Kiev, Kiev Gubernia, Ukraine: Literature and Music

Kiev Gubernia, Ukraine

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Literature and Music

The vicious slaughter at Babi Yar was so beyond the pale that the profound shock of this unparalleled horror found expression in poetry, a literary form of forceful imagery. One of the earliest poems, Kirillovskie iary (Babi Yar is also known as Kirillov Ravines), was written by the Kievan Ol'ga Anstei in 1943, soon after the Germans abandoned the city. Anstei's poem contrasts her memory of the Babi Yar ravine as a place of pleasure with the perverse cruelty perpetrated there:

...Where nature quietly celebrated,
            Became Golgatha, the foot of the cross,
        For an ancient and fated people.
    Listen! They lined them up in order.
Their belongings heaped in piles on slabs,
        Half-suffocated, half-dead.
      Half-interned in the earth...

Contemporaneously with Ol'ga Anstei, Sava Holovanivs'kyi, a Ukrainian Jew, wrote Avraam, a poem decrying the indifference of Kievans toward the treatment of elderly Jews as they were heartlessly herded toward the ravine and cruel death. For the Yiddish writer Peretz Markish the ground of Babi Yar "heaved for seven days over the mass grave of people buried alive."

In time, Babi Yar became a symbol of Jewish suffering and, in Russia, a symbol of Soviet anti-semitism. And poets continued to write on the Babi Yar theme:

  • Ilya Ehrenburg
  • Peretz Markish
  • Lev Ozerov
  • Leonid Pervomaiskii
  • Yevgeny Yevtushenko

In 1945 Dmitrii Klebanov composed a symphony, In Memorium to the Martyrs of Babi Yar, memorializing the 1941 slaughter. Dmitri Shostakovich created his Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor in 1962 incorporating Yevtushenko's Babi Yar poem.

Babi Yar has spawned a number of novels that revolve around the massacre. Among these are the following:

  • Babi Yar by Anatoly Kuznetsov
  • Les Bienveillantes by Jonathan Littell
  • The White Hotel by D.M. Thomas
  • The Survivor of Babi Yar by Othniel J. Seiden
  • The Remnant - Jewish Resistance in WW II by Othniel J. Seiden

Not far from the Babi Yar Ravine was the Syrets Concentration Camp. The Nazis used this camp for Jews, Russian POWs, communists, and partisans. It is believed that 25,000 people were murdered in Syrets.

In 1943, as the Germans retreated, the Nazis attempted to destroy the evidence of their crimes. To accomplish this, prisoners of Syrets were forced to exhume and burn the Babi Yar bodies. It was not lost on the prisoners that when their gruesome task was completed they, too, would be executed. On 29 September 1943 the Syrets inmates broke out of the camp; only fourteen survived the guards' rifle fire. Two of these survivors – David Budnik and Jakov Kaper – wrote a memoir of their war-time experiences, including their time in Syrets (Nothing is Forgotten: Jewish Fates in Kiev 1941-1943). A portion (pp.252-305) of Jakov Kaper's memoir can be read by clicking on the following link:

The Thorny Road


  Brandeis NOW      Symphony No. 13

Dmitri Klebanov        Anatoly Kuznetsov

      Shostakovich Babi Yar

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  • Last Modified: 10-07-2012

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