Pipeline workers unearthed a mass grave believed to contain thousands of Jews slaughtered in Ukraine during the Second World War, a Jewish community spokesman said Tuesday, according to AP.
The grim finding comes in a country that one Holocaust expert described as "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 180 kilometres northwest of the Black Sea port city of Odessa, said Roman Shvartsman, a spokesman for the regional Jewish community.
The Nazis established two ghettos near the village during the war and brought Jews there from Odessa and what is now the country of Moldova, Shvartsman said.
In November 1941, Nazi officials set up a concentration camp in the area and killed about 5,000 people.
"Several thousand Jews executed by the Nazis lie there," Shvartsman told The Associated Press.
The Jewish community was aware of the mass murder at the time, but no one knew where the bodies were buried, he said.
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 killings of Jews during the Holocaust. He said he found that 28,000 Jews were brought there from surrounding towns and that 10,000 died, murdered at a rate of around 500 a day.
Holocaust expert Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the discovery was not 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," he 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 Centre 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 transported to death camps elsewhere.
Podolsky said most of the sites were located after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, but there were still some left to find.
Ilia Levitas, the head of Ukraine`s Jewish Council, put the number of mass Jewish graves in the country at more than 700.
According to Shvartsman, the names of 93 Jews killed at the Gvozsdavka-1 site have been established. He said Jewish community members planned to conduct studies 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 put up a monument to the victims there this year.
Some six million Jews were killed by the Nazis during the Second World War. Babi Yar, a ravine outside the capital, Kyiv, where the Nazis slaughtered some 34,000 Jews over two days in September 1941, is a powerful symbol of the tragedy in Ukraine.
About 240,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis in the Odessa region, which was occupied by the German-allied Romanians, according to Shvartsman. He said a mass grave with remains of about 3,500 Jews was found in the region last year.