Some 1,000 religious and political leaders and others took part in an impressive memorial ceremony for the nearly 34,000 Jews massacred in just two days at Babi Yar 65 years ago.
The memorial event took place yesterday (Wednesday) at the infamous ravine outside Kiev, Ukraine, where the myriads of Jews were systematically machine-gunned to death. The slaughter continued for 48 hours, on Sept. 29-30, 1941. The Nazis marched the Jews from Kiev in groups of ten, ordered them to strip naked, and then machine-gunned them to death, leaving them to fall dead into the pit.
Among those who took part in the ceremony were witnesses to and survivors of the Nazi massacres at Babi Yar and elsewhere, liberators of Kiev, and those recognized as Righteous Gentiles for their Holocaust-era heroism.
A conference entitled “Let My People Live!” – sponsored in part by the Government of Ukraine – was held at the memorial ceremony. The conference was also organized by the World Holocaust Forum Foundation and Yad Vashem. President Moshe Katzav and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko addressed the gathering.
The World Holocaust Forum stated that the goals of “Let My People Live!” include memorializing the victims of Babi Yar and other mass-murder sites, uniting world leaders in confronting manifestations of xenophobia and anti-Semitism, and more. A Pan-European Holocaust Educational Program for Teachers has been inaugurated as well.
Yad Vashem, which has collected the names of 3.5 million Holocaust victims thus far, has the names of only 3,000 Jews – less than 10% – known to have been killed at Babi Yar. Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev told Haaretz that more than 90% of Jewish victims killed in western and central Europe are known, 35-40% of those killed in Romania, Hungary and Poland – and only about 20% of those killed in the former Soviet Union.
The Simon Weil Holocaust Research Fund in France, the Holocaust Museums in Paris and Washington, and the Zaka Organization are sponsoring a wide-ranging campaign to find other mass Jewish graves in eastern Europe. Last month, he remains of some 1,800 Jews murdered by Nazis in Ukraine were discovered in the pit that became their mass grave.
The memorial events in Kiev were the brainchild of Russian Jewish leader and business magnate Vyacheslav Moshe Kantor, JTA reports. Kantor said the idea came to him a few years ago when he noticed young boys playing soccer near the site of the Babi Yar massacre, oblivious to the travesties that occurred there decades before.
“Most people today simply don’t know what happened there,” said Kantor, who is the founder of the World Holocaust Forum, the president of the Russian Jewish Congress and the chairman of the Board of Governors of the European Jewish Congress. The recent memorial events aim to change that.