Bombs Over Babi Yar
It is worth recalling what happened at that ravine the first time.
Reports that a Russian airstrike hit the memorial complex at Babi Yar add the ghosts of the Holocaust to the horrors that are stalking the battlefields of the war in Ukraine.
The target of today’s airstrike was apparently a television tower situated at Kiev and near the ravine where on the last two days of September 1941 German death squads and Ukrainian auxiliary police slew 33,711 Jews. Tuesday’s airstrike killed five persons.
The airstrike elicited a tweet from President Zelensky demanding, “What is the point of saying never again for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babi Yar?” He went on to say “History repeating…”
This will strike many as an off note from the heroic Mr. Zelensky, who is himself Jewish and has to understand that there is no comparison between what is happening in Ukraine today and what happened there during the Holocaust.
Mr. Zelenksy was joined in outrage by a high-ranking Ukrainian official, Andriy Yermak, who amplified this line of argument by lamenting that “once again, these barbarians are murdering the victims of the Holocaust.”
As Messrs. Zelensky and Yermak accuse Russian bombers of effecting a second Holocaust, it is worth recalling what happened at that ravine the first time.
On September 28, 1941, all Jews in Kiev were ordered to assemble at the site for resettlement to the east. The notice was published in Russian, Ukrainian, and German so that everyone would understand it.
Nazi records disclose that over the following two days 33,771 Jews were shot dead into the ravine by German death squads and Ukrainian auxiliary police.
An eyewitness reports that “the corpses were literally in layers.” Other survivors recollect that the earth of Babi Yar continued to undulate and groan with death throes.
One survivor, Dina Pronicheva, relates that she saw “a young woman, completely naked, nursing her naked baby when a policeman came running up to her, tore the baby from her breast, and threw it into the pit alive. The mother rushed there after her baby. The fascist shot her and she fell down dead.”
By the end of the war, 100,000 people would be murdered at Babi Yar. One million Jews would be murdered in the territories of the Soviet Union during the Second World War. They were shot and stabbed, burned and gassed. Many of the corpses were incinerated.
Neither President Putin nor Mr. Zelensky is on firm footing when they accuse the other of repeating the crimes of Nazi Germany and its collaborators. This goes for both Mr. Putin’s claims to be pursuing “denazification” and Mr. Zelenksy’s accusation that the Russian strongman is reenacting humanity’s greatest crime rather than committing his own.
The proximity of the Russian airstrike to Babi Yar has particular relevance for America’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Blinken.
In a speech commemorating the 80th anniversary of the massacre at Babi Yar, Mr. Blinken noted how in 1971 his stepfather, Samuel Pisar, a Holocaust survivor turned lawyer and author, led both the American and Soviet delegations to Babi Yar.
After that visit, Mr. Blinken relates, “the tone of the dialogue” between the two Cold War antagonists “softened considerably.”