Edited by: TJVNews.com
Ukraine’s Holocaust memorial center on Wednesday revealed the names of 159 Nazi SS troops who took part in the killing of Jews during the Babi Yar massacre in Ukraine eight decades after one of the most infamous Nazi mass slaughters of World War II.
An AP report indicated that nearly 34,000 Jews were killed within 48 hours in Babi Yar, a ravine in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, when the city was under Nazi occupation in 1941. The Nazis shot tens of thousands of Jews, Roma, Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war at Babyn Yar, as wells as patients from psychiatric hospitals and others, as was reported by the New York Times. SS troops carried out the massacre with the willing assistance of local collaborators.
The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center is being established to commemorate the stories of the 2.5 million Jews of Eastern Europe, including 1.5 million from Ukraine alone, who were murdered and buried in mass graves near their homes. Last year, a number of memorials were installed at the center as part of the construction of a massive, innovative museum complex across the whole Babi Yar area. The NYT reported that the full museum complex is expected to cost more than $100 million, about half of which was donated by Russian oligarchs, and it is scheduled for completion in 2025.The establishment of the center is being overseen by public figures and leaders from around the world, headed by Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the board of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center.
“Babi Yar is the biggest mass grave of the Holocaust … the most quickly filled mass grave,” said Sharansky on Wednesday.
Presidents Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, Isaac Herzog of Israel and Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany attended a ceremony in Kyiv on Wednesday to remember the victims of the massacre, as was reported by the AP.
“It’s hard to breathe at this place — thousands of children took their last breath here,” Zelenskyy said. “It’s hard to stand here — thousands of bullets knocked people down here in Babi Yar. The earth was trembling from the convulsions of people who were still alive and trying to get out.”
Israeli President Isaac Herzog began his address with the recitation of the Yizkor prayer (traditional Jewish prayer commemorating the death of loved ones that is said four times a year) saying that “eighty years ago there was no one left here to pray.” He called for new and bold initiatives in combating the rapid escalation of global anti-Semitism, adding that “people mustn’t forget about what catastrophe their silence could lead to.”
Recalling the reprehensible brutality that took place during those 48 hours at the end of September in Kyev 80 years ago, Herzog intoned: “There was no colder or more awful act of murder, no more murderous representation of the “Holocaust by bullets,” than the Baby Yar Massacre. There is no escaping the terrible thought that the sun rose over this valley. The birds chirped. The forest was quiet. And the butchers—they butchered. For two days, the machine guns of the Nazis’ death squads and, alas, also local collaborators mowed down tens of thousands of the Jews of Kyiv and the region. Whole families were erased.”
Herzog added: “Let us make no mistake: even in the present, Holocaust denial is still alive and kicking. Antisemitism still exists. Just in the past day, we all heard of another ugly manifestation of antisemitism at the Auschwitz extermination camp, in the form of antisemitic graffiti that disgraces the memory of the people killed at this terrible death camp. We, world leaders, must all vigorously condemn the slightest hint of this phenomenon and fight it with all our might.
Commemoration and remembrance are vital for the whole of humanity, against evil, cruelty, and apathy. In order that we not forget what shoah—what destruction—one person can do to another, by deed or by silence. How far hatred, ignorance, antisemitism, and racism can reach. What they can do to human beings, created in the image of God! As we Jewish communities around the whole world read last Shabbat, in the first parsha of the Hebrew Bible, Bereshit. We must ensure for the whole of humanity—from this wretched place, of all places—from a place where the world bore witness, knew, and was silent—that there shall never, ever be another Babi Yar.”
Herzog concluded by saying that the Babi Yar massacre was “an eternal scar on the surface of our planet” and that it is “a tragic event that must never be erased from the annals of the family of nations.”
“For us Germans, there can only be one response: never again!” Steinmeier said.
AP reported that Zelenskyy, Herzog and Steinmeier also inaugurated a memorial center, still under construction, dedicated to the stories of Eastern European Jews who were killed and buried in mass graves during the Holocaust. Of the 2.5 million Jews in that region, 1.5 million died in Ukraine alone.
On Wednesday, the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial center revealed the initial 159 names of hundreds of Nazi troops who took part in the Babi Yar massacre on Sept. 29-30, 1941, when 33,771 Jews were murdered.
“Despite confessions, evidence and testimonies being submitted as late as the 1960s by some of the Nazi soldiers who carried out the murders, only a few of those involved ever faced justice for their heinous crimes,” it said, as was reported by the AP.
“They were between 20 and 60 years old,” the memorial center said. “They were educated and uneducated, they included engineers and teachers, drivers and salespeople. Some were married and some were not. The vast majority of them returned to live a normal life after the war. They testified at trial and were found not guilty, except for very few commanders, not the soldiers who carried out the horrific massacre.”
Andrej Umansky, a German historian with Ukrainian ancestry working for the private initiative, the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center told the NYT that “students today don’t have the same connection to the Holocaust. For them, it’s totally abstract. To talk about the Holocaust is the same as talking about ancient Rome.”
The challenge, he told the Times, was to find tools to reach younger people. “We have to find ways to talk to them so they will understand,” he said. Most staff members, he said, were under 40, bringing a youthful energy to the project.
AP reported that Father Patrick Desbois, head of the center’s academic council, said some of the 159 Nazi troops named “were shooters. Others extracted the Jews from their homes. Others took their belongings and their luggage. Others armed the weapons while others were serving sandwiches, tea and vodkas to the shooters. All of them are guilty.”
The three presidents on Wednesday attended the opening of a new memorial – the “Crystal Crying Wall” created by conceptual artist Marina Abramovic. Within six months, the first museum space will be unveiled, according to the AP report.
“We are going to give the real faces to the Holocaust, whether it’s the faces of the victims, of the executors or those who were helping to save Jews,” Sharansky told The Associated Press.
He noted that while some Ukrainians collaborated with the Nazi killers, at least 2,600 Ukrainian families were hiding Jews at the risk of their own lives.
“So we are going to recover the names of victims, and we are recovering more and more names of victims, the names of those who were saving Jews and the names of collaborators,” he said.
Also participating in the 80th anniversary of the Babyn Yar massacre in the Ukraine were William Daroff, CEO, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
In addition to their participation in these events, Daroff and Hoenlein are joining mission participants from NCSEJ: the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry to meet with Ukrainian and other world leaders on the sidelines of the commemoration. The Conference leaders also participated in events with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
Hoenlein, who serves on the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center’s Organizing Committee, said: “This important initiative comes at a critical time when Holocaust denial and distortion are surging and Holocaust ignorance is becoming endemic amongst younger generations. In addition, the passing each day of the treasured remaining survivors of the Holocaust is even more painful and impactful.”
He added that, “who will give testimony to the indescribable horrors and to the limitless evil that took the lives of six million Jews, among them a million and a half children? In Babyn Yar, the most prominent site of the ‘Holocaust by bullets,’ where 33,771 Jews were individually shot by Nazis and their local collaborators between September 29-30, 1941. Ultimately 100,000 Jews and non-Jews were killed at this site. The very earth cries out ‘remember, gedenk, zachor.
It is your obligation to protect future generations. Don’t let the memories, the lessons, the warnings die also.’ This expansive undertaking with multiple museums will enable all who visit to hear those distilled voices and join in pledging Never Again. We must hold all those responsible then, as well as now, to account. We are here to echo that declaration and declare our support.
“I was honored to chair the session with the project’s founders, who have demonstrated deep commitment, both financial and personal, to make this essential project a reality, ” Hoenlein said.
Daroff, who studied the history of Eastern European Jewry and the Holocaust at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, remarked, “The Holocaust for many decades served as a dark warning to Europe, a sign of where antisemitism can lead. But American Jewry has a long and proud reputation of coming to the aid of our co-religionists in Europe, and it still has an important role to play today. One of our greatest priorities in Europe is to preserve and increase awareness of the Shoah by means of educational programming. A recent survey finds a woeful lack of Holocaust awareness even in the U.S. and other polls find European populations claiming that Jews have too much power and care too much about the Holocaust. Our work is clearly cut out for us and we will not be remiss in our duties.
“I am honored that I am present in Kyiv for this solemn occasion, and I hope to return home with an even deeper understanding of the atrocities that befell our people during the horrific period it recalls. But sadly, as the ongoing threat of antisemitism still plagues us to this day, we must continue to fight with all we have and with all the true allies we can muster.”
This week, Daroff published a column in The Jerusalem Post entitled “European Jewry’s Cause Is Our Own”: https://www.jpost.com/opinion/the-welfare-of-european-jewry-is-american-responsibility-opinion-681045
(Sources: AP New York Times)