Rare photos that have resurfaced ahead of the 80th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre show early efforts by activists in the 1960s to identify bones and human remains at the site where close to 35,000 Jews were murdered in just two days.
Between September 29-30, 1941, Nazis and their collaborators murdered tens of thousands of Jews at the Babi Yar ravine just outside of Kyiv. Despite it being one of the largest single massacres of the Holocaust, the site and the event went largely ignored for decades and were overshadowed by the atrocities in the concentration camps — which were often better documented. Throughout the remaining years of World War II, more than 100,000 people were ultimately killed at the ravine.
In 1966, on the 25th anniversary of the massacre, a group of activists began to work to identify the tens of thousands of human remains left at Babi Yar and to officially memorialize all those who were killed there, the National Library of Israel said.
The efforts of those early activists were documented by Joseph Schneider, a Holocaust survivor and anti-Soviet dissident. The photographs taken by Schneider in 1966 were found in the Emmanuel (Amik) Diamant Archive, which was turned over to the library’s Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, and they are now being made public for the first time.
According to the library, the activists hung an unofficial memorial sign at the site for the first time in 1966. Photographs from the archive show men and women standing amid piles of bones at the site as they worked to memorialize the forgotten murdered men, women and children. Efforts to create an official memorial at the site where not allowed to begin in earnest until after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Over the past several decades, activists have worked to bring the story of Babi Yar to the forefront and to establish an expansive and educational memorial center at the site. The latest initiative, called the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, is being spearheaded by refusenik and former Israeli politician Natan Sharansky.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the site of the Babi Yar massacre to mark its 80th anniversary.
The tragedy of Babi Yar “should never be repeated,” said Zelensky — who is himself of Jewish descent — at the flower-laying ceremony. “Not in Ukraine. Not anywhere else in Europe. Nowhere in the world,” he added.
President Isaac Herzog is slated to fly to Kyiv next week, in his first state visit since taking office this summer, to take part in a commemoration ceremony marking 80 years since the massacre.
“It is imperative to keep speaking about this horrific event and learn its lessons,” said Herzog in a statement on Tuesday. “The Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center is an important site for the commemoration of this painful memory and for the declaration that we must continue making together: Never again.”
AFP contributed to this report.
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