The most horrible stage of the Holocaust, the stage of total extermination of Jews, began with the shootings at the edge of the Babi Yar ravine. Over the course of two days in September 1941, the Nazis killes more than 33,000 of Kyiv’s Jews, mainly women, children and the elderly. Only a few witnesses and survivors still remember the Kyiv “death walk” that ended n Babi Yar on the city’s outskirts. Fewer still can understand the chilling terror and utter loneliness of a human being standing face to face with the Nazi death machine. That absolute loneliness still fills this area of Kyiv. It is the loneliness of a people faced with extermination. It is the loneliness of an individual facing death.
The executions in Babi Yar marked the transition to an open, physical extermination of Jews. They are a symbol of suffering, cruelty and absolute anti-humanism. This tragedy belongs not only to Jews in Kyiv and Ukraine, but to all countries and nations: the USSR, Europe and the whole world. Mass murders of Jews similar to the Babi Yar tragedy cropped up all over occupied Europe. The infernal instrument of death that was switched on at Babi Yar had its sights on more than just Jews. The Nazis planned to use the same techniques to exterminate other ethnic groups that Nazi ideology found undesirable. In a salient point made at the 2005 World Holocaust Forum in Krakow, President Vladimir Putin said “Today, six decades later, we see the Holocaust not only as a national tragedy of the Jewish people but as a catastrophe for all humanity.”
With xenophobia, ethnic and religious intolerance and aggressive antisemitism on the rise today, the world must realize the consequences of its indifference. Auschwitz, Babi Yar, die Kristallnacht, and the Nurnberg Laws are the countdown giving us a chance to peer into the future. If we understand the roots of the tragedy and the way it developed, we will find the answer for preventing its recurrence.
We will never succeed in building a good and fair future unless we preserve the memory of our historical tragedies and understand the suffering we have inherited from the past.
The Second International Forum “Let My People Live!”
September 27, 2006