaust in Dnipro: The University Park as the Place of Mass Shootings of Jews
Maryna Tkachenko, Oles Honchar Dnipro National University
The more the present turns into the past, the more the past needs to be updated in order to serve as an example and contribute to processes of identity-making of individuals, the society and the state. Without this actualization, the past becomes habitual and loses its convincing power. The Second World War is one of the most important and tragic events of the 20th century. It would seem that the lessons of the war and its sacrifices will never be forgotten. But the contemporaries of those terrible events who carry with them living memories of the war are gradually disappearing. With their disappearance, we cease to “remember.” For most, the events of war are perceived at the level of rituals associated with national holidays and monuments which they visit not more often than once a year.
This argument is based on the research that I conducted among my fellow students from the history department of the Dnipro National University. I tried to find out what they know about the monuments located in the park that is located near our university.
One of the tragic pages of Dnipro’s history were the events on October 13-14, 1941, when 11,000 Jews were shot on the site of the current University Park. On that day, by order of Chief of the Police Major Wilhelm von Mulde, Field Commandant Oberst-lieutenant von Alberti and Commandant of the Dnepropetrovsk Major von Goldeman, approximately 11,000 Jews were gathered in front of the Central Department Store («Центральный универмаг») at Karl Marx Avenue (now Dm. Yavornytsky) and had all their valuable possessions taken away by the Nazis. Putting people in a column of 6-8 people in a row they were driven in the direction of the place where the university is situated now (in fact all university complex was built in the 1970s), where they were shot in a ravine. Local inhabitants, A. I. Sapegin, V. A. Zybalo, V. P. Nachynsky, eye-witnesses to the tragedy in the ravine, testified that, on October 13 and 14, 1941, in cold weather, women and men, adults and children were shot. The aggressors then randomly dumped the dead and the wounded into the ravine. The children still alive were thrown there from the 20-meter height.
Based on the testimony of witnesses and the findings of the forensic medical examination, as well as the excavations, the Dnipropetrovsk Regional Commission for Accounting for Damages Caused by the German Fascist Invaders and Their Associates established that 11,000 Jewish civilians were shot in the ravine. Being critical of the Commission’s work, the number of victims in the Commission’s reports might have been estimated too high. However, the fact that the shooting was in the place of nowadays Gagarin Park (it wasn’t park in times of the war) has been proven. It is important to understand that this place has a tragic past. The lives of thousands of victims of Nazism – innocent civilians: children, old men, women – ended there.
During Soviet times, a stadium was built on the shooting spot. During the construction of the stadium, the remains of people were found but the construction was not stopped. As a consequence of it, archaeological research could not be continued. It was only in 1984 that a modest monument was erected here, which did not carry any specific information about the events or the ethnicity of the victims. Then, only in 2001, another monument, with inscription in Hebrew and in Ukrainian, was installed.
The aim of my research was to find out how students of the History Department preserved memories of the events that happened at the place of the current University Park (officially named Gagarin Park) during the Second World War. In total, 142 students were interviewed. Questions were aimed at determining the level of student awareness of victims of Nazi terror within the framework of the project Tera Oblita: Open Memory Map. Creating a questionnaire, I asked the following question: “Which associations come to your mind regarding the University Park?”
The students’ associations with the park were the following:
- 30% shootings,
- 22% no associations,
- 9% rest,
- 8% nature,
- 5% monument,
- 3% sports,
- 3% maniacs and drug addicts,
- 12% other (ecological state of the park, students initiation ceremony, destruction of trees, etc.).
Memory of the shootings of Jews on the site of the University Park is shared by 30% of history students. 22% of interviewed students didn’t give an answer or their answer was “I don’t know” or “nothing”. The fact that this place is often associated with recreation and entertainment proves that the level of information about executions is low. An interesting fact is that the first-year students associate the park with cutting down of trees, which happened a few weeks before the survey. This demonstrates the role of the emotional factor in the formation of their associations.
In general, the research showed the importance of
raising the level of awareness of students about the historical events in their
towns. Places of memory should be used not only for honoring the events and the
victims but also for the upbringing of future generations. Memory is an
important factor that unites the country’s population into a single civil
society. At the same time, our historical memory is the result of our joint
work and responsibility.
 The main source of information about this shooting is material from the State Archive of the Dnipro region, in the folder No. 2427: Dnipropetrovsk Regional Commission for Accounting for Damages Caused by the German Fascist Invaders and Their Associates. These are documents of losses caused by the event, including statements and correspondence about giving assistance to citizens, evidence of victims, excavations, and medical examinations.