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There's a very chilling symbolism in the fact that on the eve of Yom Kippur we learned that the Ukrainians had proposed to erect a hotel, of all places, where the Babi Yar memorial is located. It has now been announced that these plans are being scrapped. Nevertheless, that anyone could have considered it proper to desecrate the site in order to prepare for the 2012 European soccer championships, is an outrage in itself. It signifies callousness - if not outright disdain - towards Jews.
According to the Hebrew calendar, it was on Yom Kippur eve in 1941 that Kiev's Jews were ordered by Nazi occupation forces to report for evacuation with documents, valuables and even warm clothing and undergarments. The deception was maintained until the end, when small groups were led separately to a gaping pit. Driven through a narrow corridor of executioners, they were beaten, commanded to undress and then machine-gunned. In a two-day orgy of ruthless bestiality, 33,771 Jews were murdered - more than all the casualties renascent Israel has suffered in its decades of struggle to survive.
The killing field at Babi Yar would likely have been forgotten, as were numerous other bloodlettings in that area in that darkest of times, were it not for Yevgeny Yevtushenko's 1961 epic poem. Yevtushenko shamed the Soviets into erecting a monument at the site, though it didn't mention Jews; a commemorative menorah was put up by Jewish groups in 1991. Previously the Soviets had dammed and flooded the ravine with mud and the runoffs from nearby quarries.
Independent Ukraine hardly excelled either in honoring the dead. No major government-sponsored commemoration took place there in the years after the Ukraine extricated itself from the USSR.
Only in 2006, responding to accusations of Ukrainian antipathy, did Kiev announce that the massacre site would be turned into "a state historical and cultural reserve," which would include "a museum dedicated to Jewish victims."
This wasn't an easy announcement to make in a country that still bristles with anti-Semitism and where it is routine to equate the Holocaust with the Stalin-instigated 1932-33 Ukrainian famine. It was apparently considerably easier to renege, and instead opt for the reverse of somber remembrance - the construction of lodgings for football fans. The change in plans occurred this weekend, only after protests, fear that Ukraine would lose face and the personal intervention of President Shimon Peres.
THE HOLOCAUST'S trail of destruction moved Ukraine and Eastern Europe to the sidelines of current existential Jewish concerns. Nazism's torchbearers today reside closer to the Jewish homeland - foremost in the regime that rules Iran, and emblemized by its President, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who denies the Holocaust while in the same breath calling for its extension: wiping Israel off the map. Iran's fundamentalist leadership seeks nuclear firepower to further that genocidal goal and remake the world order.
Last Wednesday, Ahmedinejad restated his toxic themes at the UN General Assembly. Prime Minister Netanyahu's articulate condemnation - of the speaker and those who had shamelessly stayed to hear him - from the same platform the next day was intended as a wake-up call to a slumbering international community. One fears it fell on disinterested ears.
EVERY YEAR for the past 36, this nation has labored with the trauma of the 1973 war, which broke out on this most solemn of days and for which, in our hubris, we were so unprepared. Each year anew, on this day of introspection and reckoning, we must resolve to act with courage and wisdom to protect our existential interests.
Our prime minister, rightly and commendably, sought again last week to impress upon world leaders that the struggle against Teheran's Islamist fanaticism pits "civilization against barbarism, the 21st century against the ninth century, those who sanctify life against those who glorify death."
Ultimately, however, our own history has demonstrated that the Jewish nation dare count only on itself, that others cannot be relied upon to watch over us.
Nazi Germany was emboldened by the world's thundering silence in the wake of Babi Yar to industrialize mass-murder. The difference almost 70 years later, while the international community largely conveys the same message of indifference as Teheran incites toward genocide, is that the Jews today have a state of our own and the means to protect it.
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