A Chicago-based Ukrainian Youth Association owns a property in Baraboo where kids attend summer camp in the bluffs near the Wisconsin Dells — it’s also the location of statues honoring four Ukrainians who aided the Nazis during the Holocaust.
The property is miles away from downtown Baraboo and the front gate keeps out members of the public, but in a community that has had its own brush with antisemitic hate, the statues’ presence is alarming.
An investigation by the Jewish news outlet The Forward found more than 300 monuments to and statues of Nazi collaborators around the world, including two in Wisconsin — the Ukrainians in Baraboo and a Serbian general in Milwaukee, Dragoljub ‘Draza’ Mihailovic, who was killed for collaborating with Hitler.
The existence of the statues was unveiled as communities across the U.S. and Wisconsin debate who and what should be memorialized with public statues in the wake of widespread protests for racial justice.
Cities and states across the South have had to reckon with controversy over efforts to take down statues of slaveholders and Confederates.
In Wisconsin, in answer to an online petition started by a high school student, the City of Columbus decided last summer to take down its statue of Christopher Columbus because of the history of Native American genocide he represents.
In Baraboo, a community that drew international attention in 2018 after a group of students appeared to do a Nazi salute in a prom photo, the statues are tucked away from the view of almost everybody outside the membership of the Ukrainian Association.
The four busts depict Stepan Bandera, Roman Shukhevych, Yevhen Konovalets and Symon Petliura.
Bandera was a leader in the far-right Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and a Nazi collaborator. In 1941, when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, OUN declared independent Ukrainian statehood and pledged loyalty to Adolf Hitler. Badera also participated in the massacres of Polish and Jewish people in Ukraine.
Shukhevych was a leader in a German auxiliary battalion and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which massacred thousands of Jews and tens of thousands of Poles.
Konovalets was an early leader of the nationalist OUN and was assassinated before the beginning of the war.
Petliura was Supreme Commander of the Ukrainian Army and the President of the Ukrainian People’s Republic after the collapse of the Russian empire in 1917. Under his leadership, between 35,000 and 50,000 Jews were killed in violent pogroms.
The Ukrainian Association that owns the Baraboo property did not respond to a request for comment, but at the statues’ dedication in 2013, the group’s president celebrated the men as heroes in the fight for Ukrainian independence.
“The four heroes’ memorials underscore our undying respect for four of Ukraine’s greatest sons, each who gave their life for her independence,” organization president Pavlo Bandriwsky said in his speech. “Konovalets, Bandera, Shukhevych were all members of OUN. Including Petliura, all four were murdered by Russian Bolsheviks whose goal was to destroy Ukrainian freedom, suppress the Ukrainian independent nation, erase the distinct Ukrainian identity from the face of the earth and make Ukraine a part of greater Russia.”
“We want our children who come here to camp, summer or winter, to know the history of our heroes,” he continued. “To understand why it was so important for them to sacrifice their lives so that Ukraine may one day be free. We want the parents of those children, those who were born in the Soviet Union, who were denied the right to learn about Ukraine’s true history and her heroes, to know about persons who gave their lives for their homeland.”
While Bandriwsky wanted Ukrainian teenagers from Chicago to know about the men honored by the statues, his organization left the residents of Baraboo, where the statues are located, in the dark. Until the Forward database was released, the existence of the statues flew under the radar.
Masood Akhtar, founder of the group We Are Many – United Against Hate, has worked with the Baraboo community since the 2018 photo incident to bring people together and examine the harm done by racist and antisemitic acts. He says people in Baraboo did not know about the statues but now that the word is out, the community needs to decide how to respond.
“We have to get the community behind this, they have to come forward and engage the community,” he says. “Any place you see any symbol that tends to divide people, that’s where you have a problem.”
Akhtar says he’s reached out to the Ukrainian association for an explanation but hasn’t heard back.
However the Baraboo community decides to respond to the statues, it will need the participation of the Ukrainian association, which owns the private property where the statues are located, and which doesn’t seem to have updated its website in a decade.
But Madison-based Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman says that the community has a responsibility to question the existence of the statues and engage with the property owners to determine if they are sending the right message to the children who attend summer camp in Baraboo.
“I would want to ask the owners of the summer camp why they erected these statues less than ten years ago,” Zimmerman says. “What do these leaders mean to them? Are they aware that they were responsible for the murder of so many Jews, either in pogroms or in World War II? If so, why did they feel it was appropriate to honor them?”
“When we erect a statue of a historical figure we are both sanctioning and honoring their actions,” she continues. “Members of the larger community have a responsibility, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or religion, to ask publicly why an institution serving children is honoring leaders who were responsible for murdering so many Jews.”