In September 1941, SS and German police units mass murdered 33,771 Jews in Kyiv: a ‘Holocaust by bullets’. The victims – mostly women, children, the elderly and infirmed – were summoned to a ravine on the outskirts of the city where they were ordered to remove their clothing and systematically gunned down in small groups over a two-day period. The massacre at Babi Yar was one of the largest of the Second World War. Between 1941-3, some 100,000 Jews, Roma, Ukrainian civilians, psychiatric patients, and Soviet POWs were mass murdered and buried there. Today, a Holocaust memorial stands atop the mass grave.
On Februrary 24, 2022 Russian forces invaded Ukraine under the pretext of ‘de-Nazifying’ the country. By March 1st, they had bombed the vicinity of the Babi Yar Memorial, killing five civilians.
Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the memorial, had the following condemnation for Putin and his accomplices: “Putin seeking to distort and manipulate the Holocaust to justify an illegal invasion of a sovereign democratic country is utterly abhorrent. It is symbolic that he starts attacking Kyiv by bombing the site of Babi Yar, the biggest of Nazi massacres.”
The Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem has joined the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Babi Yar memorials in condemning Russia’s targeting of civilians during its invasion of Ukraine: ‘We continue to follow with grave concern the outrageous acts of aggression being perpetrated against civilian targets in Ukraine’ (Gross 2022). Their statement continues:
We call on the international community to take concerted measures to safeguard civilian lives as well as these historical sites because of their irreplaceable value for research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust. Rather than being subjected to blatant violence, sacred sites like Babi Yar must be protected,” it said, adding: “Of course, the security and wellbeing of civilians must be universally and absolutely respected.
The lesson of the 1930s: indifference = complicity.
The morning Russian forces illegally invaded Ukraine, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial expressed its solidarity with the Ukrainian people and all Russians who opposed the war via twitter. The tweet also pointed out that the killing of innocent people because of ‘insane pseudo-imperial meglomania’ must not be met with indifference by the free and democratic world, as had happened in the 1930s with the rise of the Nazis.
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Gross, J. (2022) ‘Israeli, Jewish officials denounce Russian strike that hit Babi Yar memorial complex: Foreign minister vows to help repair damage to the site, Yad Vashem Holocaust museum lambastes ‘outrageous’ Russian attacks against civilians.’ Australian Jewish News, Mar. 2. Available online: https://www.australianjewishnews.com/israeli-jewish-officials-denounce-russian-strike-that-hit-babi-yar-memorial-complex/ (accessed 20th March).
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2021), ‘Mass Shootings at Babyn Yar (Babi Yar)’ Holocaust Encyclopedia, Sept. 29, Available online: https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/kiev-and-babi-yar (accessed 20th March).