KIEV, Ukraine (Sep. 28)
Several hundred Jews gathered here last weekend to commemorate the 52nd anniversary of the mass execution of the Jews of Kiev at Babi Yar by the Nazis during World War II.
Speaking to the audience Sunday, Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, chief rabbi of Ukraine, said, “The scene at Babi Yar showed the barbarity of the fascist regime, which had intentions to kill every Jew that they found.
“Though they shot tens of thousands of Jews in Kiev, the Jewish community in Kiev still lives and has survived and stands as a living confirmation of the words ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ (the people of Israel live),” said Bleich.
Almost immediately after the German occupation of Kiev in 1941, a general announcement was made for the Jews of the city to gather on Sept. 29 at the Jewish cemetery near Babi Yar, a ravine on the outskirts of the city.
During the next two days, the Germans shot and killed 33,771 Jewish men, women and children.
Recalling the scene, Maria Greenberg, a survivor of Babi Yar who spoke at the commemoration, said, “They told everyone to come to this place, and when we arrived they made us stand in line while they started shooting those in the front and pushing the bodies into the ravine.
“The only reason I survived was that a Russian girl grabbed me and took me to the side with her. When the Germans asked who I was, she said I was her sister. Even though I did not look anything like her, they let me go, not recognizing that I was a Jew,” she said.
FIRST MONUMENT BUILT IN ’76
During the next two years of the German occupation, several thousand other people — including Red Army soldiers, Communists and Ukrainian nationalists — were shot at the site and their bodies thrown into the mass grave.
Shortly before the Soviet army reconquered Kiev at the end of 1943, the Germans tried to cover the traces of the mass grave. In the last several weeks before the liberation, nearly all the bodies were removed from the ravine and burned, with the remaining bones ground into dust.
Despite the German efforts to cover up the atrocities at Babi Yar, their actions were well documented. As a result, the German commander who authorized the executions was sentenced to death at the Nuremberg trials in 1946 for crimes against humanity.
After the war, the Soviet government attempted to cover the site by pumping silt into the ravine from the Dnieper River. In 1961, a mud slide poured from the ravine, killing several hundred people and flooding the residential neighborhood surrounding the area.
That same year, Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko published “Babi Yar.” The poem, which began with the line “At Babi Yar there is no monument,” focused wide attention, both in the Soviet Union and abroad, on the atrocities.
It was not until 1976 that the first monument to the victims of Babi Yar was built, although not on the actual site of the executions. The monument also ignored the fact that the most of the people shot at Babi Yar were Jews; the inscription referred to the victims only as Soviet citizens. A new memorial was erected in 1991.