Austrian architect wins prize for Babi Yar Holocaust Center Memorial

The center will be the first Holocaust commemoration site to be constructed in Eastern Europe, and is expected to be groundbreaking for its experiential design.

An Austrian architecture firm – Querkraft Architekten – won first place in the international competition for the planned Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, which is to be built next to the ravine where the atrocity took place in 1941-43 in Kiev, Ukraine. The Austrian landscape architect Kieran Fraser Landscape Design will also participate in the winning design.
The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC) is a non-profit educational organization aiming at appropriate commemoration of the events which took place there and promotes “humanizing of mankind through the preservation and exploration of the memory of the Holocaust.”
The international architectural competition jury included Polish-American architect Daniel Liebeskind, known for his prize-winning design and completion of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, and for winning the competition for master-plan architect to reconstruct the Twin Towers site and the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.
Other general jurors included business people and officials such as Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko; former deputy minister of Culture of Ukraine Dr. Tamara Mazur; and American businessman Ronald Lauder, President of World Jewish Congress.
The Babi Yar atrocities followed from the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Some 160,000 Jews resided in the Ukrainian capital city of Kiev, comprising around 20% of the city's population. German forces entered Kiev on September 19, 1941.
During the first days of the German occupation, two major explosions occurred, thought to be set off by Soviet military engineers, blasting the German headquarters. The sabotage was used as a pretext for retribution by the German forces to murder the remaining Jews of Kiev. At that time, there were about 60,000 Jews in the city, mostly those who had been unable to flee: women, children, the elderly and the sick.
According to the United States Holocaust Museum:
"On September 29-30, 1941, SS and German police units and their auxiliaries, under guidance of members of Einsatzgruppe C, murdered the Jewish population of Kiev at Babi Yar, a ravine northwest of the city.
"This was one of the largest mass murders at an individual location during World War II.
"As the victims moved into the ravine, Einsatzgruppe detachments shot them in small groups. According to reports by the Einsatzgruppe to headquarters, 33,771 Jews were massacred in two days.
"In the months following the massacre, German authorities stationed at Kiev killed thousands more Jews at Babi Yar, as well as non-Jews including Roma (Gypsies). The Soviet army liberated Kiev on November 6, 1943.”
The competition originally received 165 applications, which were submitted from 36 countries then whittled down to a shortlist of ten firms.
The center will be the first Holocaust commemoration site to be constructed in eastern Europe, and is expected to be groundbreaking for its experiential design.
BYHMC stated that:
”The concept of the winning project is built around the future center-visitor’s individual perception of the Holocaust. The design solution enables the visitor to physically feel the danger and hopelessness that surrounded the Holocaust victims gunned down at Babyn Yar.
"A long ramp resembling a ditch or fissure leads to the core exhibition, located 20 meters below the ground level. The walls of the ramp rise up around the visitor, ultimately encasing them underground. The journey made by visitors mirrors the path taken by Babyn Yar victims towards their place of their death in the Babyn Yar ravine, while also reflecting society’s incessant plunge toward the darkness of violence.
"After traveling through the core exhibition, the visitor emerges into a luminous atrium. This space is the Memorial Center’s 'heart,' symbolizing the future, which gives hope. Surrounding the atrium are multiple teaching rooms, designed for public talks and dialogue, academic research and larger event spaces. The entire design is built around the idea of contrast between dark and light, despair and hope.”
Other Holocaust museums using the underground effect  include Yad Vashem, designed in 2005 by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safadie Jerusalem. It features a gently sloping floor with the illusion of descending deep into the mountain. Another example is the 1963 Memorial to the Martyrs of Deportation in Paris. The disquietude of experiencing constraint affects many visitors,  with a range of reactions on both the wider historical and personal levels: fear and hope, death and new life, societal collapse and its renewal.
The theme of dark and light is also used in Yad Vashem and in the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center 2009 in Skokie, Illinois.
The supervisory board for the memorial was founded in March 19, 2017, and headed by former Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky.  There have been four previous attempts to move forward with plans for a commemorative memorial center at Babi Yar, which have all failed.
September 29 will be the 78th anniversary of the atrocity at Babi Yar.