Young Israelis on the 75th Anniversary of Babyn Yar: A Dialogue of Memory with Ukrainians and Ukrain
A delegation of young Israelis participated in the educational and memorial events in Kyiv devoted to the 75th anniversary of Babyn Yar. Having come back home, several participants of this project—mainly activists of the Israeli Friends of Ukraine NGO—talked about their impressions of what was seen and heard in the capital of Ukraine.
“I didn’t expect that the International conference of the 75th anniversary of the Babyn Yar tragedy would affect me so strongly. The reports by historians, researchers, social figures, the writers from the different countries such as Ukraine, Israel, the U.S, Canada, Germany, etc.
I watched several unique documentary movies narrating the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust in Ukraine. One of the witnesses—a survivor thanks to the Ukrainian family that saved him—is the director of one of movies. I had the honor to speak with him.
I also cried when I saw young Ukrainian pupils who conducted a tour for our delegation within the exhibition devoted to Babyn Yar. These children have no relation to Jewry, but want to know the history of the country and to help preserve memory.
During a conversation about the Holocaust, my childhood friend suddenly asked me a question that sent me into a stupor: “And what is a “zhyd”? [Anti-Semitic pejorative by Russian-speakers—Ed.] I was struck dumb for a minute, and didn’t know how to react. It is probably good when a Ukrainian doesn’t know what a “zhyd” is—despite the fact there are those who liberally use this word as an insult.
Here is my main conclusion. It is necessary to study our general history, to conduct a dialogue, and to maintain the memory of the past and only in this way can we build the future. Ignorance leads you nowhere. Knowledge is the key to find the many answers. Despite the tragic past and such a fragile present, I will continue to do my work, which has been conducted by our team for several years, and build a dialogue between our two countries for the purpose of mutual understanding, friendship, and the creation of a new future for our children so that the mistakes of the past are never repeated.”
“When we were traveling to the conference devoted to the 75th anniversary of the Babyn Yar tragedy I honestly did not know where I was going. But in Kyiv there were such moments in my life that I will never be the same.
I promise to take advantage of every minute of my life with joy and love, because I have these moments to draw on. All those many victims left behind in Babyn Yar didn’t have this.
It was a revelation for me to see an exhibition devoted to the theme of the Holocaust done by ordinary Ukrainian children. I was moved to tears and deeply impressed with their knowledge and sincerity. They want to study this subject further. Thanks to all who took part in this project. You are amazing!”
“I didn’t think that this trip would have such a deep and serious moral effect on me and my self-understanding. After returning home I began to review, reconsider, and analyze, and consider what my life would have been but for history and my roots.
Babyn Yar…the very writing or uttering of these words provokes goose bumps…Yes, I knew that this tragedy did not spare my ancestors or my family.
The lectures, the debates, discussions, film screenings and performance at the national opera, the exhibition. The children who conducted the tours at the exhibition who don’t have a connection to Babyn Yar, but are simply pupils of Kyiv schools who were so keen on the subject that they recited by memory fragments of letters written long before their birth—this touched their hearts forever.
I am grateful to God and destiny, and to the Israeli Friends of Ukraine team, and the team from Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, which created this project for the right to be a listener, to hear, see, remember, and summarize in memory all that I have experienced this week. There is still a very long “processing” at work in the mind, the soul, and heart, but I know one thing—I will do everything possible that my children and grandchildren knew about this heartbreaking tragedy.
Text: Shimon Briman Photos: Israeli participants in Kyiv during events dedicated to the 75th anniversary of Babyn Yar. Photos by “Israeli Friends of Ukraine” and Shimon Briman