Kontakt TV: UJE Commemorative Programs Dedicated to the 75th Anniversary of the Babyn Yar Tragedy

A trio of diplomats captured the historical importance of the events sponsored by the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter in September 2016 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Babyn Yar. “There can be no forgetting this tremendous crime,” Ernst Reichel, the Ambassador of Germany to Ukraine, said at an opening ceremony, reminding those present that 33,771 human beings were murdered in just two days – September 28-29, 1941– by forces of the Third Reich in Kyiv, only because they were Jews.

Eliav Belotserkovsky, the Ambassador of Israel to Ukraine, recalled his government’s long-standing program to recognize the Righteous Among the Nations – gentiles who saved Jews during Europe’s, and Ukraine’s, darkest historical moments. Roman Waschuk, Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine, noted it was “an honor for Canada to be home for the UJE, which works to support the discovery of the past, the contextualization of the past, truth telling about the past, and the building of mutual understanding for the present and the future.”

A distinguished array of international scholars addressed in a series of public forums, held from September 23-29, 2016, the vexing problems arising from the incomplete reckoning with the past, as represented by Babyn Yar. Israeli scholar and Holocaust survivor Shimon Redlich, originally born in Lviv, pointed out that many survivors were long reluctant to talk about their experiences as society was indifferent to their stories.

For Redlich the two cultural heroes of Babyn Yar include Ivan Dziuba and Yevgeny Yevtushenko, two writers who broke through the silence surrounding Babyn Yar during the Soviet period. The American historian Timothy Snyder lauded one other brave voice, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The Metropolitan spoke out in the direst of circumstances during the war, being alone among Europe’s church hierarchs in taking a clear public stance against the killing of Jews. Snyder underlined that Sheptytsky saw Jews as human beings, “despite the war and ideology, lawlessness, and dehumanization.”

Genocide scholar Norman Naimark of Stanford University reminded conference attendees of contemporary challenges and that despite recent advances, the study of the very specific nature of the Holocaust in Ukraine remains underdeveloped in the country, throughout the former Soviet Union, as well as in the West. This is still very much a historiography in development, he said.

The symposiums, in conjunction with a memorial concert, an international landscape design competition for a Memorial Space–Necropolis, and the publication of a volume of essays on Babyn Yar, reflect a multi-faceted UJE effort to educate current and future generations on the responsibility of memory.  Goals have been set, the public – especially the young – has been engaged, and the work continues.