Russian attack on Kharkiv kills Holocaust survivor, 96

A 96-year-old man who survived a string of Nazi concentration camps including Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen has been killed by an explosion during the Russian assault on the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, a spokesperson for the Buchenwald concentration camp memorial foundation has confirmed.

“We are shocked to confirm the violent death of Boris Romanchenko, whose niece informed us on Monday morning that he died last Friday after a bomb or rocket hit the multistorey building where he lived in Kharkiv and his apartment was burned out,” a spokesperson told the Guardian.

According to regional emergency services, more than 500 people have been killed in Kharkiv since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

Born in 1926 to a farming family in the village of Bondari outside the city of Sumy in north-eastern Ukraine, Romanchenko was taken as a prisoner of war after the German Nazi regime launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union in 1941.

“The war had completely surprised us, I wasn’t able to flee,” he recalled in an interview in April 2004.

In 1942, he was deported to Dortmund, in Germany’s industrial Ruhr valley, to work as forced labourer in a mine. After attempting to escape, he was seized just as he was about to board an east-bound train and was then deported to Buchenwald concentration camp in January 1943.

Romanchenko was later moved to Peenemünde on the Baltic Sea island of Usedom, where he was made to work on the V2 rocket programme, as well as Mittelbau-Dora and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps.

Romanchenko said he was liberated from Bergen-Belsen by British and American allied forces on 14 April 1945 just before he and other survivors were due to be killed by being fed poisoned food.

He was enlisted to the Soviet army for five years after the end of the war. Afterwards, he began to play an active part in institutions that commemorate the Holocaust, acting for several years as vice-president for Ukraine on the international committee at the Buchenwald-Dora memorial foundation.

He attended several commemorative events at the camp’s former site and had been invited to attend an event marking the Buchenwald liberation this year.

In 2015, he read out the “Oath of Buchenwald”, a survivors’ pledge dating back to the camp’s liberation, in Russian.

“Our goal is to build a new world of peace and freedom,” he read.

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