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Remembering Babi Yar

Remembering Babi Yar

‘No monument stands over Babi Yar.”

So starts Yevgeni Yevtushenko’s epic 1961 poem about the then-unknown killing field near Kiev.

The world largely did not know that the Nazis, aided by compliant Ukrainian police, slaughtered 33,771 Jews in a ravine during two days at the end of September 1941, the largest number of Jews who lost their lives in a single Final Solution operation.

The world did not know that some 70,000 other “undesirables” — Gypsies, Communists, prisoners of war and Ukrainians among them — also were killed there by the Einsatzgruppen mobile killing squads.

The world had forgotten.

But Yevtushenko, a non-Jew who wrote that his refusal to forget caused him to be hated “by antisemites like a Jew,” reminded the world.

Babi Yar. Where Kiev’s Jews were ordered to gather by the cemetery on the edge of the city. Where they were stripped of their belongings and clothing. Where they were pushed into the deep pit and shot in the back of the neck. Where no marker identified the site for many years.

Until 1976, when a memorial, which did not mention the Jewish identity of the victims, was erected. Until 1991, when a monument in the shape of a menorah, which did identify the martyrs’ Jewish background, went up.

On the anniversary of the murders, a memorial ceremony now takes place each year. One Ukrainian Jew, above, mourns during last week’s ceremony.

“I cannot think of those days without tears,” Tamara Kovalenko, whose aunt was killed at Babi Yar, told the Associated Press. “This crime against innocent people should never be forgiven.”

No one knows the exact number of people who died at Babi Yar. Yad Vashem has identified only 10 percent of the Jewish victims.

A new monument will appear at Babi Yar in the coming years. The Jewish community of Ukraine conducted an international architectural contest this year for a memorial complex.

The winner will be announced in February.

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