Ukraine Prepares for Commemoration of 80th Anniversary of Babi Yar Massacre

Monument created in 1991 to commemorate the Babi Yar massacre. (Alex Long))

Ukrainian officials will hold a state ceremony to commemorate 80 years since the Babi Yar (or Babyn Yar) massacre, one of the most horrifying sites of mass murder carried out by the Nazis with the help of Ukrainian collaborators.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, the first Jewish leader of Ukraine, formally invited Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to the ceremony in September.

The ceremony will involve global and Jewish leaders, Holocaust survivors, Ukrainian honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad VaShem, Holocaust educators and Holocaust historians, the Jerusalem Post reported.

The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Centre will unveil two new memorials, including a large structure made of crystal to symbolize weeping, and a symbolic grave mound.

“Babyn Yar is the symbol of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe and a past which has been forgotten for too long,” said Natan Sharanksy, Jewish activist and chair of the supervisory board of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center. “The 80th anniversary of this dreadful massacre is the ideal opportunity to right an historic wrong, for the sake of Ukraine, the Jewish People and indeed the world. It is a chance to tell the stories of those who were murdered, to honor their memories and to learn the lessons of this terrible tragedy.”

Babyn Yar, a ravine on the outskirts of Kiev, is believed to be Europe’s largest mass grave. Up to 100,00 Jewish, disabled, Roma (gypsy) and political victims of the Nazis lie beneath the killing field.

Between September 29-20, 1941, during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, the Nazis murdered 33,771 Jewish men, women, and children who had been living in Kiev. Their bodies were piled into mass graves in Babyn Yar.

Dina Pronicheva, who was one of the handful of survivors, lay still after the bullets missed her and pretended to be dead as Nazis wandered around, shooting whoever was still breathing. When night fell, she dug her way out of the ground and fled as guards shot at her. After the war, she testified in war crime trials, the sole witness to the massacre to come forward. She lost her elderly mother and two children that day.

After the war, however, the Soviet Union refused to acknowledge the Holocaust but broadly commemorated Jews along with political prisoners and Russians as victims of the Nazi regime. A 1976 government monument at Babyn Yar commemorated the victims only as “Soviet citizens.” It was only after the fall of the communist regime that Babyn Yar was recognized as an atrocity against the Jews of Ukraine.

Since then, a space for Jewish prayer has been built at the site. Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine and Kyiv, dedicated the space with a minyan and Torahs that survived the Holocaust on Holocaust Remembrance Day 2021.

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smarcus@hamodia.com