The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC) has unveiled the first Jewish prayer space at Babyn Yar.
The symbolic synagogue structure was opened on Thursday, Holocaust Remembrance Day, at a ceremony that included special prayers led by Ukraine & Kyiv Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich alongside nine other rabbis (numbers limited due to COVID-19 restrictions in Ukraine).
The event was addressed by Jewish world leaders and other dignitaries.
At the Babyn Yar ravine there were 33,771 Jewish victims shot by the Nazis within just two days, September 29-30, 1941.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainians, Roma, mentally ill, and others were shot thereafter at Babyn Yar throughout the Nazi occupation of Kyiv.
The estimated number of victims murdered at Babyn Yar is around 100,000, making it Europe’s largest mass grave.
Designed by renowned international architect Manuel Herz, the symbolic synagogue takes its inspiration from the pop-up book and 17th and 18th-century wooden Ukrainian synagogues.
It forms part of a wider planned multi-faith space for prayer and reflection, to be completed in due course.
The symbolic synagogue is the first construction to be completed in the planned Babyn Yar memorial complex, which will stretch over 150 hectares, making it one of the world’s largest Holocaust memorial centers.
“Babyn Yar is a place of memory,” Ilya Khrzhanovsky, BYHMC’s artistic director, said. “History is literally absorbed in the ground here. We wanted to create a space that enables the story of Babyn Yar to be closer and relevant to everyone, regardless of nationality, gender, age, or religion. People who visit this complex will inevitably find themselves exposed to and better understand the Babyn Yar tragedy.”
Khrzhanovsky continued: “The last survivors of the Holocaust, who bear witness to those horrors, are passing away. In a short period, the direct connection to past events will disappear, future generations will lose the opportunity to know, understand, and feel what happened 80 years ago. The Babyn Yar tragedy and the tragedy of the Second World War will fade into history and become an abstract event. Our task is to avoid it.”
Rabbi Bleich said that “for many years, Babyn Yar has had no proper stone or memorial. I find it telling that the first structure of the memorial will be a place for introspection and prayer designed symbolically as a synagogue. This will help visitors relate to the mass murder that took place in Babyn Yar and not forget the spirituality or the origins of those Jews murdered on the eve of Yom Kippur and Yom Kippur itself.”