Remembrance Through Art: Honouring the Babi Yar Massacres

October 7, 2020 by Alex Ryvchin
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For many years, no one spoke about Babi Yar. The Holocaust was remembered largely through the prism of Auschwitz, the slaughterhouse of a million Jews and the epitome of industrialised death. Kristallnacht, the other major focus of Holocaust commemoration represented the beginning of the end.

Babi Yar

But what happened in a ravine on the northern edge of Kiev, over two days in September 1941, was left unspoken, unremembered. The details of it were too graphic, too unsophisticated and too raw. The Soviet Union refused to speak about it too. For in Babi Yar, its own impotence and the wickedness of its citizens was laid bare.

Yet in Babi Yar we find much of the story of the Holocaust. Blood revelry, sadism, collaboration, looting of the victims, the dizzying speed with which normal people were plucked from their ordinary lives and dropped into pure horror.

Babi Yar is the millions of Jews who were simply stuffed in barns and set alight or hunted by their neighbours and shot in forest pits or buried alive in trenches.

While no one spoke about Babi Yar, the people of Kiev knew. And in every town and city and village across the Soviet Union, the locals knew about their own Babi Yars.

The current appearance of a forested Babi Yar ravine. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

It finally took two titans of Russian art, the poet Yevtushenko and the composer Shostakovich to pierce the silence. The monument we erected in Sydney in 2014 pierced it a little further. The extraordinary symphony in Melbourne in 2016 arranged by George Deutsch and Adrian Tamburini pierced it further still.

And the latest event, a reprise of the Melbourne symphony hosted by the Sydney Jewish Museum, which will feature additional comments by Professor Konrad Kwiet and a Q&A with George and Adrian will continue our mission as we move towards the 80th anniversary of the massacre next year.

We will go on talking about Babi Yar, remembering Babi Yar until the world remembers those wretched, innocent souls with us.

Register for the Zoom event at the Sydney Jewish Museum on the evening of October 13, here:

The event will commence at 7:30pm

Alex Ryvchin is the co-Chief Executive Office of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry

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