(JTA) — More than 1,000 people gathered at Rostov-on-Don, which 70 years ago witnessed the worst Holocaust atrocity in Russia.
Wearing arm bands marked with a Star of David, the crowd on Sunday marched to the mass grave of approximately 27,000 people executed by German soldiers near the city in 1942. Most of the victims were Jewish, according to the Russian Jewish Congress.
Leading the procession was Rabbi Meir Lau, a Holocaust survivor and former chief rabbi of Israel.
“The unprecedented turnout shows the memory of the Jewish genocide in Rostov is shared and preserved by Jews and non-Jews,” Russian Jewish Congress President Yury Kanner said.
Last year the memorial site became the subject of a legal fight between Kanner’s organization and local government. The Russian Jewish Congress petitioned the court about a memorial plaque that city officials had placed last November at the city’s Zmievskaya Balka mass grave that noted “mass killing by the fascists of captured Soviet citizens.” It replaced a plaque from 2004 that did mention the Holocaust.
A ruling on the matter is expected later this year, according to Matvey Chlenov, the RJC’s deputy executive director. Chlenov told JTA that city officials wrote a memo warning that mentioning the Holocaust could lead to “ethnic unrest.”
Southern Russia is home to many immigrants from the Caucasus region. Nationalist Russians staged riots there in 2010.
“We believe the new plaque is a parody more than any case of anti-Semitism or deliberate Holocaust obfuscation,” Chlenov said. “We nonetheless believe the original plaque at Zmievskaya Balka must be restored. It’s a matter of basic recognition of the identity of the victims.”