Ukrainian Jewish Heritage: Preparing for Babyn Yar 75th anniversary commemorations

Plans are underway to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Babyn Yar tragedy. The events are being organized by the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter and will take place in Kyiv this fall.


Welcome to Ukrainian Jewish Heritage on Nash Holos Ukrainian Roots Radio. I’m Peter Bejger.

Memory. Commemoration. Responsibility. The seventy-fifth anniversary of the Babyn Yar tragedy in Kyiv will be soon upon us. This anniversary is a very serious challenge for Ukraine, especially in light of current conditions. The proper acknowledgment of, and reconciliation with, major historical trauma reflects a mature society confident of its future.

The Ukrainian Jewish Encounter has been preparing for this landmark anniversary for the last couple of years. A four-part program has been organized. This program—in its broadest sense—deals with Babyn Yar in terms of the future, the past, and memorialization in space and through the arts.

The transmission of memory to younger generations is complex but nonetheless crucial. A program for youth dealing with the legacy of Babyn Yar will be organized by the historian Dr. Ihor Shchupak from Dnipropetrovsk. Young people from Ukraine, North America, Europe, and Israel will be invited to participate in a series of town hall public meetings.
The public lectures with questions and comments will address not just history and the Holocaust but also current problems in Ukraine and the world.

A symposium for the academic community and the general public will be organized by Dr. Liudmyla Hrynevych. The symposium will present a new book on Babyn Yar in both English and Ukrainian editions to be published by Dukh i Litera Publishers. Dr. Vladyslav Hrynevych and Dr. Paul Robert Magocsi from the University of Toronto are the chief editors of the new volume.

This collective monograph by a distinguished group of Ukrainian and international scholars investigates Babyn Yar in all its aspects. Beyond the detailed and harrowing accounts of what actually took place in Kyiv in late September 1941, the book covers the Babyn Yar as historical symbol. Babyn Yar in fiction. In music. In film. In memoirs. And Babyn Yar after Babyn Yar.

The third component is the definition of a memorial space. A global competition held under the auspices of the International Union of Architects and the National Union of Architects of Ukraine has reviewed submissions for the landscape design of a potential necropolis at Babyn Yar. The best designs will be exhibited for consideration by Ukrainian society and authorities.

Finally, a solemn memorial concert at the Kyiv Opera House will engage artists from all over the world. The performers, symphony orchestra, and choir are from Ukraine. There will be soloists from Canada, England, Israel, and Germany. The concert will feature the remarkable Ukrainian conductor Oksana Lyniv, who works primarily in Munich, as well as the British opera singer of Ukrainian descent Paul Hunka.

The concert’s program will include a form of Jewish prayer by the composer Max Bruch, the Babyn Yar Kaddish Requiem by Yevhen Stankovych, and Brahm’s Requiem.

The Ukrainian Jewish Encounter will be continually updating the public on the rollout of all these events.

Stanford University scholar and historian Norman Naimark, in his preface to the forthcoming book on Babyn Yar writes, “Babyn Yar is in many ways still unfinished business. There is no consensus on how to memorialize the elimination of the Kyivan Jews that took place there. There is also considerable confusion about how to deal with the multiple interests of victim groups, in addition to the Jews, who lost substantial numbers of their people at Babyn Yar.”

Naimark, however, points out that “One thing is certain: Babyn Yar will be remembered in Ukraine. In the wake of Ukrainian independence in 1991, the “Orange Revolution” of 2004, and the Euromaidan demonstrations of the winter 2013-14, Ukrainians and Jews have linked arms to honor those who perished at the hands of the Nazis during the war. Babyn Yar unites their common grief and inspires common hopes for amity, justice, and truth.

This has been Ukrainian Jewish Heritage on Nash Holos Ukrainian Roots Radio. From San Francisco, I’m Peter Bejger. Until next time, shalom!

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