Reporter's notebook: Holocaust Remembrance Day in Kiev

“The continuation of the generations that the Nazis tried to destroy – our existence today in the Ukraine and the creation of State of Israel – is a victory for us.”

April 14, 2018 19:28
2 minute read.
Reporter's notebook: Holocaust Remembrance Day in Kiev

People place candles in 2016 and fly Israeli flags during a ceremony commemorating the victims of Babi Yar, one of the biggest single massacres of Jews during the Holocaust, next to Kiev. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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KIEV – We stood in the biting cold at Babi Yar as a mother walked by, pushing a child in a stroller.

On either side of her were the mass graves – there are three known places where the massacre took place.

More than 30,000 of Kiev’s Jews were rounded up and murdered at Babi Yar by the Nazis and their helpers during the Holocaust.

A group of about eight of us – two journalists, several leaders from World ORT, a local rabbi and a couple from Israel – stood at the menorah that commemorates the massacre. We said a prayer led by one of the Israelis.

A bell from the chapel nearby began to ring just after he finished, rendering the atmosphere even more bone chilling.

The gravestones from what was once part of the city’s Jewish cemetery line the long and daunting path – which is close to where thousands of Jews marched to their death on September 29 and 30 in 1941 – builds onto the melancholy atmosphere. And yet, as surprising as it is, many Ukrainians stroll through the memorial as if it were a normal park, unaware of what happened there.

Earlier in the day, we visited World ORT schools to watch ceremonies the students had prepared. The first commemoration at ORT Education Complex no. 141 was led by the 10th-graders.

Several tables were set up with laptops and a set of questions created to discuss the Holocaust and the Babi Yar massacre. A moment of silence was held and soon a group of students sang a song commemorating those murdered during the Holocaust.

World ORT CEO Avi Ganon addressed the students: “The continuation of the generations that the Nazis tried to destroy – our existence today in the Ukraine and the creation of State of Israel – is a victory for us.”

At the second ORT campus, the Simcha School, the younger children took part in an emotional and moving ceremony. A teacher recited a memorial psalm and lit a candle together with them.

The children then sang, to its hassidic melody, “Ani Ma’amin” (“I Believe”), which was sung on trains bound for the camps, and later Sarit Hadad’s “Shema Yisrael” was sung to them by one of the older students – my eyes were certainly not dry and I wasn’t the only one.

As we walked away from the Babi Yar memorial shivering, “Shema Yisrael” played in my head – Avital Govrin from World ORT and I started humming the tune as we went. I thought of the many young, Jewish students we had met over the last few days, many of them in kindergarten eager to learn about their roots and their traditions, and realized that our survival and our continuation is in every way our revenge against the Nazis. The nation of Israel will always prevail and we will never back down in the face of evil.

The writer was a guest of World ORT.

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