Babi Yar: Spoken or Silenced
By Robin Lane
There are times like last week when I feel as though there is no way I can put into words how I feel, or how I want my fellow Texans to feel. The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. But in the case of the massacre at Babi Yar, sometimes words can touch us in places that photos can't.
During World War II, as the German Wehrmacht pushed east into the Soviet Union, many civilians found themeslves cut-off. Over the course of 48 hours, from September 29th-30th 1941, over 33,000 Jewish residents of Kiev were murdered. Most were the elderly, women, or children, who had not been able to evacuate the city earlier. Over the next several months, members of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen continued to use Babi Yar as a killing site; they ultimately took an estimated 100,000 lives at this terrifying gorge. Later in the war, as the Soviet advance pressured the German Army back west, the Nazis decided to cover their tracks, digging up the mass graves from Babi Yar and burning the bodies.
(Path towards Babi Yar, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
The photos from Babi Yar are so shocking, so wrenching, that it's difficult to get past that initial emotional reaction and to really consider the event's impacts. Because the photos are so disturbing, it would seem that any attempts to put thoughts or explanations into writing would be aimless and lackluster, failing to capture the enormity of emotion.
But what is the alternative? To stay silent? To pretend it never happened? To hope that others will discover this history on their own, be moved by it, and decide to become advocates?
In researching the events at Babi Yar, I came across these words, from Ivan Dzuiba, a literary critic and social activist from Ukraine.
There are events, tragedies, the enormity of which make all words futile and of which silence tells incomparably more - the awesome silence of thousands of people. Perhaps we, too, should keep silent and only meditate. But silence says a lot only when everything that could have been said has already been said. If there is still much to say, or if nothing has yet been said, then silence becomes a partner to falsehood and enslavement. We must, therefore, speak - and to speak whenever we can, taking advantage of all opportunities, for they come so infrequently.
For some of you reading this blog, this may be the first time you've heard of Babi Yar. It is part of our mission at the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission to ensure that it isn't your last. We will continue to use our voices to puncture the silence, and to ensure that the men, women, and children killed at Babi Yar will never be forgotten.Tags: babi yar holocaust holocaust education einsatzgruppen holocaust by bullets thgc texas holocaust and genocide commission