Ukraine: WWII massacre remembered

Nazis machine-gunned more than 33,000 people over 48 hours at Kiev ravine.

September 27, 2006 14:50
3 minute read.
Ukraine: WWII massacre remembered

babi yar crying224 88 . (photo credit: AP)


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Bells gently tolled as Ukrainian and foreign dignitaries on Wednesday commemorated the 65th anniversary of the Nazi massacre of Jews at the Babi Yar ravine, laying flower-encircled candles at the foot of a monument to the tens of thousands of victims. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and President Moshe Katsav led the solemn procession behind an honor guard of Ukrainian soldiers carrying a garland of white flowers. Hundreds of mourners - many Jews who had traveled from around the world - watched, clutching their own offerings of red and white carnations. Some carried small stones, which Jews traditionally leave at gravesites as a sign of respect. "For me, it is not just memories," said Dina Maydanyk, 74, whose three brothers died in the Holocaust. "It's a horror." After a minute of silence, representatives of different religions - Jewish, Ukrainian Orthodox -led the crowd in mournful prayers. "The tragedy of the Holocaust is a deep wound for all of our people," Yushchenko said Tuesday as he launched the two days of commemorations. The massacre began on Sept. 29, 1941, when Soviet Kiev's Nazi occupiers ordered all Jews to report to a ravine on the outskirts of town. The Jews thought they would be taken to a ghetto, and Kiev residents recalled their Jewish neighbors lugging their most valuable belongings out to the ravine. But when they got there, the Jews were forced to undress and gather in lines along the ravine's steep embankment. There, the Nazis machine-gunned down the crowd, killing at least 33,771 over 48 hours. In the ensuing months, the number of people killed at Babi Yar grew to more than 100,000. "I saw how the Germans were laughing and joking when they looked at the people they were bringing to their death," said Nina Isayeva, 82, who came to pay tribute to the victims. "What barbarians they were." Moshe Kantor, founder of the World Holocaust Forum, which is organizing the events, said that the world's silence after Babi Yar emboldened the Nazis to embark on their "final solution" of death camps that ultimately killed six million European Jews. "We must be carriers of these stories," Kantor said. Zhenya Kazachenko, 37, whose relatives died at Babi Yar, said simply: "Never again." The exact death toll at Babi Yar remains unknown. The Nazi executioners recorded the number of Jews killed in the first two days, but there are no exact records of subsequent killings. In 1943, as the Red Army approached to liberate Ukraine, the Nazis ordered Jewish prisoners to dig up the corpses and burn them. For decades, the Soviets maintained silence about what happened in Babi Yar. Only after Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko drew international attention to the massacre with his 1961 poem "Babi Yar," did the Soviets put up a towering monument of twisted and tormented figures. It made no mention of Jews, however. It wasn't until 1991, as the Soviet Union began to crumble, that Jews were allowed to erect a menorah near another part of the ravine. Today, the ravine is part of a popular park, and Jewish leaders say they are frustrated that children still play soccer and couples picnic where tens of thousands were massacred. Wednesday's commemorations were being held at the Soviet memorial, although the Jewish community held an earlier private ceremony at the menorah across the park Ukraine was once home to a thriving Jewish community; about 20 percent of Kiev's population of 875,000 was Jewish before the war. Today, there are 103,000 Jews in all of Ukraine, according to official data, although the number is believed to be several times higher. This week's commemorations come as Ukraine's Jewish community has grown increasingly frustrated by manifestations of anti-Semitism. Last year, there were a series of attacks on Jews near a downtown synagogue, and anti-Semitic books and literature continue to be sold openly in some kiosks around the city center. "It is important to remember what happened," said Ronald Stanton, 78, who came to the commemorations from New York City. "People forget very quickly."

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