Babi Yar. “Damn them” : Zelensky condemns Russian attack on Holocaust memorial

March 2022 – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the Monday Russian airstrike that took out the Holocaust memorial site Babi Yar in the capital city of Kyiv in a news conference Tuesday, calling the destruction “beyond humanity.”

“This is beyond humanity,” Zelensky said, according to a translation from the Associated Press. “Such missile strike means that, for many Russians, our Kyiv is absolute foreign. They know nothing about our capital, about our history. They have orders to erase our history, our country and all of us.


Lucy S. Dawidowicz is the author of ”The War Against the Jews 1933-1945” and the recently published ”The Holocaust and the Historians.

”Barely four miles from the center of Kiev, the Ukraine’s ancient and beautiful capital, is a place called Babi Yar. Once a deep, wooded ravine through which a small stream ran, Babi Yar is now filled in, an open space with brambly growth and a few lonely trees.

There, exactly 40 years ago, on Sept. 29 and 30, 1941, the invading and occupying forces of Hitler’s Third Reich murdered 33,771 Jewish men, women and children. But the eeriness at Babi Yar is not just that of a vast necropolis. Babi Yar is haunted. The ghosts of its Jewish dead hover over the desolate field in a perpetual purgatory of historical denial. For the Soviet Government has ordered that the memory of their murder be erased from the records and the minds of the Russian people.

Yet the remembrance of Babi Yar persists. In the outside world, it symbolizes the fate of the Soviet Jews at the hands of the German invaders, just as the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of April 1943 stands for the fate of the Polish Jews. Inside the Soviet Union itself, however, Babi Yar has come to represent more than the site of a Nazi massacre, one among dozens. It speaks as well to a whole range of Jewish experience in Russia, an often harsh and sometimes blood-stained history that reaches back to pogroms under the czars and on to the arrests and virulent propaganda attacks of the last decade.

In the Ukraine, as in o ther parts of the Soviet nation occupied by the Germans, many people welcomed the invaders and some actively collaborated in the wholesale slaughter. After the war, such grassroots anti-Semitic attitudes were frequently reflected in official Soviet policies, which were adapted to meet changing political needs at home and overseas. Thus, for example, the increasingly anti-Israel stance of recent years, which has served Soviet aims in the Arab world.

At Babi Yar, these policies prevented Jews from holding memorial services – part of the Government program to deny the facts of the massacre. What we know of Babi Yar today comes from accounts in offi-cial German documents and from Soviet eyewitnesses. (See Box, Page 50.) But for those sources, the Government might have succeeded in its intent.

George Orwell in ”1984” described the process of rewriting history: ”Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. … All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.” The Soviet Government has fulfilled the Orwellian fiction – to the extent of charging that Zionists had been in league with Hitler and were in part responsible for Babi Yar.

The anti-Semitic policies of the Soviet Government have had an effect that Moscow may not have anticipated. Not for the first time in history, adversity has led many previously assimilated Soviet Jews to affirm their religion. The struggle to confirm the massacre at Babi Yar, to commemorate the dead there, has been part of that process. For Jewish dissidents, Babi Yar has become a powerful symbol of their Jewish identity. The story of what happened at Babi Yar begins with the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Attached to each of the advancing German armies was an armed motorized company of from 800 to 1,200 men and officers drawn from the S.S., the S.D. (security police), the Gestapo and other police forces in the Nazi state. These companies were called Einsatzgruppen, ”special-duty troops.” Their special duty was to murder the Jews and anyone they suspected of being Soviet ”commissars.” Their chief was Reinhard Heydrich, second only to Heinrich Himmler in the dread S.S. The Einsatzgruppen were trained in military tactics and mass-murder techniques and indoctrinated in Nazi racism. ”Judaism in the East,” Heydrich told them, ”is the source of Bolshevism and must therefore be wiped out in accordance with the Fuhrer’s aims.”

German troops reached Kiev on Sept. 19, 1941. With them was Sonderkommando (”special commando”) 4A, an advance unit of Einsatzgruppe C that had been assigned to the Ukraine. Soon other units arrived; by Sept. 25, the full Einsatzgruppe C was in Kiev. The special unit immediately recruited a network of informers from among Kiev’s ethnic Germans and formed a militia from among those Ukrainians who had welcomed the Germans as liberators.

Before they fled, the Soviet troops had planted mines and delayedaction bombs in Kiev’s downtown area. On Sept. 24, the bombs started to go off. Soon Kiev’s whole center city went up in flames. People thought that Moscow must have looked like that in 1812. Many buildings burned to the ground; others, no longer safe, had to be evacuated. About 25,000 people were made homeless.

But the conflagration had its uses. The Einsatzgruppe officers, conferring with the German Army commandant, decided to blame the city’s Jews for setting Kiev afire. On Sept. 27, the army’s Propaganda Company printed 2,000 placards, which the newly recruited Ukrainian militia posted all around the city the following day. The placards ordered all Jews in Kiev to assemble near the Russian and Jewish cemeteries at 8 A.M. on Sept. 29. (On the Jewish calendar, that was 8 Tishri, the eighth of 10 penitential days between Rosh ha-Shana and Yom Kippur, the most solemn of Jewish holy days.) The Jews were furthermore told to bring with them ”documents, money, valuables as also warm clothing, underwear, etc.” Those who disobeyed would be shot. Almost everyone thought that the Germans were going to send the Jews away, and ”resettle” them. Since the assembly place was near a railroad siding, rumors spread that the Germans were moving them to Palestine.

The Jews of Kiev, like Jews elsewhere in the Soviet Union, knew little or nothing about the anti-Jewish policies of the Third Reich, Stalin’s erstwhile ally. Early in the occupation, a German intelligence officer reported to his superiors that the Russian Jews were ”shockingly ill-informed about our attitude toward them.” The Soviet Jews knew nothing of the anti-Jewish legislation enacted in Germany and in the countries that Germany had taken over. They knew nothing about Kristallnacht, ”the night of broken glass,” Nov. 9-10, 1938, when the Nazis, in savage reprisal for a Jewish boy’s assassination of a German diplomat in Paris, set the torch to synagogues and Jewish institutions all through Germany. They knew nothing about the Jews in German-accupied Poland who were incarcerated in ghettos, forced to be slave laborers, starved, humiliated, terrorized. They knew nothing of Adolf Hitler’s vow to annihilate the Jews of Europe. Some 175,000 Jews lived in Kiev in 1939. When the Germans invaded Russia , the S oviet authorities ordered the factories and their workers evacu ated eastward. Many Jews probably left Kiev then. Most able -bodied men had been in the Red Army and were by September either prisoners of war or hiding in the countryside. On Sept. 22, the German Army commander in Kiev ordered that all adult Jewish malesbe rounded up and placed in labor camps to perform ”dangerous cleanup work.” That left probably some 100,000 Jews in Kiev. They were mainly women and children, old people and sick people .

However ignorant they were about the Nazi record, the Jews of Kiev were filled with foreboding as they prepared to obey the Nazi order to report to the assembly area on Sept. 29. They had no idea of their ultimate destination. At dawn, they started their doomed procession from Podol, the rundown, overcrowded slum that was Kiev’s Jewish neighborhood. A few well-to-do Jews managed to get cars or carts to move their possessions. Others used baby carriages and barrows. But most simply carried their things in suitcases, bags, baskets and bundles. Bent under the burden of their baggage and the weight of their worries, they trudged and straggled toward the assembly place, the little ones toddling, the elderly limping, staggering. Some were impassive, stoical; others wailed and cursed.

There were Ukrainians who came to help their Jewish friends, to accompany the old and the sick, though most watched the mournful procession with indifference. And some Ukrainians even rejoiced in the misfortune of the Jews – people who had been neighbors, schoolmates, shop mates, even friends, jeered. The Jews were unprepared for abandonment and betrayal by those among whom they had lived in peace for two decades. They were unprepared for the ease and speed with which some Ukrainians slipped back into the anti-Semitism that had tainted Ukrainian history for centuries.

In Ukrainian history, Bogdan Chmielnicki, who led an uprising against the Poles in 1648, is a national hero, but in Jewish history he is remembered for inspiring the blood bath of pogroms that decimated the Jews in 1648-49. Two centuries later, the fury of anti-Semitism recurred in the pogroms of 1881 and then again in those of 1905.

In 1911, the Western world was riveted by the trial in Kiev of one Mendel Beilis, an obscure Jewish clerk who was accused of killing a Christian child to use his blood for a Passover ceremony. Thus, in the twilight of czarist rule, the reactionary regime tried to divert a superstitious people from their real grievances. After an international uproar, the Kiev jury in 1913 acquitted Beilis of murder, but the blood accusation against the Jewish people was left standing.

The memory of the Beilis trial was eclipsed in 1914 by the Great War and then by the February and October revolutions of 1917. In the civil war that followed the Bolshevik seizure of power, the Whites and the Reds fought mostly on Ukrainian terrain. The Jews were the chief casualties. The late Simon Dubnow, the premier historian of Russian Jewry, calculated that, between 1918 and 1921, some 530 Jewish communities in the Ukraine endured more than 1,200 pogroms. About 60,000 Jews were murdered; many more injured and crippled. Some Jewish communities were completely obliterated, leaving no living survivors or standing houses.

The Soviet dictatorship at first tried to restrain Ukrainian anti-Semitism, though not out of love for the Jews. The Government sought to discredit counterrevolutionary opponents by labeling them anti-Semites. But after the German occupation in 1941, ancient prejudices were unloosed. Thus, as soon as the Jews of Kiev had left their homes for the assembly place on Sept. 29, there were Ukrainians who began to plunder the abandoned houses. Others were quick to betray Jews in hiding – even children – and to hand them over to the Germans. Thousands upon thousands of Jews jammed into the assembly area. Germans, assisted by Ukrainian militia, directed them past the Jewish cemetery, through a passage bounded by barbed wire. ”It was like a mass migration,” according to the testimony of an officer of Sonderkommando 4A at his war-crimes trial in 1967. ”The Jews sang religious songs on the way.” They thought they were going to the railway siding, but there were no trains at their next stopping point – only mountains of baggage and clothing in one place, mountains of foodstuffs in another. The sound of machine-gun fire seemed near and the Jews thought the front was close by.

As their food and belongings were taken from them and heaped on the piles, the Jews’ sense of foreboding grew to terror and panic. The lines seemed to stop moving, and people were crushed together, exhausted, terrified. The children were crying. Disorder, despair, nightmare.

Then the Germans began shoving the Jews into new narrower lines. They moved very slowly. After a long walk, they came to a passageway formed by German soldiers with truncheons and police dogs. The Jews were whipped through. The dogs went at those who fell. But the pressure of the surging lines behind was irresistible, and the weak and the injured were trod underfoot. Bruised and bloodied, numbed by the incomprehensibility of their fate, the Jew s emerged onto a grassy clearing. They had arrived at Babi Yar; ahead of them lay the ravine. The ground was str ewn with clothing. Ukrainian militiamen, supervised by Germans, ord ered the Jews to undress. Those who balked, who resisted, were assa ulted, their clothes ripped off. Naked bleeding people were every where. Screams and hysterical laughter filled the air. Some peopl e’s hair turned gray on the spot. Others went mad in moments.

The Germans led small groups away from the clearing toward a narrow ledge along the ravine. At a sand quarry behind the ledge, hidden from the view of the Jews, the Germans had mounted machine guns. When the ledge contained as many Jews as it could hold, the Germans gunned them down. The bodies toppled into the ravine, piling up layer upon layer. Where once a clear stream flowed, now blood ran.

The machine-gunners worked for an hour at a time and then were relieved by another crew. From time to time, German soldiers and Ukrainian militiamen descended into the ravine, trampling over the bodies to make sure they were dead, tamping them down to make more room, shoveling sand from the quarry over them. According to an official report, Sonderkommando 4A – assisted by the staff of Einsatzgruppe C, two units of the Police Regiment South and the Ukrainian militia – ”executed” a total of 33,771 Jews in two days.

Those statistics set a record in the annals of mass murder. At Birkenau – Auschwitz’s killing center – the total capacity of the four gassing and cremating plants was a maximum of 6,000 persons daily. Paul Blobel, the head of Sonderkommando 4A, received an Iron Cross from the Fuhrer.

The killing at Babi Yar continued for many months, but never again on that scale. By Nov. 3, 1941, the commandant of Einsatzgruppe C reported, about 75,000 Jews had been shot at Babi Yar. Nonetheless, he complained that the ”Jewish problem” was still not ”solved.” There were still Jews to be killed, and the Germans scoured Kiev and the nearby countryside for them.

Meanwhile, Einsatzgruppe C was also pursuing its ”mopping-up” operations among the non-Jewish population. The Nazis shot so-called political commissars, saboteurs and partisans. They shot Ukrainian nationalists, whom they had at first encouraged. They shot a party of sailors from the Dnieper river fleet and they shot the Kiev soccer team, which had defeated the German Army soccer team. They shot gypsies and they shot curfew violators. They shot the patients at a mental hospital and they shot people who queued up twice for the same meal. Yet, always and above all, they shot Jews. No one knows the precise figures, but of about 100,000 people murdered at Babi Yar within the next 12 months, some 90,000 were Jews.

Babi Yar was a Jewish gravesite, but the Soviet regime never acknowledged it. The ”Final Solution of the Jewish Problem” – the German code name for the murder of the European Jews – became a nonsubject in Soviet history. Virtually no Soviet account of the war has ever recorded the fundamental information that the Germans singled out the Jews for annihilation. All Soviet wartime losses, on the battlefield as well as behind the lines, are merged into the category of ”Soviet citizens,” and no distinctions are made about the particular fate of any group. Rewriting history is a continuing and commonplace process in the Soviet Union. As the Communist Party changes its political line to fit the strategic interests of the Soviet Union, so history is changed retroactively to make the past harmonize with the present. In 1954, for example, the publishers of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia advised their subscribers to remove ”carefully” the pages about Lavrenti Beria, former head of the security police, who was purged in July 1953. As a replacement for those pages, they supplied a new article on the Bering Strait.

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Why was it necessary to erase from Soviet history the record of the Jews in World War II, including the horror of Babi Yar? The decision was part of a dramatic change in the direction of postwar Soviet domestic affairs and foreign relations, which soon turned anti-Semitism into a major instrument of policy.

Throughout the Soviet Union, there had been varying levels of collaboration with the German invaders. Some ethnic groups were punished severely. But in the Ukraine, the wartime defection had been so widespread that the central Government felt compelled to adopt a policy of pacification and reconciliation. Historians believe that the regime sought to appease these former collaborators by demonstrating that it shared their hatred of the Jews.

Anti-Semitism as a Government policy also served the postwar foreign-policy goals of the Soviet Union. The wartime Grand Alliance gave way to the cold war. Everything Western was now condemned. Russian nationalism took precedence over all other regional and ethnic loyalties; a kind of jingoist patriotism became the watchword. Because so many Soviet Jews were preoccupied with the experience of their sufferings as Jews, because they were traumatized by the murder of six million European Jews, because they sought the comfort of association with Jews elsewhere in the world, they were now accused of being unpatriotic, of being ”rootless,” of being ”cosmopolitans.” Though the Soviet Union had favored the establishment of the State of Israel, by the summer of 1948 there had been a dramatic policy change. Any expression of love or admiration for the new Jewish state of Israel was condemned as ”bourgeois nationalism,” and the regime severely clamped down on contacts with overseas Jews.

For all the peoples of the Soviet Union, the postwar years were an era of awesome terror. No one knows how many tens of millions were deported to the infernal region of the labor camps or how many millions died there. No group of the Soviet population was safe from the reach of Stalin’s tyranny. Yet from all the evidence available, it seems clear that, as a group, the Soviet Jews suffered even more under Stalin than did others. They were the objects of official hate, publicly abused and denounced. Their committees and publications were liquidated, and many of their writers and intellectuals arrested and murdered. Their admission to universities, medical schools, scientific institutes was rigidly restricted. Moreover, anti-Semitism at the grass roots became loud-mouthed and ugly. Western visitors noted its ubiquity.

Soviet anti-Semitism of the 1950’s was orchestrated with anti-Semitism in the satellite countries. Elaborate show trials were put on in Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Hungary, as top Communists were accused of participating in ”Zionist” conspiracies against their own countries. The charges were reminiscent of the hoary canards of the ”Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the classic anti-Semitic work concocted by the czarist secret police half a century earlier.

The climax came in January 1953, when Pravda announced the discovery of a ”terrorist group of doctors,” publicly identified as Jews, who had allegedly murdered Soviet officials and who were plotting to murder more. Official Soviet anti-Semitism grew more shrill – until it came to a sudden and dramatic halt on March 5 of that year, the day of Stalin’s death. In ”The Gulag Archipelago,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose intense nationalism had not made him a particular friend of the Jews, wrote of the regime’s plans for the Jews of Russia had Stalin not died:

”… According to Moscow rumors, Stalin’s plan was this: At the beginning of March the ”doctor-murderers” were to be hanged on Red Square. The aroused patriots, spurred on, naturally by instructors, were to rush into an anti-Jewish pogrom. At this point the Government – and here Stalin’s character can be divined, can it not? – would intervene generously to save the Jews from the wrath of the people, and that same night would remove them from Moscow to the Far East and Siberia -where barracks had already been prepared for them.”

Three years later, in February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev, the new Soviet boss, delivered his famous secret speech at the Communist Party’s 20th Congress, denouncing Stalin for having fostered a ”cult of personality” and for having committed those very crimes of which the West had long accused him. A thaw in Soviet political life set in. Millions of survivors of every ethnic and religious group began to be released from the gulag.

Soviet authorities even publicly admitted that Stalin had pursued an anti-Jewish policy. They relented on his use of terror though they continued to seek popular support by restricting the number of Jews in education and Government. But the memory of Babi Yar and of what they called Stalin’s ”black years” had made many Soviet Jews aware of their Jewishness, even though few of the younger people knew anything of Jewish history or culture. And the existence of a sovereign Jewish state thrilled them. They took courage from the thaw.

An early public expression of Jewish solidarity came in 1958 on the festival of Simhath Torah (”Rejoicing in the Law”), when dozens of youths congregated around the synagogue in Leningrad, singing and dancing in the street to celebrate their Jewishness -in violation of Soviet law. It was one of the earliest and most dramatic instances of Jewish dissidence. Clandestine groups were organized to study Hebrew, to read Jewish history, to distribute Jewish literature.

In Kiev, too, Jews sought to express their identity. In keeping with Jewish tradition, their first concern was to sanctify the mass graves at Babi Yar and to hold memorial services for their murdered relatives.

By this time, Babi Yar had become a pasture for cattle. When Khrushchev had been Communist Party boss in the Ukraine, right after the war, he had turned down proposals for a memorial to the murdered Jews. In 1957, the idea for a monument came up again. But when the authorities studied the statistics of those who had died there and saw that any memorial would have to recognize the preponderance of Jewish victims, they once again vetoed the suggestion. Instead, they undertook to fill in the ravine and build a sports stadium there.

In the process, engineers constructed a dam that turned the ravine into a huge lake. As the operation continued, from year to year, the level of the dam was raised until, by the beginning of 1961, the dam had reached the height of a six-story building. Then, on March 13 of that year, torrential spring rains caused the dam to overflow. Moments later, a 30-foot tidal wave of mud poured into Kiev. Anatoly Kuznetsov, in his book ”Babi Yar,” described the disaster:

”Whole crowds of people were swallowed up instantly in the wave of mud. People sitting in trams and in cars perished…. Houses which stood in the way of the wave were swept away as if made of cardboard.”

The media in the Soviet Union seldom report accidents or disasters that happen in their country. The New York Times correspondent put the number of deaths at 145 and estimated the injuries at about the same number.

In Kiev, people said: ”Babi Yar takes its revenge.” Peasants went to church to light candles and pray for the souls of the murdered Jews. Orthodox priests conducted memorial services for the victims of the tidal wave and for the Jews killed 20 years earlier. Soviet officialdom might deny the statistics and rewrite history, but everyone in Kiev knew that most of the dead of Babi Yar were Jews.

More than a million Jews had been killed by Germans at dozens of Babi Yars throughout the Soviet Union, and these Jewish dead continued to haunt the population. In the gulag, it was often said that when a man screamed in his sleep, he was ”dreaming of Yids,” of those whom he had once helped to murder and who now returned in his dreams.

It was in the year of the mud disaster that a young Ukrainian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, wrote ”Babi Yar.” Perhaps, like the peasants and priests of Kiev, he wished to propitiate the dead. Published in the U.S.S.R.’s leading literary journal, Literaturnaya Gazeta, on Sept. 19, 1961, the poem was read and admired across the nation. It began: There are no memorials at Babi Yar – The steep slope is the only gravestone. I am afraid. Today I am as old as the Jewish people. It seems to me now that I am a Jew.

Yevtushenki tempered his courage with discretion. While condemning the contemporary ”pogrom thugs” who followed in the tradition of the czarist Black Hundreds – the anti-Semitic groups whose slogan had been ”Beat the Yids and Save Russia” – he absolved the Communist Party and the Soviet Union of anti-Semitism: Let the ”Internationale” ring out When the last anti-Semite on earth is buried. There is no Jewish blood in mine, But I am hated by every anti-Semite as a Jew, And for this reason, I am a true Russian.

Even so, Yevtushenko’s ”Babi Yar” raised a storm of official criticism. Khrushchev himself condemned the poem because it presented ”things as if only the Jews were the victims,” whereas ”of course many Russians, Ukrainians, and Soviet people of other nationalities were murdered by the Hitlerite butchers.” Meanwhile, undaunted, the Kiev authorities in 1962 resumed work at Babi Yar. The plan for a sports stadium on the site was abandoned; instead, the area was simply to be filled in and leveled off. The bulldozers were dispatched. They kept turning up bones tangled in barbed wire. After four years, the project was done: Babi Yar was erased. The old Jewish cemetery nearby was also levelled and a television center erected on its grounds. Apartment houses were built near the site. The rest of the area remained desolate.

Each year thereafter, on Sept. 29, the Jews of Kiev came to commemorate the murdered dead and to recite kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, for their relatives. Each year, the local police dispersed the mourners. Once, in 1968, to preempt the Jewish commemoration, the local authorities organized an official memorial at which the party speaker eulogized the dead as ”Soviet citizens, Russians, Ukrainians and others.” In 1972, 27 Jews were arrested for putting flowers on the ground at Babi Yar. They were sentenced to 15 days in jail. A year later, about a thousand Jews turned up on the anniv ersary, but the police prohibited any religious services and banned even t he lighting of memorial candles. The gathering was dispersed, an d five persons were arrested for unlawful assembly.

The murmuring protests that there was no monument at Babi Yar grew louder as the dissidents grew bold er. To stil l their voices, the authorities finally erected a monument in 197 6. It was a huge, multifigured sculpture with all the trite sen timentality characteristic of Socialist Realism. At its f oot was a bronze tablet inscribed as follows: ”Here in 1941-43 Germa n Fascist invaders executed more than 100,000 citizens of the ci ty of Kiev and prisonersof war.” In October 1964, Khrushchev was o usted from power. Withina short time he was replaced by Leonid Brezhn ev, another native Ukrainian. Before long, Brezhnev turned de-St alinization back toward re-Stalinization. The regime began to censor writers more rigidly, toharass the dissidents more cruelly, to arrest the troublemakers more frequently and to put the recalcitrant cases in psychiatric wards.

In 1968, Brezhnev sent troops into Czechoslovakia to depose the new Government, which had been moving toward greater intellectual and economic freedom. He became preoccupied with China, moving more and more army divisions to the Russian-Chinese border. He undertook the largest military buildup in the history of the Soviet Union. He also stepped up his pursuit of allies in Latin America and among the countries of the third world. He particularly wooed Arab nations, with ardor and with military equipment.

These new policies, in the view of many students of contemporary history, brought about a shift in the Soviet attitude toward the Jews. Under Khrushchev, official anti-Semitism had been intended to serve domestic political goals and most propaganda was directed against Judaism rather than against Israel and the Zionist movement. Under Brezhnev, anti-Semitism was to a much greater extent synchronized with Soviet foreign policy, and Soviet anti-Semitic propaganda concentrated almost exclusively on Zionism and the state of Israel as central to the alleged Jewish plot to seize control of the world. The objects of attack now included not only the Jews in the Soviet Union but Jews the world over, and particularly those in Israel. Moreover, while official Soviet anti-Semitism had, under Khrushchev, been intended solely for the consumption of the home market, now Soviet anti-Semitism was designed for export as well – for worldwide dissemination to the Arabs, to the third world, to all disaffected peoples.

A hint of things to come surfaced at the United Nations in 1965 in a committee of the General Assembly. In a ploy to defeat a resolution specifically condemning anti-Semitism, the Soviet delegate introduced a motion against ”anti-Semitism, Zionism, Nazism and all other forms …of colonialism, national and race hatred, and exclusiveness.” The motion never came to a vote, but it served its purpose: No resolution against anti-Semitism was adopted. Ten years later, the Soviet Union, supported by its satellites, by Arab and third-world countries, engineered the passage in the General Assembly of a resolution that condemned ”zionism” -the small ”z” was an added insult – as ”a form of racism and racial discrimination.”

After the Six Day War of June 1967, when Israel defeated the Arab states, which had been armed by the Soviet Union, there was an outpouring of anti-Semitic propaganda from the Soviet media. Bibliographies compiled by recent Soviet emigres show the escalation of books and pamphlets exclusively devoted to anti-Jewish material. Between 1960 and 1966, five of these publications appeared. Over the next four years, the number increased to 12. Between 1971 and 1974, the figure rose to 47, and between 1975 and 1978, it reached 50.

The fevered pace of anti-Semitic publications was matched by their bizarre content: Zionism was actually presented as being in the service of Nazism. Articles in propaganda publications and in the national and regional press claimed that the ”Zionists” had ”collaborated” with reactionaries, pogromists and anti-Semites all through their history. They had entered, as one publication put it, into ”a dirty alliance with the Hitlerites.”

Even Babi Yar was not exempt. An article in Pravda, March 16, 1971, said that ”the tragedy of Babi Yar” would ”forever remain the embodiment not only of the cannibalism of the Hitlerites but also the indelible shame of their accomplices and followers – the Zionists.”

The flood of anti-Semitic propaganda stiffened the determination of the Jewish dissidents. The story of Boris Kochubiyevsky is a dramatic case in point. Born in Kiev in 1936, son of a Babi Yar victim, Kochubiyevsky was an engineer at a radio factory in Kiev. Though he had no Jewish education, he grew up, by his own account, in a milieu that never let him forget he was Jewish. After the Six Day War, the workers in his factory – as in thousands of factories across the Soviet Union -were assembled to hear an agitprop tirade against Israel and to adopt a ”unanimous” resolution condemning Israel’s ”aggression.”

It’s easy to picture what happened. The open anti-Semit ism at the meeting relea sed Kochubiyevsky’s long-festering rage over the hurts and humiliati ons he had suffered for being Jewish. Courage welled up in him. He sp oke out against the resolution and insisted that the record show h is opposition.

The factory’s union committee insisted that Kochubiyevsky resign. He held out stubbornly for a year but finally had to give in to their pressure. During that year, he wrote an essay entitled ”Why I Am a Zion ist.” In it, he asked how it happen ed that young Russian Jews, raised as atheists, knowing nothing of Jewish culture or tradition, could become proud and passionate Jews. The simple answer,he said, was that anti-Semitism had turned th em into Jews -the anti-Semitism that the Soviets now labeled an ti-Zionism and the conventional anti-Semitism of the Black Hundr eds, which still flourished in Russia.

In the summer of 1968, Kochubiyevsky and his wife applied for exit permits to leave for Israel. Small numbers of Jews were then allowed to leave for Israel to be reunited with their families. But the Kochubiyevskys were refuseds exit papers. They reapplied. Meanwhile, on Sept. 29, 1968, Kochubiyevsky attended that official commemoration at Babi Yar where the murdered Jews were not mentioned. When the official program was over, the Jews remained to mourn their dead. Kochubiyevsky spoke up with passion: ”Here lies a part of the Jewish people.”

He was arrested two months later and charged with slandering the Soviet Union. He was tried in May 1969 in the same courthouse in Kiev where Mendel Beilis had been tried some 50 years earlier. Past and present coalesced. According to the accounts of Jewish dissidents, friends and supporters of Kochubiyevsky were barred from his trial and the courtroom was filled with hostile observers; the evidence was rigged; the witnesses had been suborned. Kochubiyevsky was found guilty of slandering the Soviet Union. He served three years in a labor camp before he was at last allowed to emigrate.

At the beginning of the 1970’s, in part because of pressure from the United States, the Soviet regime significantly increased the number of Jews who were allowed to leave the country for Israel.During the last decade, more than 250,000 Jews have left the Soviet Union using exit permits for Israel, though recently many of them have opted for the United States. However, during this time, the Soviet regime has arbitrarily accelerated or restricted the flow of Jewish emigration; this year, for example, emigration has been at a low ebb.

But in one regard, at least, the immigration policy has been consistent. Those Jews who apply for exit permits are turned into pariahs overnight. They lose their jobs – even if they must wait months or years for their exit papers. They are subject to police surveillance and harassment. Their friends and neighbors shun them. Sometimes they are arrested.

Yet the overwhelming majority of the Jews in the Soviet Union choose to remain there. They feel the whiplash of official anti-Semitism in the ubiquitous propaganda against Israel and the ”Zionists.” They suffer restrictions in access to higher education and to the professions. They feel grass-roots hostility from the playground to the army camp.

Any sudden change in the top leadership, any extraordinary shift in Soviet foreign policy, could transform the present climate. No one can predict the future course of the Soviet regime with regard to the Jews. But for the time being, this much is sure: So long as the demons of anti-Semitism still haunt the Soviet Union, the Jews there will have no peace – and neither will the Jewish ghosts of Babi Yar.”

Copyright c 1962 by Max Hayward; reprinted by permission of Pantheon Books.

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