By Olga Tokariuk
Kyiv, Oct 6 (EFE).- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenski was joined here Wednesday by his German and Israeli counterparts to mark the 80th anniversary of a Nazi massacre of Jews.
Over the course of Sept. 29-30, 1941, Nazi forces fatally shot 33,771 Jewish men, women and children at Babyn Yar, a ravine in Kyiv.
In all, between 100,000 and 200,000 Jews, Ukrainians, Roma and others were executed at Babyn Yar during the two years the Nazis occupied Kyiv.
Wednesday’s commemoration included the unveiling of an installation by acclaimed artist Marina Abramovic, who describes the “Crystal Wall of Crying” at Babyn Yar as a symbolic extension of the the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
Zelenski, who is Jewish, said at the ceremony that the massacre was “a common tragedy of the Jewish and Ukrainian peoples” and “a black page in the history of humanity.”
He pointed to the more than 2,600 Ukrainians who are recognized by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations – Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews during Holocaust – and criticized the authorities of the former Soviet Union for obscuring the memory of the Babyn Yar massacre.
“There was a time when they pretended nothing happened (in Babyn Yar), and built a stadium, a skating rink, a television center, a shooting range next to it,” Zelenski said.
With the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, inaugurated Wednesday and due to be completed in 2025, Ukraine is finally honoring the memory of the massacre, he said.
“It will give us the possibility to feel the suffering and pain that Nazism, racism, xenophobia and intolerance brought to humanity. It will not help those who are dead, but it will help those living to remember, to know and to pass this knowledge to their grandchildren,” Zelenski said.
EUROPE’S BIGGEST MASS GRAVE
Alongside “the biggest mass grave of Europe,” Israeli President Isaac Herzog recited a prayer for the dead and recounted the stories of some of those slain in Babyn Yar.
“The first crime was a massacre of Jews, and the second one was an attempt to hide this tragedy. Bodies of thousands of people were burnt here by Nazis. We are here to uncover their memory,” he said.
The German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that the massacre in Babyn Yar was “a carefully planned crime, prepared and executed by security police and Wehrmacht soldiers,” and lamented the lack of awareness in Germany about the Nazi crimes in Ukraine.
“The Holocaust didn’t begin in the concentration camps in Auschwitz, Treblinka and others,” he said. “More than 1 million people became victims of ‘the Holocaust by bullets’ in Ukrainian towns and villages. These locations still have no place on the German memory map. That’s why it was important for me to visit Koryukivka, where 6,700 men, women and children were shot by Nazis.”
Prior to the event in Kyiv, Steinmeier went to the town of Koryukivka, 200 km (120 mi) north of the Ukrainian capital, whose entire population was liquidated by the Nazis in 1943 in reprisal for residents’ support of Soviet partisans.
Despite support from Zelensky’s government, the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center project is the subject of controversy in Ukraine.
The project’s art director is Moscow-based filmmaker Ilya Khrzhanovski, and some of the financing is coming from Russian oligarchs Mikhail Fridman and German Khan, sanctioned by the United States in 2018 as associates of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Josef Zissels, a Soviet-era dissident and vice president of the World Jewish Congress, denounced the complex as “Russia’s Trojan horse in Ukraine.”