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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mass Nazi-Era Grave Unearthed in Ukraine

KIEV -- Ditch-diggers discovered a mass grave believed to contain thousands of Jews slaughtered in Ukraine during World War II, a Jewish community spokesman said, a grim finding in a nation one Holocaust expert said had been "an enormous killing field."

The grave was found by chance last month when workers were laying gas pipelines in the village of Gvozdavka-1, about 175 kilometers northwest of the Black Sea port city of Odessa, regional Jewish community spokesman Roman Shvartsman said Tuesday.

The Nazis established two ghettos during World War II near the village and brought Jews there from Odessa and what is now Moldova, Shvartsman said.

In November 1941, Nazi officials set up a concentration camp in the area and killed about 5,000 inmates.

"Several thousand Jews executed by the Nazis lie there," Shvartsman said.

Shvartsman said the Jewish community was aware of the mass murder at the time, but no one knew where the bodies were buried.

Yitzhak Arad, a Holocaust scholar and a former director of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, said the area was known to be a site of mass executions of Jews during the Holocaust. He said he found that some 28,000 Jews were brought there from surrounding towns and that 10,000 died -- murdered at a rate of around 500 people a day.

Holocaust expert Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the discovery was not shocking or unexpected.

"I'm not surprised that, even in these days, there are discoveries such as these. It underscores the enormous scope of the plans of annihilation of the Nazis and their collaborators in Eastern Europe," Zuroff said.

Hundreds of mass graves exist in Ukraine, and many have not yet been discovered, Zuroff said. "Ukraine was an enormous killing field, hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered," he said.

Anatoly Podolsky, director of the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies, said there are believed to be some 250 to 350 mass grave sites dating from the Nazi occupation, during which some 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews are believed to have been killed. The number includes those massacred near their homes and those deported to death camps elsewhere.

Podolsky said most of the sites were located after the 1991 Soviet collapse, but that there were still some left to find.

Ilia Levitas, the head of Ukraine's Jewish Council, put the number of Jewish mass graves in the country at more than 700.

The names of 93 Jews killed at the Gvozsdavka-1 site have been established, Shvartsman said. He said Jewish community members planned to conduct studies at the newly found site to identify victims.

"We must figure out their names. It is our debt to the victims and survivors," he said.

Odessa's chief rabbi, Shlomo Baksht, wants to erect a fence around the site and a monument to the victims this year.