Israeli President Isaac Herzog attended a ceremony in Kyiv alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to remember the victims of the infamous Babi Yar massacre committed by the Nazis during the Second World War 80 years ago.
Almost 34,000 Jews were murdered by SS troops and local pro-Nazi collaborators within 48 hours in September 1941 in Babi Yar, a ravine in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.
The massacre is considered one of the biggest Nazi mass killings during the Second World War. The Jewish victims were later buried in mass graves to make the world forget about this ruthless anti-Semitic atrocity.
Until recently, local authorities tried either covering up the massacre or distorting history by falsely presenting it as an attack on Ukrainians rather than on Jews or connected to Jews. In reality, anti-Semitism was widespread among the Ukrainian population and the Nazi authorities had no problem finding willing collaborators among the local population.
Herzog, on the first state visit of his presidency, spoke at the memorial ceremony.
“Three terrible crimes were witnessed by this valley. The first was the massacre – the erasure of human beings. The second and third were the cover-up and the denial – the erasure of evidence, and the erasure of memory,” Herzog said.
Herzog stressed the importance of remembering the largely forgotten Jewish victims in Babi Yar.
“From most of the people murdered at Babi Yar, no trace survived – neither a name, nor a memory. The time for memory has come. That is why we are here,” the Israeli president said.
The presidents of Israel, Germany and Ukraine also inaugurated a memorial center, which is dedicated to the individual Jews who were murdered and buried in mass graves during the Holocaust. During the Second World War, Ukraine was part of the former Soviet Union.
Approximately 1 million Jews were murdered in the former Soviet Union during the Holocaust, only outnumbered by 3 million Polish Jews.
During his speech, Herzog stressed the importance of fighting present-day anti-Semitism including Holocaust denial.
“Let us make no mistake: even in the present, Holocaust denial is still alive and kicking. Anti-Semitism still exists. We, world leaders, must all vigorously condemn the slightest hint of this phenomenon and fight it with all our might,” stated Herzog.
Staff at the Auschwitz museum in Poland recently discovered anti-Semitic graffiti. More than 1.1 million people were murdered in Auschwitz during the Holocaust, the vast majority were Jews. The Israeli Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem condemned the incident as an “attack not only on the memory of the victims, but also on the survivors and any person with a conscience.”
Addressing the Babi Yar massacre through a video statement, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that “for much of the last eight decades, the world did not remember what happened at Babi Yar. That was by design.
“The Nazis were not alone in trying to bury what had happened. For decades, Soviet history omitted that the 33,771 victims of those first two days – and tens of thousands more executed later – were Jews,” he continued. “And that they were killed because they were Jews.”
Blinken also shared a personal story of his stepfather who used Babi Yar to counter Soviet Holocaust denial.
“Thirty years after the massacre, in 1971, my stepfather, Samuel Pisar, was asked to join a small delegation of Americans for a series of off-the-record discussions with leaders from the Soviet Union… with the aim of fostering a candid dialogue on tough issues. The conference was held in Kyiv and, from the outset, the remarks from much of the Soviet delegation were hostile and rife with anti-Semitism,” Blinken said.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.