It is 71 years since the killing began of approximately 35 thousand Jewish Ukrainians at Babi Yar, then a ravine on the outskirts of Kyiv. There was a formal ceremony in memory of the victims on Friday. On Sunday young Kyiv residents from the St Yehidia Foundation will be holding a procession under the banner: Babi Yar: Without Memory there is no Future.
The Nazis had put up announcements on 28 September ordering all Jews to come with their possessions and documents the next morning to the corner of Melnykova and Degtyryovska St. Those who did not, the announcement read, would be executed.
Some few fled, many being found and killed in the Holosiyivsky Forest near Kyiv. A small number (around 150) were given refuge by non-Jewish friends or neighbours. Those who sheltered Jews knew that they and their families faced execution if caught.
Many went with foreboding, yet the location was near a train station, and some believed, or hoped, that they were being deported.
It was simply impossible to comprehend that Nazi Einsatzgruppen and local collaborators could strip naked and systematically murder innocent children and adults.
It remains impossible.
In Soviet times the execution during those terrible days of Jews at Babi Yar was assiduously ignored. Plans to build a rubbish dump at the ravine were condemned by the writer and War veteran Viktor Nekrasov who in 1959 spoke out, calling for a monument to those murdered at Babi Yar. The authorities ignored such calls, with even pulp being pumped into the ravine. This led in 1961 to a catastrophic mudslide which claimed the lives of about 2 thousand people.
During the 1960s and 1970s the Soviets continued building over the ravine area and with a television centre and sports complex built on Melnykova St. By 1980 they had created a park over the territory, with only a small part of Babi Yar remaining.
After unauthorized meetings on 29 September 1966, the 25th anniversary of the Massacre (addressed by Ivan Dzyuba, Viktor Nekrasov and others) and a year later, the authorities finally acknowledged the need for some monument. The official monument erected by 1968 was to the memory of “Soviet citizens during the period of the temporary German-Fascist occupation of 1941-1943”.
The story of Soviet lies is long and sordid. In 1991, following Ukraine’s independence, a menorah was erected at Babi Yar.
The years since then have also seen controversy and sometime ugly dissent.
It is true that many of those murdered at Babi Yar were not Jewish.
It is also true that on 29 September the Jews of Kyiv were ordered to assemble near Babi Yar, where all of them, including thousands of children were massacred as Jews.