Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia to cover up Nazi SS monument in Catholic cemetery

Archbishop Borys Gudziak National Catholic Prayer Breakfast Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archbishop Borys Gudziak addresses the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., on March 14, 2023. | Credit: Shannon Mullen/CNA

The Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia said this week that it would cover up a monument to the Nazi SS that still stands in a local cemetery in the suburbs of the city while it engages in “discussions” with the community about the controversial display.

The monument, erected roughly 30 years ago at St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Cemetery, which is owned by the seat of the archeparchy, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, gained national attention last week with a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer. A report on that monument, and another in Michigan, had appeared in the Jewish newspaper The Forward last month.

The monument was meant to honor the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, which was made up of ethnic Ukrainians during the Nazi occupation. The large stone cross bears the insignia of the division as well as several memorial inscriptions in English and Ukrainian. 

Advocates argue the unit should be seen less as a vanguard of the Nazi Reich and more as a group of anti-communist Ukrainian patriots. Critics, meanwhile, say the group was involved in numerous war crimes and atrocities and that their behavior during the war — as well as their identification with the SS — should preclude any monuments being constructed in their honor. 

Amid the controversy, the American Jewish Committee issued a statement urging the Ukrainian Catholic Church to “correct” the “historical myths” about the division and “remove this memorial stone from our community.”

Marcia Bronstein, the regional director of American Jewish Committee Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey, likewise said that the AJC was “look[ing] forward to being partners and exploring how best they can condemn this and how they can remove this statue that is so painful to the Jewish community.”

On Tuesday, Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak said in a statement that “given the current attention surrounding the monument … the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia has decided to temporarily cover [it].”

Gudziak said the monument will remain covered “while our discussions ensue with the community in order to prevent vandalism and with the goal of conducting an objective dialogue with sensitivity to all concerned.”

In an earlier statement Gudziak had noted that the archeparchy “values its relationship with the Jewish community and intends to address the issues at hand with the depth and seriousness that they deserve.”

Reached for comment, an archeparchy spokesperson declined to offer information on how long that process would take, instead directing CNA back toward Gudziak’s original statement.

The 14th Division — also referred to as the 1st Galician for the region from which many of the volunteers were drawn — was after the war found to have participated in several war crimes including the massacre at the Polish village of Huta Pieniacka where as many as 1,200 Polish civilians were killed. The division was also reportedly responsible for the Pidkamin massacre, where several hundred to a thousand were murdered.

The Jewish news outlet Forward reported last month that another statute honoring the division resides near Detroit. Monuments to the division can also be found in Canada.

The Michigan monument sits “on the side of a Ukrainian credit union building” in the town of Warren, according to Forward. The town’s mayor, James Fouts, told the news outlet that there was “not even a minute chance that we would support anything like this.”

“We would never allow anything like that to go on public property,” Fouts told Forward, “but I don’t think we can do much for a monument on private land.”

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