The chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who is a former
Chief Rabbi of Israel and who was a child Holocaust survivor, theorized last
Thursday that the massacre at Babi Yar in Kiev 70 years ago may have been an
experiment by Hitler to test world reaction to the elimination of the Jewish
Had the world raised its voice in protest at this horrendous
atrocity, Lau surmised, what ensued afterwards might not have happened, and many
more Jews might have survived the Holocaust.
Lau was speaking at the
Jerusalem Theater at the close of a day of memorial events marking the 70th
anniversary of the cold-blooded murder of 33,771 Jews.
commemoration had taken place earlier in the day at Yad Vashem, where a
wreath-laying ceremony had taken place in the Hall of Remembrance with the
participation of Ukrainian-born Minister for Public Diplomacy and Diaspora
Affairs Yuli Edelstein; Ukrainian Minister of Culture Mykhailo Kulynyak; Lau;
Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev; Chairman of the Association
of Ukrainian Immigrants David Levin; Michael Sidko, who as a child had been one
of the few survivors of the Babi Yar massacre; Holocaust survivors; and
immigrants from Ukraine.
After 70 years, said Lau, people still ask
themselves how such a mass murder could have taken place. It was not a murder
that was carried out in the concentration camps or the forests beyond the public
eye. It happened where everyone could see it “and the world did
Retrospectively, said Lau, when he thought about it, he
realized that the Babi Yaar massacre had taken place prior to the January 1942
Wannsee Conference, at which the top Nazi command had discussed the final
solution to the Jewish problem.
Babi Yar, he said, may have given Hitler
the impetus to continue further.
In references to the Holocaust, said
Lau, the death toll is always given in round numbers: six million Jews,
including 1.5 million children.
But with regard to Babi Yar, he pointed
out there is an exact figure of 33,771.
Very recently he said, he had
encountered a woman in Tel Aviv who had given him a photograph of her
five-yearold motherless cousin Ettie Asch, who had been among those whom the
Nazis had so mercilessly shot.
Lau and nearly all the other speakers,
whether talking in Russian or in Hebrew, noted that had there been a State of
Israel when World War II erupted, the Jews of Europe would not have been
defenseless and would have fought back as Israel has done whenever the country
was under attack.
The two words that kept cropping up in addresses in
both languages were catastrophe and tragedy.
Kulynyak told the large
audience that he had come to Israel to assure them that nothing of this nature
would ever again take place on Ukrainian soil.
Edelstein described the
despicable brutality of Babi Yar as one of the great catastrophes of modern
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in a video-taped message,
said that he had been to Babi Yar during one of his visits to Ukraine and had
been unable to understand how Jews could be slaughtered like cattle in their
thousands in this one place. The only conclusion he could draw, he said, was
that because Jews had lost their sovereignty, they had lost their ability to
This has changed since the establishment of the State
of Israel, he said, and underscored that Michael Sidko, who had survived Babi
Yar and had come to Israel and built a family, now had grandsons serving in the
President Shimon Peres, who like Netanyahu had also been to Babi Yar
and had been equally horrified by the green lawns that camouflaged the barbarity
embedded in the site, related how the naïve Jewish population in Kiev had been
told to assemble near the cemetery at 8 a.m. on September 29, 1941, and to bring
with them all documents, monies and valuables in their possession, as well as
warm clothes and underwear.
The Jews thought that they were being exiled
and transferred to some other place.
On September 29 and 30, the Nazis
butchered more than 100,000 people in Ukraine – both Jews and non-Jews, said
Peres. Most of the others were Soviet prisoners-of-war, gypsies, invalids and
others whom the Nazis considered to be worthless.
The Nazis made it their
business to remove all evidence of their barbarism, said Peres. They ordered
forced laborers to burn the bodies.
There was nothing left as a reminder,
and for years, there was no monument on the site.
Peres quoted from
renowned Soviet poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko, who in 1961 published his poem Babi
Yar in denunciation of Nazi and Russian anti-Semitism: “No monument stands over
Babi Yar. A drop sheer as a crude grave stone I am afraid.
Today, I am as
old As the entire Jewish race itself. Now I seem to be a Jew.”
Jewish race is old, but it has rejuvenated itself,” said Peres, adding that he
hoped that the world had matured, and would not allow Nazism to
Yet in the same breath, Peres acknowledged that there are
still dangerous extremists in the world for whom Hitler serves as a
Babi Yar is but one example of the nature of Nazi atrocities,
said Peres. There were many more, and the people of Germany applauded the
madness of a single man.
Nazi soldiers “almost ecstatic in their hatred”
unconscionably shot whole families – innocent men, women and children, raising
their guns again and again without a twinge of mercy or remorse, said
Aside from the massacre at Babi Yar, the Nazis murdered a total of
900,000 Ukrainian Jews, he said.