The Babyn Yar massacre: 80 years later, there is a monument, memorial

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Over the past 15 years, through my work with the International March of the Living, I have linked my personal and professional destiny with Holocaust education and commemoration as well as the fight against anti-Semitism. As a spokesperson for the organization for many years and later as a member of the leadership of March of the Living, I witnessed first-hand the tremendous impact of education and the commemoration of the Holocaust, both on Jews and non-Jews. A person visiting ghettos, cities, synagogues, and cultural institutions can visualize the rich Jewish atmosphere that was interrupted. A person who sees the labor and extermination camps for himself, comes another person. We have seen this from studies conducted by the organization over the years, where participants noted, several years later, that it was a life-changing experience and an event during which they set out to remember and remember, to do whatever they can to make sure it never happens again, neither to the Jewish people nor to any human being.

Poland is dotted with German-built cemeteries and concentration camps, aimed at wiping out the Jewish people in a methodical and, unfortunately, effective manner of mass annihilation by gas. Auschwitz in fact became the symbol of the Jewish Holocaust in Europe and the cynical and cruel door that read “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work frees you) is the image engraved in the collective consciousness.

A little over a year ago, I got a call from Sana Britavsky, CEO of the Genesis Prize Foundation, and she said to me: “As a daughter of the Jewish people, Auschwitz is also my symbol. But being born in Ukraine, it is not my Holocaust story, nor that of a million other Jews from the former USSR living in Israel. Nor is it the story of the 2.5 million Jews murdered in Eastern Europe. Our symbol is Babyn Yar. “

In less than 48 hours, almost all of Kiev’s Jewish community was wiped out in the Babyn Yar massacre, known as the largest mass massacre in the Holocaust, in the shortest possible time. Some 33,771 Jews, mostly women, children and the elderly, gathered near the Jewish cemetery on the orders of the Nazis just a day after they conquered the city. From there they were taken to Babyn Yar Forest, stripped, lined up above the Valley of Death, shot and thrown into it, covering the bodies of Jews murdered seconds before them. Throughout the Nazi conquest, Babyn Yar continued to be a site of mass murder, a burial place for an estimated 100,000 victims, mostly Jews, making Babyn Yar one of the largest mass graves from Europe.

The story of gunshot massacres and mass graves was not new. He has been mentioned in the history books, but the public’s attention has never really been focused on him, but rather on the German concentration camps in Poland, and the stories of the Jews of Eastern Europe. sent to death in Poland have been widely reported. The site where 2.5 million Jews, including 1.5 million in Ukraine alone, were gunned down near their homes and buried in thousands of mass graves across Eastern Europe – in Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Belarus and Ukraine – never received a dignified commemoration under the USSR regime or after, and not without reason.

The Nazis began to conquer the USSR and eradicate Jewish communities in 1941, for two years. When the Soviets liberated the region, and mainly after the war, Stalin implemented a policy prohibiting any mention of Jewish suffering during the war. For Stalin, millions of Soviet citizens were killed in the Great Patriotic War, and the Holocaust could not be considered a tragedy unique to the Jewish people. Natan Sharansky, currently president of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, describes the Eastern European Jewish Holocaust as a double crime: the crime of Jewish destruction carried out by the German Nazis and the crime of silence and erasure of the memory, committed by the USSR under Stalin.

So, for decades, the stories of the Jews of Eastern Europe went unpublished because they were deeply embedded in the archives of communist states. It was only in the last three decades, when the USSR was dissolved and independent states were established in Eastern Europe, that the discovery of such events began.

In 1961, the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote that there is no monument and memorial to Babyn Yar. And indeed, there was no worthy monument there until this year. Many attempts to create an important museum to tell the story of the Jews of Kiev, Ukraine and Eastern Europe have failed over the years, time and time again, until now. The Holocaust Memorial Center, which has been accelerated in the past year with the support of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is becoming a reality in Babyn Yar. The complex consists of a row of monuments, including a symbolic synagogue, and anyone walking on the grounds hears the prayers and names of the many victims. In addition, an academic council has been opened, archives from Eastern Europe have been opened to historians of the Center and new studies are being carried out. The Center also organizes educational programs on the massacre, both inside and outside Ukraine.

An official memorial service will be held at the site next week in the presence of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Israeli President Isaac Herzog and German President Walter Steinmeier. Now we can finally say that 80 years after the Babyn Yar massacre there is a monument and a memorial.

The author is a member of the leadership of the International March of the Living and senior advisor to the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center and the Combat Antisemitism Movement.


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