Speech by President Katsav

Your Excellency President of Ukraine,
Your Excellency President of Croatia,
Your Excellency President of Montenegro,
Honourable heads of state who have come here from all over the world to attend this ceremony,
Dear Rabbis, Ministers,
Dear Madam Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine,
Dear Mr. Moshe Kantor and Forum organizers,
Dear guests!

I have come here to express the pain of my people and to hear in the pastoral silence of Babi Yar the call of my brothers’ blood as it cries out to me from this soil.

Sixty-five years ago, on Yom Kippur, the sound of shots firing echoed all over this place.

Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko draws a painful portrait of the extermination of Jewry then residing in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Babi Yar is the gravesite for one of the oldest Jewish communities, whose roots go back to Khazar times in the ninth century and which ceased to exist in the winter of 1941.

No monument stands over Babi Yar.

A drop sheer as a crude gravestone.

I am afraid.

Today I am as old in years

as all the Jewish people.

We are standing here today to remember, to mourn and to pass on to future generations the lesson of the Shoah. This is a lesson for the Jewish people. This is a lesson for the whole world.

This place saw the onset of the systematic slaughter of Jews – unexpected and progressing fast. An enormous Jewish community was destroyed in the blink of an eye. Only ten days after the Nazis occupied Kyiv, most of the city’s Jewish population was murdered in a single stroke, without any ghettos. This is the past, and it refuses to be obliterated.

Since the Shoah, neither the Jewish people nor all the educated and free people of the world have been able to understand this crime, committed intentionally and in cold blood. We are trying to make sense of how that tragedy, lying beyond human comprehension, could have ever happened. We are trying to comprehend a cruelty whose scale the human mind is at a loss to grasp.

We are trying to understand how one people could have taken up arms against another people to wipe it off the face of the Earth. We are trying to understand how the killings could have taken place so close to the victims’ homes and in the presence of so many witnesses. This was the first mass murder of such scale. It launched the Nazi death machine aimed at the systematic murder of the whole nation.

Twenty-four hours of well-organised shooting. Destruction and death. The Day of Atonement…

The murderers who designed and implemented that crime can never be forgotten or redeemed; nor can be the residents of Ukraine who killed and supported the killing.

We praise the more than one thousand heroic Ukrainians who were granted the title of Righteous among the Nations. They risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbours.

The truth about the tragedy in Babi Yar and other mass murders of Jews contributed to the revival of the Jewish identity. In places of death, new life was born. Death and destruction gave place to revival and reconstruction. The new generation is returning to its national tradition. Meaningless attempts to forget the horrors of the Shoah have failed.

Today, 65 years since the terrible murder, I, on behalf of my people and on my own personal behalf, bow low over the victims’ grave and swear “always to remember and never to forget!” This is the only way to make sure this tragedy will never happen again. This is the only way to ensure a prosperous life for all humanity. Here, in the dark depths of the earth, we will spark the light of tomorrow.