No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
Today, I am as old
As the entire Jewish race itself.–From “Babi Yar,” a poem by Yevgeni Yevtushenko
This year we remember the Babi Yar Massacre.
For me, “Every Person Has A Name,” Jewish Federation’s annual Holocaust Memorial program, is a defying act against those who would rather forget. And reading aloud a single person’s name is an act of acknowledging that they lived.
When I think of Babi Yar, I see a woman holding her child while a Nazi soldier points his gun at her. By remembering that she had lived and was murdered, and now reciting her name, I acknowledge her humanity. The humanity that her murderer tried to deprive her of.
Eighty years ago, in late September 1941, the Ukrainian capital Kiev had fallen to German forces. Shortly after occupying the city, the Nazis started rounding up the Jews. They ordered:
“All Yids[a] of the city of Kiev and its vicinity must appear on Monday, 29 September, by 8 o’clock in the morning at the corner of Mel’nikova and Dokterivskaya streets (near the Viis’kove cemetery). Bring documents, money and valuables, and also warm clothing, linen, etc. Any Yids[a] who do not follow this order and are found elsewhere will be shot.”
And on Sept. 29, 1941, by 8 a.m. the Jewish men, women and children who hadn’t fled the city did gather near the Jewish cemetery. They were taken in groups of 10 to the ravine known as Babi Yar, stripped and shot. From Monday the 29th to Tuesday the 30th of September 1941, approximately 33,771 Jews were murdered in what came to be known as “the largest single massacre in the history of the Holocaust.”
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre, a massacre that the Nazis tried to hide and the Soviet Union tried to forget. But a handful of people survived. And in 1961, the Russian poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko wrote the Poem “Babi Yar.” The poem echoed through Soviet Russia and then out to the world.
This past September, Israeli president Isaac Herzog traveled to Ukraine to mark the anniversary and said, “Commemoration and remembrance are vital for the whole of humanity, against evil, cruelty and apathy.”
In honor of the lives of the people lost at Babi Yar, the Jewish Federation of Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys will dedicate this year’s Every Person Has a Name Holocaust memorial name reading to the lives of the Jews of Kiev.
The public is welcome to join in reading names on Jan. 22-23, 2022, at Pasadena City Hall and virtually.
To register for the name reading, go to: https://jewishsgpv.org/calendar/every-person-has-a-name-2022.
Kim Banjai is the Jewish Federation’s Program and Community Outreach Coordinator and a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.