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BABYN YAR AND HOLODOMOR

If you look up Babyn Yar on the Internet through Google or other search engines you will come away essentially with the following information: in two days following Yom Kippur, September 29-30, 1941, the Nazis murdered almost 34,000 Jews. On the evening of Yom Kippur, they advised the Jews of Kyiv to collect their belongings and valuables and come the following morning at 8 AM to a designated place. On the following two days, they brought them to a ravine named Babyn Yar, told them to strip, shot them and watched as their lifeless bodies fell into the ravine. It was the first mass murder of Jews in the Holocaust. While that number is certainly astonishing and…

Much more than the events of September 29-30, 1941

 If you look up Babyn Yar on the Internet through Google or other search engines you will come away essentially with the following information: in two days following Yom Kippur, September 29-30, 1941, the Nazis murdered almost 34,000 Jews. On the evening of Yom Kippur, they advised the Jews of Kyiv to collect their belongings and valuables and come the following morning at 8 AM to a designated place. On the following two days, they brought them to a ravine named Babyn Yar, told them to strip, shot them and watched as their lifeless bodies fell into the ravine. It was the first mass murder of Jews in the Holocaust.

While that number is certainly astonishing and frankly, incredible by killing machine standards and ravine depth, subject to reasonable examination for accuracy by experts even today, even though some corroboration does exist through exhumation although the Nazis before they left Kyiv in 1943 exhumed and cremated many, the ultimate and largely indisputable fact is that the ravine in Kyi is the site of more than 100,000 interments, both Jews and non-Jews deserving of memory and prayer.

According to Jewish-American Professor of International Relations, Dr. Yvette Alt Miller, 

“Other groups of people were murdered at Babi Yar as well, including patients from a nearby psychiatric hospital, Soviet POWs, Ukrainian civilians and Roma. Historians estimate that 100,000 people were murdered at Babi Yar, about 60,000 of them Jews. The last prisoners to be killed at the site were shot just weeks before Soviet troops took over the area on November 6, 1943.”

Since the many governments of the State of Israel have repeatedly refused to recognize any Genocide other than the Holocaust, it is important to note that even by Jewish scholarship at least 40,000 non-Jews are interred in Babyn Yar. This lack of exclusivity does not diminish the tragedy of the Jewish people although many of my Jewish friends and colleagues, I know, may disagree. Stressing the exclusivity of the Holocaust as Genocide is inhumane and borders on the psychotic. I certainly feel for the victims of the Holocaust like Dr. Miller, but I feel no less for the victims of other nationalities slaughtered by the Nazis, the Soviets and my fellow Ukrainians. The subject of the Ukrainian Holodomor Genocide of 1932-33 is very much on my mind as well, as it has not been recognized by the State of Israel as Genocide.  

Unfortunately, the non-Jews at Babyn Yar have been forgotten not only by Jews but by the entire world. They deserve to be remembered. This piece will attempt to explore the murder at Babyn Yar by the Nazis in two years of those not remembered during the commemorations recently and five years before in Kyiv organized by the government of Ukraine and participated in by the State of Israel and global Jewry.

The killings at Babyn Yar by the Nazis were continuous throughout 1941-43, with sporadic mass killings, during at least three other periods, February and October 1942, and August 1943.  Those  killings involved more non-Jews than Jews and many Ukrainian civilians.   

When the Germans initiated Operation Barbarossa and invaded the Soviet Union, Ukrainian nationalists saw an opportunity to restore Ukraine’s independence amidst the conflict between the Nazis and the Communists. One group of Ukrainian nationalists, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (Bandera group) proclaimed an independent Ukrainian state in Lviv on June 30, 1941. The Nazis responded to the proclamation in no uncertain terms. They arrested the leadership and interned it in concentration camps, Sachsenhausen, Auschwitz.

As the Germans marched eastward and the Soviets retreated in a murderous scorched earth manner, both groups of Ukrainian nationalists (OUN Bandera Group and Melnyk Group) followed at their heels. In the chaos, the latter established an All-Ukrainian National Council, set up a newspaper “Ukrainian Word”and a Writers’ Union in Kyiv while the Nazis were busy slaughtering Jews and setting up their own administration. 

Thereupon the Nazis reacted swiftly and harshly, arresting, and interning in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp the leader of the Melnyk group Oleh Olzhych-Kandyba, later torturing and murdering him at the camp. They arrested,  executed and buried in Babyn Yar, the chair of the Writers’ Union, Olena Teliha, her husband, much of the editorial staff of the major newspaper, including Ivan Rohach and other intellectuals in February 1942. By October 1942 they had murdered in Babyn Yar the leadership of one of the nationalist groups and continued to murder at Babyn Yar the other nationalists until August 1943 when anticipating the Soviet return, they murdered at Babyn Yar almost indiscriminately the remaining leadership of Kyivan civil society and even some members of the Kyiv soccer team. 

The significance of this in a purely humane sense is that all victims deserve recognition, remembrance, and prayers. In the Nazi atrocities, Jews certainly deserve special mention since they were murdered simply for being Jews. Other nationalities, like Ukrainians, were murdered mainly for their political activities.

However, in the Holodomor Ukrainians were starved to death as part of a strategy to kill Ukrainians. Every human being in the world with a conscience should be able to recognize this without any fear that this somehow detracts from the suffering of his/her own nation.

Jewish Ukrainian relations are not the best. Ukrainians in good faith have offered a laurel leaf to the Jews and not only with the Babyn Yar commemorations. Thus far both the State of Israel and the global Jewish community have rebuffed that laurel leaf with some prejudice. Those Ukrainians who have offered the leaf of peace could and should expect a certain amount of reciprocity. November 27th of this year is Ukrainian Holodomor-Genocide of 1932-33 Day. Those who have received that leaf might consider searching their conscience as human beings.

November 18, 2021                                                                                      Askold S. Lozynskyj