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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Babi Yar’

New Kiev Memorial Complex to be Built at Babi Yar Massacre Site

Monday, June 24th, 2013

The World Forum of Russian-Speaking Jews (WFRJ) unveiled on Sunday a model of the new memorial site to be built at Babi Yar in Ukraine, where an estimated 50,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust

WFRJ Alexander Levin, who also heads the Jewish community in Kiev, told the Governing Board of the Jewish Agency in Kiev that the new memorial site will allow visitors from around the world to experience an emotional connection to the horrific slaughter that occurred at Babi Yar over 70 years ago.

He also sternly warned of the current anti-Semitism plaguing the region and called on European leaders to act more firmly to eradicate all manifestations of anti-Semitism in their country. The site will display historic material, including remains of clothes and belongings of the murdered, documents from the Nazi archives, a 3D film, and interviews with survivors. The site will include a Jewish center and synagogue that will symbolize the revival of Jewish life in the place where Nazis once planned to exterminate every remnant of Judaism.

Construction of the site will begin in the next few months and is expected to take around two-and-a-half years to complete. Funding will come mostly from Levin and Vadim Rabinovich, a Jewish philanthropist from Ukraine, and the United Israel Appeal is also expected to raise money.

Babi Yar is a ravine in the northwest sector of the Ukrainian capital Kiev and the location where Nazis murdered around 100,000 people in total, more than half of them Jews, from September 29, 1941 onward. Nearly 34,000 Jews were slaughtered between the two-day span of September 29-30, which is defined as the most gruesome Holocaust extermination carried out in such a short period of time. Over the next year, 15,000 additional Jews were murdered there.

Where Flowers Bloom Red From Jewish Blood

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

The place that holds the record for murders in a day – even over such ghastly places as Auschwitz and Treblinka – is Babi Yar. A ravine on the outskirts of Kiev, it is today incorporated within the urban, inhabited sector of the Ukrainian capital. The events described here took place seventy years ago, in 1941, on Rosh Hashanah.

The famed Russian poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko wrote one the most chilling and powerful elegies to the place. Shostakovich, the renowned Russian composer, dedicated one of his great symphonies, the 13th, to Babi Yar. Both men were non-Jews who succumbed to the pain that came from contemplating man’s infinite capacity to inflict pain and suffering on his fellow man.

* * * * *

The Russian frontier exploded on June 22, 1941, when the German attack was unleashed without warning. Nine million fighting men joined the battle from the Baltic to the Black Sea. The Wehrmacht conquered Kiev on September 19, 1941. Ten days later, on September 28, notices were posted all over walls, billboards, fences, printed on bad wrapping paper. The notice read:

“All Jews in the city of Kiev and its environs must appear on the corner of Melnikov and Dokhturov Streets (beside the cemetery) at 8 a.m. on September 29. They must bring their documents, money, valuables, warm clothing, etc. Jews who fail to obey this order and are found elsewhere will be shot.”

The text was printed in three languages: Russian, Ukrainian and German. Anatoly Kuznetsov, a resident of Kiev, 12 years old at the time, wrote years later: “Many Jews lived and worked in a cluster of clay huts, small barns and cowsheds…two doors from our house. I peeped in and found them in the grip of a quiet panic, rushing from hovel to hovel, assembling their bundles.”

The Jews were distressed and frightened. The helplessness they felt was heightened by the absence of able-bodied men, who were serving in the Russian army. Mothers had to take care simultaneously of their children and their elders who were often incapable of fending for themselves. They had to make sure documents were in order and see to it that valuables were secured for a possible long trip and resettlement. They had to prepare food for at least a few days and pack clothing for family members while not even knowing what climes they would be moved to.

The unsuspecting Jews came out of their homes when it was still dark, hoping to be the first to board the trains and find seats. With wailing children, the old and the sick, some crippled and limping, some virtually crawling, Jewish tenants spilled out into the street carrying rope-tied bundles, battered wooden suitcases, patched carpetbags, pushing handcarts, baby carriages with three or four infants in each, helping each other, supporting one another.

“I could not, of course,” wrote Kuznetsov, “miss such an event as the deportation of the Jews from Kiev, and ran out into the street…to follow the events. A great crowd was ascending toward Lukyanovka, the cemetery district, a sea of heads. Suddenly there was a great troubled stir. People were saying that one could go only forward, but the return is cut off. This frightened me. I was afraid I would not manage to get out of the crowd and would be driven off with them. I pushed hard against the people, and made my way home.

Kuznetsov continued:

When I came home I saw Grandfather in the middle of the yard. He stood there with a finger raised, straining to hear the sound of firing far away.

For Every Jewish Mass Grave A Sign, A Name

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

If one makes his way beyond the outskirts of Kiev and continues deep into the forests of the neighboring village of Radomyshl, he soon enters an unmarked clearing.

To the untrained eye, the gap in the trees would appear random and most passersby would likely admire the lush vegetation enveloping the spot before continuing along the way.

But the horrific reality rooted here, as in hundreds of other sites strewn around the Ukrainian landscape, tells a wholly tragic, often ignored chapter in the incomprehensible history of the Holocaust.

Beneath the grass and the lilies that now sprout unchecked lie the bodies of hundreds if not thousands of Jewish victims, summarily murdered during a brief span of days in early 1942. The massacre was carried out by Nazi killing squads acting alongside their local paramilitary collaborators. All too often nearby villagers joined in, welcoming the chance to translate age-old hatred of the Jews into cold-blooded murder.

Underneath these grounds are the stories of remarkable families. Families who exemplified centuries of Jewish traditions that personified the rich cultures of Eastern European Jewry.

With the crack of each killer’s bullet, lives were terminated without any chance to say goodbye.

The Nazis diabolically assumed that their Jewish victims would be quickly forgotten and that unmarked killing fields would quickly fade into the lush surrounding landscape.

Incredibly, they were right, multiplying the crime. It was not just murder of innocents, but also erasure of the crime and the memory of the victims.

Decades later, there is a growing fear that in this regard the Nazis may have succeeded. For even while historians try to document precisely how many souls were lost to the Final Solution, the reality is that if these clearings in the forest go forever unnoticed, the sacred lives lost in each spot will also vanish.

There is no disputing that a life lost in the backwoods of Ukraine or Belorussia is no less valuable than one extinguished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Every one of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis deserves to be remembered and his or her life memorialized.

There are many reasons why this effort is critical for humanity. But, undeniably, our most important motivation in accurately preserving the memories of the victims of Nazism is to ensure that humanity never ignores, forgets or diminishes the fact that these horrors occurred.

Though it may seem absurd that people could ever deny the systematic annihilation of millions of innocents, current events prove that evil-intentioned people are intent on doing just that. It is therefore incumbent upon us in the Jewish community, and indeed upon all human beings who understand the true dangers represented by hate-filled and genocidal regimes, to do everything in our power to make sure that every victim of the Holocaust is properly remembered and memorialized.

It is this very commitment that drives our current initiative to create a Ukrainian Jewish Museum. This project will provide a physical facility where guests can come, visit and learn about the remarkable centuries-old history of one of the Jewish world’s proudest communities. No less important, the museum will embrace a monumental commitment and infrastructure to identify the anonymous killing fields in the woods that would otherwise continue to be ignored.

Clearly, the clock is working against us. Admittedly, this effort should have been launched two or three decades ago. Regrettably, the political environment and other factors prohibited us from pursuing this approach at that time.

It is all the more critical for us to move as quickly as possible while the greatest resource available for understanding the Holocaust – the survivor community – remains alive. Even given the limited capacity in which we have been able to work up to now, survivors have been absolutely instrumental in identifying mass graves.

Some of these survivors were able to remain alive as small children, fleeing into the forests and literally hiding behind trees as they witnessed family members being slaughtered and thrown into the pits. While the Nazis would force Jewish laborers whom they kept alive for that purpose to cover over the bodies and disguise the unthinkable crimes taking place, those who were able to survive would eventually find their way back and reveal the truth.

Back To Poland

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

        On Yom Kippur, I was in Kiev after having participated in the commemorations at Babi Yar. Subsequently, I decided to make a side trip to Poland before returning home to New York.

 

         The train ride from Kiev to Warsaw cost about 60 dollars and lasts about 20 hours, with a four hour stop at the border for visa and customs control. Arriving in Warsaw, I went directly to the Nozyck synagogue to daven and was greeted as an old friend.

 

         After talking with the young leaders of the congregation (Rabbi Schudrich was not in town at the time) I went to Lodz to meet with my old friend Jarek Novak. Jarek was excited to see me and started to show me all the changes that had taken place in Lodz since I was last there.

 

         The Jewish community now has a guest house, as well as a kosher dairy restaurant, where we enjoyed a delicious meal. The guest house where I stayed is an old renovated building that belonged to the Jewish community before the war and had only recently been returned to the community. At first glance, it looks somewhat dingy with what appears to be black stains on the walls. On further examination, the stains are the remains of frescoes (paintings on the wall) that at one time had made the building a magnificent piece of art.

 

         The renovators decided to leave the frescoes in order to show the glory that once was and the destruction that had taken place. The garden area of the community center – that was a mess when I last saw it – is now a true garden with flowers and seating areas. As I was sitting there, a sukkah was in the process of being built, as preparations for the upcoming holiday were in full swing. The great surprise was when Simcha Keller walked in and joined us for the meal and asked me, “Will you be joining us for our minyan in the morning? It starts at 9:00.”

 



The garden of the Jewish community with the newly built Sukkah as seen from my hotel room.


 

        

         How different it was since I was last in Lodz. At that time there was no place to eat other than the free lunch service provided by the community to the elderly. There was no minyan and no place to stay with a Jewish sense of hospitality.

 

         After lunch Jarek Novak took me to the Pozanski factory. When I was last there, it was an abandoned factory complex. It had recently been turned into the largest shopping mall in all of Poland. All the major shops are represented and there is nothing you can’t buy. There is also a gym, a multiplex theater and many restaurants and cafes.

 

         Novak then told me about some of the projects involving the Jewish community. Besides the community center, there is also the Radagast station; the former Umschlagplatz of Lodz; and a park developed as a Holocaust memorial in honor of the survivors.

 

         When I was last there the Radagast station was a wood shop and plans were only in the dreaming stage of developing the site. Today it is a memorial on a world class level and visited on a regular basis by people of all ages from all over the world – and especially by school children from Lodz.

 

         The Survivor Park is located in the middle of the former ghetto area and is still in the development stage. But much work has already been done. During the ceremony, in recognition of the 60th anniversary of the destruction of the ghetto, 484 trees were planted by survivors from Lodz.

 

         I was then taken on a quick tour of the former ghetto and was shown some of the 83 plaques placed on various buildings with significant Holocaust history, as well as the signs on the pavement showing the ghetto boundaries.

 

         Each of these subjects deserve a column of their own and I will write about them in more detail when I get back to N.Y. after Simchat Torah.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/back-to-poland/2006/10/11/

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