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Still choking, she began to dig her way out of the sand. Luckily, it was pitch dark and the men at the edge of the quarry had stopped shoveling, evidently satisfied that the bodies were sufficiently covered. Dina’s eyes were full of sand and the stench was heavy. Slowly, cautiously she moved toward the nearest sand wall. She inched her way up, every second in peril of falling. She crawled on all fours. She had to get out and away. For the sake of her children, who were waiting for her somewhere in the real world. For the sake of telling of this new grotesque world which suddenly had become the real one.

Braving indescribable perils, Dina got away and wrote her story. The unbelievable story of Babi Yar, in the beautiful city of Kiev, where the civilized Germans, with the help of the local population, slaughtered in just 36 hours some 38,000 human beings because they were Jews.

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* * * * *

Early in 1942, the Einsatzgruppe commander Paul Blobel and the Gestapo expert on Church Affairs, Albert Hartel, drove together near Kiev. As they approached the ravine, Hartel noticed small explosions that threw up columns of earth. The March thaw was releasing gases from the thousands of bodies.

“Here my Jews are buried,” boasted Blobel.

* * * * *

Kiev was liberated in November 1943 – and with it Babi Yar. The once beautiful ravine with its colorful landscape, where families would enjoy their holiday picnics and children would roam in search of adventure, had been turned by the monsters into a valley of carnage where the flowers bloom red from Jewish blood, and the land yields a rich abundance of potato crops fertilized by Jewish ashes.

* * * * * *

In March 1966, the first memorial plaques were erected at Babi Yar, but none bore any mention that Jews were killed there. Jews did not count.

The horrendous thing about Babi Yar was that innocent people – women and children, infants, the old, the blind – were slaughtered there not because of anything they’d said or done but solely because of what they were.

The magnificent thing about Babi Yar was this: Surrounded by the stench of death, utterly humiliated, cruelly beaten, stripped of their clothing, the Jews refused to surrender their dignity. They had no weapons to resist with, other than the weapon of pride. They had nothing to fling in the face of their foes, other than their fierce will to live.

And though they had been brought up in a land were faith was not a praiseworthy quality, they possessed the faith ingrained in the very fiber of the Jewish psyche – faith that the Jews would endure, would survive, would ultimately triumph over all their enemies.

Indeed, a thousand years hence, our marching steps through history will yet thunder:

We survive. We are here. Anachnu po.

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Dr. Ervin Birnbaum is founder and director of Shearim Netanya, the first outreach program to Russian immigrants in Israel. He has taught at City University of New York, Haifa University, and the University of Moscow; served as national superintendent of education of Youth Aliyah and as the first national superintendent of education for the Institute of Jewish Studies; and, at the request of David Ben-Gurion, founded and directed the English Language College Preparatory School at Midreshet Sde Boker.
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