Horrific voices from Babi Yar

Excerpts: Historic accounts help explain the passion in the poetry and the music.

June 22, 2000

The ravine outside Kiev known as Babi Yar was more than a horrific chapter in the Nazis' attempt to exterminate the Jewish people. It became a symbol of latent anti-Semitism in Russia and a rallying point for those seeking to understand the nature of hate. The legacy of Babi Yar, and some of the reasons it inspired the poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko and the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, can be traced in these excerpts from historic and literary sources." `All Yids living in the city of Kiev and its vicinity are to report by 8 o'clock on the morning of Monday, September 29th, 1941, at the corner of ...'

"I could not, of course, miss such a rare spectacle as the deportation of the Jews from Kiev ...

"I went from one group of people to the other, listening ... They were standing in the gateways and porches, some of them watching and sighing, others jeering and hurling insults at the Jews ... When I got home I found my grandfather standing in the middle of the courtyard, straining to hear some shooting ..." `Do you know what?' he said with horror in his voice. `They're not deporting 'em. They're shooting 'em.'"

- Anatoly Kuznetsov, "Babi Yar: A document in the form of a novel." (Words in boldface were deleted by Soviet authorities when the book was published in 1966.)

"In collaboration with the group staff and two Kommandos of Police Regiment South, on 29 and 30 September 1941 Sonderkommando 4a executed 33,771 Jews in Kiev."

- SS document CommuniquM-i of Einsatzgruppe C

"Each successive group of Jews had to lie down on top of the bodies of those that had already been shot. The marksmen stood behind the Jews and killed them with a shot in the neck ... It's almost impossible to imagine what nerves of steel it took to carry out that dirty work down there."

- Kurt Werner, member of Sonderkommando 4a. Quoted in "The Good Old Days: The Holocaust as seen by its perpetrators and bystanders," 1988.

"Notices were posted on the hoardings saying that anyone who informed the German authorities about Jews or partisans in hiding ... would receive ten thousand rubles in cash ...

"Near our market ... there lived a certain Praskovya Derkach. She would nose around until she found out where some Jews were hiding and then go to them and say ... `So you don't want to go to Babi Yar? Out with your gold! Let's have your cash!' They would hand her over all they had. Then she would make a statement to the police and demand another reward. Her husband Vasili ...usually took the Jews off to the Yar on it. On the way Praskovya and her husband would be snatching clothes and watches off the people saying:"

`You won't need these any more!'

"It is a curious fact that Praskovya continues to flourish to this day ... The neighbors often hear her giving her views: `The Germans will come back from over there, and the Chinese will come from over here - then we'll give the Yids something worse than Babi Yar!'"- Anatoly Kuznetsov

"The Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party, of which Nikita Khrushchev was then in charge, considered that the people who had been executed in Babi Yar did not deserve a memorial. More than once I heard Communists in Kiev saying this sort of thing: `What Babi Yar are you talking about? Where they shot the Yids? And who said we had to put a memorial up to some lousy Yids?'

"After Stalin's death people ... started cautiously putting round the view that Babi Yar was in fact not just a Jewish grave and there were three or four times as many people in it of Russian and other nationalities. ... Were they trying to say that only if the proportion reached a certain figure would it be worthwhile erecting a memorial? How could you possibly work it out in percentages? It is PEOPLE who lie buried in Babi Yar."

- Anatoly Kuznetsov.

"In 1991, during my morning jog along the bank of the Dnepr River in a Kiev tennis park, I stopped in shock. On a sculptured composition dedicated to the friendship of Russian and Ukrainian people was smeared in enormous black letters in Ukrainian: `Yids must get out of Ukraine.' This would have been abominable on any morning. But that morning was the 50th anniversary of the mass murder of tens of thousands of Jews at Babi Yar. It was especially loathsome."

- Yevgeny Yevtushenko, "Symphony No. 13 On Its Prison Uniform: The Adventures of the Most Famous Symphony of the 20th Century." Published by Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, 2000.

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