И великой эпохи Signs of a great era
След на каждом шагу Haunt every step you go:
B толчее, в суматохе, The turmoil and the crush,
В метках шин на снегу... The tyre-marks in the snow…
И в значеньи двояком The double meaning of
Жизни, бедной на взгляд, A life that may seem shorn
Но великой под знаком But marks its greatness by
Понесенных утрат. The losses it has borne.
Boris Pasternak, Bacchanalia
I shall tell the truth. In our day and age, this is no small commitment, even in connection with columns and statues.
Stendhal, A Roman Journal
Each epoch is reflected in their monuments: their outlook and artistic styles represent the level of development of the arts, the artistic tastes, ideals and values of society. The Soviet Union left many monuments to communist leaders, revolutionary and war heroes, and to the victims of the war, but only very few were erected for Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Usually such monuments were devoted to “peaceful Soviet citizens killed by the Nazis.” The Holocaust and the collaboration of some of the local gentile population with the Nazis were forbidden themes in the Soviet Union from the anti-cosmopolitan campaign (1948) to Perestroika (late 1980s). Some courageous Soviet intellectuals broke the taboo on discussion of the Holocaust during the Khrushchev Thaw (1956-1964). However, this was on their own initiative, rather than a change of state policy. Their initiative was denounced by the authorities and further discussions of the Holocaust were suppressed.
However, Jews who survived the war and returned to their cities and towns found the mass graves of their relatives and friends. The survivors were deeply traumatized by the Holocaust and wanted to memorialize the places of the mass killing of Jews. In some places the authorities accepted a compromise and allowed monuments to be built to “Soviet citizens, victims of the Nazis,” without mentioning the nationality of the victims. In other places like Babi Yar the authorities resisted for long time construction of any monument, even to “Soviet citizens.”
Several recent publications discuss the resistance of the Soviet authorities to construction of a monument to the victims of the Holocaust in Babi Yar. However, these publications focus on state anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and the public protest of Jews and liberal gentile intelligentsia against the absence of any memorial to the Holocaust victims in Babi Yar. None of these publications discussed the influence of popular anti-Semitism on the decision of the authorities, or give much attention to the realized and unrealized projects for memorials in Babi Yar. I am going to fill this gap in my article. Many unrealized projects of memorials in Babi Yar were interesting in their concepts and proposed artistic approaches, and deserve more attention. I will show how the policy of state anti-Semitism affected the monument finally built there in 1976. I will also discuss the various monuments erected in Babi Yar in the last two decades and the prospects for the future.
Babi Yar was one of the first and largest Holocaust killing grounds in the Soviet Union during World War II. Historians continue to debate the widely varying estimates of the number of Jews murdered in Babi Yar. Depending upon the source, the number of Jews murdered in Babi Yar was anywhere from 33,771 to 150,000. It is impossible to know with any precision how many Jews were in Kiev when the Nazis occupied the city on September 19-20, 1941. We don’t know how many Jews were able to evacuate, how many Kievan Jews were mobilized into the Soviet Army, or how many Jewish refugees from other places were in the city. At the time of the chaotic retreat of the Soviet Army, nobody thought about such statistics. A few days after the German occupation, on September 28th, Einsatzgruppe C, the Nazi paramilitary extermination unit in Kiev, reported, “There are probably 150,000 Jews in Kiev. To check this information has been impossible thus far.”
German statistics of the number of Jews massacred in Babi Yar are not reliable, because they counted the number of the executed Jews only for two days, 29-30 September 1941. Karel Berkhoff wrote that the Nazis had already began killing Jews in Babi Yar on 27 September. Ukrainian auxiliary troops continued mass execution of Jews in Babi Yar until October 5. Then periodic executions of Jewish and gentile prisoners of the war, partisans and others continued in Babi Yar through the entire period of the Nazi occupation of Kiev until November 1943. Kiev was the first large European city where almost all Jews were massacred.
There were several reasons why one of the largest massacres of Jews in the Nazi occupied Soviet territory occurred in Kiev:
- Kiev had one of the largest concentrations of Jews in the occupied Soviet territory. According to the 1939 census, the Jews of Kiev comprised about 20% of the total population, or about 175,000 people.
- Anti-Semitism in Kiev was always stronger than in other places of the Russian Empire. Kiev had a long history of pogroms, Jewish expulsions, religious anti-Semitism and chauvinistic Black Hundred organizations, which organized the Beilis Affair in Kiev in 1911-13. So the Nazis anticipated correctly that the much of the local gentile population hated Jews and would not resist their extermination.
- Members of the Soviet underground exploded remote controlled mines hidden in buildings on the Kiev main street Kreshchatik in the first days of the Nazi occupation. These explosions killed a number of the Nazi officers and soldiers, which made the Nazis furious and looking for the revenge. They need scapegoats, and while real partisans were hard to find, the Jewish population of the city was an easy target. In the city remained mostly women, children and elderly people, while most adult men had been mobilized into the Soviet Army.
Along with Jews, tens of thousands of the Soviet prisoners of war and gentiles were killed in Kiev during the Nazi occupation (19 September 1941 - 6 November 1943). The Extraordinary State Commission for Investigation German-Fascist Crimes Committed on Soviet Territory reported at the Nuremberg trial that during the occupation of Kiev over 195 thousand Soviet citizens were killed, including:
1. Over 100 thousand men, women, children and elderly people.
2. In Darnitsa (district of Kiev on the left bank of River Dnieper) – over 68 thousand Soviet Prisoners of war and civilians.
3. In an anti-tank trench and near Syretskii concentration camp and on the territory of the camp — over 25 thousand Soviet citizens and prisoners of war.
4. On territory of Kirillovskii hospital — 800 mentally ill people.
5. On territory of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra — about 500 civilians.
6. At Lukianovskii Cemetery — 400 civilians.
There were a large number of not only Jewish, but also gentile victims in Kiev, because the Nazi encircled a large group of Soviet troops near Kiev and took into captivity 665 thousand Soviet prisoners. The Nazi created in occupied Kiev four concentration camps for prisoners of war: in Darnitsa and Syrets district, on Kerosinnaia Street (now Sholudenka Street) and on Institutskaia Street. The concentration camp on Kerosinnaia Street had a Jewish Department, for Jews who had escaped the original execution in Babi Yar. However, the concentration camp on Kerosinnaia Street was only a holding point for captured Jews before they were sent to their execution in Babi Yar. One of Schutzmann (Policeman) testified that his Battalion Schutzmannschaft several times escorted columns of Jews from Kerosinnaia Street to execution in Babi Yar. While the vast majority of Kievan Jews were killed in Babi Yar in the end of September – beginning of October 1941, at least several hundred Jews were killed there later.
Due to the harsh treatment of the prisoners of war in Darnitskii and Syretskii concentration camps, malnutrition, forced labor, torture and executions for any disobedience, or even without reason, tens of thousands of prisoners perished there.
So there were a large number of victims of the Nazi occupation regime in Kiev, however the vast majority of victims in Babi Yar were Jewish. In Babi Yar, Roma, Karaites, Soviet prisoners of war, partisans, and members of Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) were also executed.
Babi Yar Tragedy in Soviet Official Reports and Literature
The Soviet authorities wrote openly about Jewish victims of Babi Yar in 1941-1942. The first official publication about the execution of Jews in Babi Yar appeared in one of two central Soviet newspapers, Izvestia, on 19 November 1941. The newspaper based its information “on a report filed with the Overseas News service in New York” and announced that “information has been received that in Kiev Germans executed 52 thousand Jews – men, women and children.” The information about the Babi Yar massacre already was modified when Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov described Nazi atrocities on occupied Soviet territory in his diplomatic note to British and American representatives in Moscow. The note was sent on 6 January 1942 and published in the Central organ of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the newspaper Pravda, on the next day. The note said,
A frightful slaughter and terror actions were committed by German invaders in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. During three days the German robbers shot and killed 52,000 men, women, old people and children, mercilessly killed Ukrainians, Russians and Jews who showed their loyalty to the Soviet government.
This note listed Jews only as the third national group among the victims of the Babi Yar massacre. This was an intentional distortion of the truth, because on 29 September – beginning of October 1941 the Nazi, with the assistance of Ukrainian collaborators, killed almost exclusively Jews. Some Soviet prisoners of the war, members of the Soviet underground and Ukrainian nationalist movement were executed by the Nazis in Babi Yar, but that was later.
Soon the Soviets stopped reporting the nationality of the victims of Babi Yar at all, calling them Kievans or Soviet citizens. Perhaps this switch in the Soviet approach to the Holocaust happened due to the rise of popular, and later state anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. So the Soviets usually avoided talking about the Holocaust, especially in Ukraine, because the level of anti-Semitism there was higher than in other Soviet republics.
The official report of The Extraordinary State Commission for Investigation German-Fascist Crimes Committed on Soviet Territory (ChGK) “About Destruction and War Crimes Committed by German-Fascist occupants in City Kiev” described the massacre of Jews in Babi Yar in one paragraph and did not mention the nationality of victims. The report, which was first published in the newspaper Krasnaia Zvezda (Red Star) on 29 February 1944, said:
Hitlerite bandits gathered thousands of peaceful Soviet citizens on 29 September 1941 on the corner of Mel’nik and Docterevskoi Streets. The executors brought the people to Babi Yar, took all their valuables and then executed them. Citizens N.F. Petrenko and N.T. Gorbacheva, who lived near Babi Yar, testified that they saw how Germans threw into the ravine live babies and buried them together with their killed and injured parents.
The Extraordinary State Commission mentioned several times the Jewish victims of the Nazi regime in other places, but did not mention them in Kiev. The report of the Extraordinary State Commission was based on the reports of local commissions, some of which reported about the Jewish victims of the Nazis and some did not. The Extraordinary State Commission based its report about victims of the Nazi regime in Kiev on the materials of the Special Commission led by the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Nikita Khrushchev, which avoided mentioning Jewish victims in their report. Probably Khrushchev was afraid that mentioning Jewish victims in the anti-Semitic atmosphere of post-war Ukraine could provoke an explosion of popular anti-Semitism and invoke the wrath of the gentile population against Soviet authorities.
This approach of official Soviet reports and propaganda talking about the Babi Yar tragedy, without mentioning its primarily Jewish victims, was also a feature of Soviet literature. Ukrainian and Russian poets Savva Golovanivskii (Ukrainian spelling: Sava Holovanivskyi), Mykola Bazhan, Ilia Ehrenburg and Lev Ozerov wrote poems about the Babi Yar massacre in 1943-1945. However, only Golovanivskii’s poem “Abraham” (1943) talks about “an old Jew, Abraham, whom the Germans marched through the streets of Kiev to be shot.” Bazhan, Ehrenburg and Ozerov describing in their poems the Babi Yar massacre as a universal, even cosmic tragedy, but none of them dared to mention that primarily Jews were killed in Babi Yar. Such an enormous omission is unlikely to have been accidental. Perhaps the poets did this to fit the new Soviet concept, which required that the victims of the war not be divided by nationalities. Golovanivskii, who mentioned the Jewish victims of Babi Yar, was punished soon thereafter: during the anti-cosmopolitan campaign he was “violently berated for having spread ‘nationalist slander’” in his poem. Golovanivskii wrote in his poem that “Russians and Ukrainians – turned their backs on the old Jew, Abraham,” when the Nazi convoyed him to Babi Yar. Literaturnaia Gazeta wrote about Golovanivskii’s poem on 9 March 1949, “This is a terrible defamation of the Soviet nation, which has succeeded, after a hard and bloody struggle and by dint of great sacrifice and effort, in upholding the freedom and independence of Soviet people of all nationalities.”
Ehrenburg, who did not mention Jewish victims of Babi Yar in his poetry, did this later in his novel Buria (The Storm). Ehrenburg returned again to the Babi Yar theme in his novel, because “Kiev—and Babi Yar—was also a personal wound” for him.
Ehrenburg was born in Kiev in 1891. Although he moved with his parents to Moscow in 1894, he returned to Kiev many times to stay with grandparents during the summer and lived in the city during the civil war in 1918-1920. Ehrenburg most likely knew some Kievan Jews who perished in Babi Yar. He visited Kiev in spring 1941 and read to the public at the Lenin Museum (now the Teachers’ House) chapters from his new novel Padenie Parizha (The Fall of Paris) about the Nazi occupation of Paris. As a Soviet correspondent in France he was an eyewitness of this event. Mikhail Kalnitsky wrote, “In the Spring of 1941 Soviet propaganda praised the Soviet-German agreement [of 1939].” However listening to the chapters from Ehrenburg’s new novel “even most cheerful optimists” felt the approach of the war. The coming war was much more awful than any predictions. During the war Ehrenburg, who was a war correspondent, impatiently waited for the liberation of his native city. He came to Kiev soon after its liberation, but it was a different city: all downtown lay in ruins, including the house on Institutskaia Street where he lived with his parents in childhood, and most Kievan Jews had perished in Babi Yar. “Hirsh Smolar, a partisan commander from Minsk, recalled visiting Ehrenburg in Moscow in 1944: “Ehrenburg had just returned from Kiev and he was in a rotten mood... ‘This was my hometown,’ he told me, ‘and I will never go back there.’” Ehrenburg broke his promise to never return to Kiev only once in 1952, when he came there soon after receiving the International Stalin Prize “For strengthening peace among nations.”
Ehrenburg knew a great deal about the Babi Yar tragedy from eyewitness testimonies and other documentary materials that he collected for the Black Book: The Ruthless Murder of Jews by German-Fascist Invaders Throughout the Temporarily-Occupied Regions of the Soviet Union and in the Death Camps of Poland during the War in 1941–1945. The Black Book manuscript was confiscated by the authorities at the beginning of the anti-cosmopolitan campaign. However, before the campaign Ehrenburg succeed in publishing his novel The Storm in 1946-47. Ehrenburg described in his novel the life of two brothers Osip Alper in Kiev and Leo Alper in Paris, “who represent two widely separated branches of the same family.” During the war Osip’s family perished in Babi Yar, while his brother Leo was sent to Auschwitz. Thus Ehrenburg’s description of the common fate of Jews during the Holocaust “joins Kiev with Paris, Babi Yar with Auschwitz.” This connection had a personal meaning for Ehrenburg, he lived in France from 1908 and until the February 1917 Revolution and in the 1920s-1930s returned there many times as a correspondent for Soviet newspapers. The poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko devoted to Ehrenburg his poem Kreshchatitskii Parizhanin (Parisian from Kreshchatik). The cultural connections of Kiev with Paris has a special meaning for the Kiev intellectual elite, who were oriented toward French culture since prerevolutionary times.
Unrealized Projects for Monuments in Babi Yar
Ukrainian Soviet authorities originally supported the idea of building a monument in Babi Yar, but without mentioning its Jewish victims. On March 13, 1945 the Ukrainian government and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine decided to build a monument in Babi Yar. The monument was supposed to be dedicated to “140,000 Kievans killed by the Nazis.” In 1946, when Kiev still was in ruins, the government decided to provide 1.4 million rubles for this purpose. A model of monument was created by the main architect of Kiev, Aleksandr Vlasov, and sculptor E. Kruglov in 1945. The memorial was modeled as a granite black pyramid with white bas-reliefs and two sculptures at the entrance. The architectural solution was quite interesting, because it realized the concept of Kiev as Yehupets (Egypt), a hostile place for Jews. Jewish writer Sholom Aleichem called Kiev Yehupets in his works due to the hostility of the city toward Jews. He wrote,
The large, beautiful gentle city of Yehupets... is certainly not the kind of city that would seek to have even a token Jewish population. Quite the contrary, it is well known that from time immemorial Jews have been as welcome to the people of the city as a migraine.
The nickname Yehupets stuck for Kiev and was widely used by the local Jewish population. It was well known to gentiles also through the works of Sholom Aleichem, which were published in the Soviet Union in Yiddish, Russian and Ukrainian. Jews also were traditionally perceived by gentiles as a Middle Eastern people, who according to the Biblical account, lived in slavery in Egypt. The main architect of Kiev in 1944-1950, Vlasov used this oriental Egyptian theme in his monument project. So the original monument concept had a clear connection with Kievan Jewish history and indirectly referred to the Biblical account of the suffering of the Jews in Egyptian slavery. However, the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture denounced the project for its “pitiful outlook” and “absence of compositional and ideological direction.” Even the personal friendship of the architect Vlasov with the then First Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine Khrushchev could not protect his project from the wrath of local anti-Semites from the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture. All of Vlasov’s other projects were successfully realized in Kiev, for example, the reconstruction of the main street of Kiev, Kreshchatik, ruined during the war. In December 1949 Stalin recalled Khrushchev to Moscow and made him the First Secretary of the Moscow Committee of the Communist Party. Soon thereafter Khrushchev invited his friend Vlasov to Moscow, and appointed him as the main architect of the capital in 1950-1955. Vlasov was the President of Architecture Academy of the Soviet Union in 1955-56 and was awarded Soviet and international prizes for his works.
So obviously the problem was not with the design of Vlasov’s monument in Babi Yar, but in the reluctance of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine to construct any monument there. The anti-Semitic bureaucrats from the Ministry of Culture could not openly resist the decision of the Ukrainian government and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine to build a monument in Babi Yar, so they claimed that they didn’t like the design of the monument. This hypocritical claim allowed the local authorities to postpone construction of a monument for over thirty years.
The Ukrainian authorities explained in 1959 why the monument was not built by citing the dissatisfaction of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine with the design and the lack money for its construction. However these explanations are insufficient. The absence of funding could have been an issue in the first postwar years when Kiev and many other cities and towns of Ukraine were in ruins. But by the 1950s the economy had recovered from the war and the authorities could, if they wished, provide funds for construction of a monument in Babi Yar. In the 1950s several other monuments to the heroes of World War II were built in Kiev. Regarding the design of the monument, if the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine did not like the original monument project they could have invited other architects and organized a design competition for the memorial. But in reality the local authorities for a long time resisted the idea of building any monument in Babi Yar. The reason for this was the rise of popular and state anti-Semitism in Kiev and the Soviet Union in the postwar years.
Popular anti-Semitism erupted in Kiev spontaneously without the permission, encouragement or approval of the local or higher authorities. Ukrainian authorities were even concerned for a while how to deal with this phenomenon, not so much due to their compassion for Jews, but more likely because they were afraid of their responsibility to Moscow for street disorders. The Security Service of Ukraine (NKGB) admitted a rise in popular anti-Semitism in Ukraine after its liberation from the Nazis. According to a top-secret report of the People’s Commissar of the Security Service of Ukraine to Nikita Khrushchev, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Ukraine and the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine in 1944-47, ‘About Antisemitism in Ukraine’, dated 13 September 1944, the Kiev population had called for a pogrom on 22 June 1944 (the third anniversary of the beginning of the Nazi-Soviet War) and the local gentile population attacked and beat Kiev Jews on the streets.
Jews who returned to Kiev from evacuation were deeply traumatized by the loss of their relatives and friends in Babi Yar. They felt that they need to do something to commemorate the victims of Babi Yar. However, when the Yiddish poet David Hofshtein attempted to organize “a mass demonstration [according to another source, a meeting of the Jewish population on the anniversary of German massacre at Babi Yar” in 1944, the authorities forbade the demonstration, claiming that it might ‘provoke anti-Semitism’. And probably the authorities were right. Considering the militant anti-Semitic mood of much of the gentile population, such a Jewish demonstration could have provoked a pogrom in the city. But a Jewish pogrom broke out in Kiev anyway in the next year.
On 5 September 1945, the Vice Commissar of Interior Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR, I. L. Loburenko, reported to the secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, D. Korotchenko, about the pre-pogrom situation in Kiev after NKGB Lieutenant Iosif Rosenstein killed two local antisemites, who insulted and beat him. The Kiev police quickly arrived to the site of the killings and attempted to pacify the crowd that had gathered there, but the crowd resisted the authorities. Mounted police then came and restored order. Rosenstein was immediately arrested and was soon executed according to the decision of a military tribunal.
The funeral of the antisemites shot by Rosenstein, which took place on 7 September 1945, turned into open violence against Kiev’s Jews, with some three hundred rioters participating. Kiev Jews Kotliar, Zabrodin, Pesin, and Miloslavsky wrote a letter on 16 October 1945, addressed to the ‘Central Committee of the Communist Party, Comrade I. V. Stalin, NKVD USSR, Comrade Beria and the editor of the newspaper “Pravda” Comrade Pospelov’, noting that the funerals had turned into a pogrom:
The funerals were organized in a special way. The coffins were carried on the most populous streets and then the procession went to the Jewish market. This procession was set up by the pogrom-makers. They began to assault Jews. One hundred Jews were beaten up on this day, thirty-six of them were taken to Kiev hospitals with serious injuries, and five of them died on the same day.
Solomon Shvarts reported that sixteen Jews were killed during the pogrom in Kiev.
Kotliar, Zabrodin, Pesin, and Miloslavsky lamented in their letter that they could not recognize their city ‘not only by its outlook, but also due to the existing political situation there’. They said they felt the strong influence of Nazi propaganda:
The words ‘Yid’ or ‘Let’s beat the Yids’ you can hear everywhere in the capital of Ukraine: in trams, trolleybuses, stores, markets, and even in some Soviet offices.
In some more latent form it [anti-Semitism] is present in Communist organizations, up to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine.
Ukrainian authorities also reported on the pogrom mood in the city and took measures to reinforce security. As shown on 8 September 1945, in the secret report of the People’s Commissar of the Internal Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR, V. Riasnoi, to the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Korotchenko, the local authorities took seriously the threat of an even larger pogrom in Kiev. Riasnoi wrote,
Considering the inflamed condition of some part of the population of the city due to the spreading of bogus rumours and agitation directed against Jews, we reinforced patrols in the city, moreover giving special attention to the markets, gathering places, and the places of residence of relatives of the murdered Grabar and Mel’nikov.
It is obvious that without the measures taken by the Soviet authorities, the anti-Jewish violence in the city would likely have taken on even larger dimensions.
So considering this evident anti-Semitism mood of much of the Kiev population, it easy to see why the local authorities postponed construction of a monument in Babi Yar. If a Jewish memorial was erected in Kiev in the post-war years, it might have provoked a new explosion of anti-Semitic violence in the city, and the crowd could also turn against the authorities who allowed construction of the monument. Khrushchev allegedly said: ‘We are in Ukraine, and it is not in our interest that Ukrainians should associate the return of Soviet power with the return of the Jews.’ Ukrainian Jews who survived the war returned home from the front and evacuation. But it seems that the local authorities did not want to be associated either with the returning Jews, or with the commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust. More Ukrainian Jews perished during the World War II than survived. Alexander Kruglov wrote, “In mid-1941, some 2.7 million Jews lived in the territory of what is today the independent state of Ukraine… Between 1941 and 1945, more than 1.6 million of them perished at the hands of the Nazis and their accomplices.”
Unfortunately, the rise of the popular anti-Semitism in Kiev was not unique. Anti-Jewish violence occurred in other Ukrainian cities and towns, though mostly on a smaller scale. Antisemitic violence was often sparked by attempts of Jews to return to their apartments, where they had lived before the war. Local authorities also did not allow the building of monuments to the victims of the Holocaust in other Soviet cities and towns. In many places the mass graves of Jews were vandalized, turned into pastures and cesspits. Writer Victor Nekrasov recalled that in the post war years “some marginal persons crawled on the bottom of Babi Yar searching for either diamonds or gold tooth crowns.”
In the years of the anti-cosmopolitan campaign in the Soviet Union (the late 1940s-1953) all discussions about building a monument in Babi Yar ceased. These were the years of the most acute state anti-Semitism, when discussion on any Jewish topic could ruin not only the career of its participants, but could cost them their life. With the death of Stalin and the limited liberalization of the political regime in the country known as Khrushchev’s Thaw, Kievan Jews and liberal gentiles appealed again to the authorities to build a monument in Babi Yar. The Soviet writer Ilia Ehrenburg “worked hardest to promote this idea.” He sent a letter to Khrushchev asking that a monument be built in Babi Yar. However Khrushchev replied, “I advise you not to interfere in matters that do not concern you. You had better keep to writing good novels.”
Richard Sheldon wrote,
[I]n 1957 the question was officially discussed by the Ukrainian Central Committee [of the CPU], now under the leadership of Nikolai Podgorny. The committee decided not to erect a monument, and it also decided to efface the site altogether. Plans were made to build a sport stadium on the site and to build a dam at one end of the ravine.
In the 1950s the Kiev City Council ordered that Babi Yar ravine be filled by pumping in liquid mud waste from nearby brick factories, and then built through it a road between Lukianovsky and Kurenevsky districts of Kiev. On 13 March 1961 the poorly built dam holding back the mud collapsed and a mud wave 45 feet high flowed into the city. Official statistics record that 150 people in Kurenevsky district were killed (rumors claimed 1,500 perished), 68 houses and 13 public buildings were destroyed. Many people saw the mud flood as divine retribution for the attempt to erase the traces of the Babi Yar massacre. The Kievan historian Alexander Anisimov called the Kurenevsky tragedy a “city-sized Atonement Day.” The Kurenevsky mud flood again directed public attention toward Babi Yar.
In the post-Stalin years, Kievan Jews and some Russian and Ukrainian intellectuals gathered in Babi Yar on the anniversary of the tragedy on September 29. However, such improvised meetings were often broken up by the police and their participants persecuted. Soviet officials showed their utter disdain for commemoration of the massacre at Babi Yar by planning to build a stadium and amusement park there.
However Jewish activists and liberal gentiles resisted this decision. Official silence over the Babi Yar tragedy was broken by the writer Victor Nekrasov and the poet Evgeny Yevtushenko, whose essay and poem were published in 1959 and 1961 in Literaturnaia Gazeta. Nekrasov wrote that all Kievans have lost in Babi Yar either their relatives or friends, or acquaintances. Nekrasov said that he visited the memorial to the victims at the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald. He asked in his article why there is no memorial to the victims of the Nazi regime in Babi Yar.
In September 1961 Evgeny Yevtushenko published his famous poem Babi Yar in Literaturnaia Gazeta. The poem began with the verse: “No monument stands over Babi Yar.” The editor of the newspaper was fired for publishing the poem. Yevtushenko’s poem was denounced by Khrushchev as a “political mistake” and an attempt to divide the suffering of Soviet people during World War II by nationality. But, while the authorities and anti-Semites denounced the poem, the liberal intelligentsia and Jews greeted the poet, who broke the silence on the Holocaust theme in the Soviet Union.
In 1962 the renowned composer Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his Thirteenth Symphony, subtitled Babi Yar with the chorus adapted from Yevtushenko’s poem. After the Yevtushenko poem and the Shostakovich symphony, the tragedy in Babi Yar and the absence there of a monument became well-known to the Soviet public and the authorities could not ignore it any longer.
Soviet writer Anatoly Kuznetsov (1929–1979) described his experiences in German-occupied Kiev during WWII in his book Babi Yar: roman-dokument (Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel). The book was originally published in a censored form in 1966 in Russian in journal Iunost’ (Youth). In 1969 Kuznetsov defected to the United Kingdom. He pretended that he needed to travel abroad to do research for his new book on the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, which took place in London in 1903. Kuznetsov smuggled abroad a photographic film containing the uncensored text of his novel Babi Yar. In Great Britain he requested political asylum and received an unlimited residence visa. Kuznetsov’s uncensored novel Babi Yar was published in the West under the pseudonym A. Anatoli.
Foreign tourists who visited Kiev in the 1950s – first half of the 1970s often asked Ukrainian authorities many questions about why there was no monument in Babi Yar.
Under pressure from public opinion in the Soviet Union and abroad, the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine called in 1965 for a “Closed competition of projects for monuments in memory of the Soviet citizens and soldiers and officers of the Soviet Army - prisoners of the war, who perished during the Nazi occupation of Kiev.” Jewish victims were not mentioned in the call for the competition, because the Holocaust remained a forbidden topic in the Soviet Union. About sixty models of monuments were shown at an exhibit in the Architect’s House in Kiev in December 1965. The exhibit was not widely announced, however it attracted many Kiev Jews, whose relatives were killed in Babi Yar, gentile intelligentsia and anti-Semites. The exhibition guest book contained not only supportive comments, but also insulting anti-Semitic slurs, so the authorities confiscated it.