The Babi Yar massacre destroyed the Jewish community in Kyiv. The Jews of Riga, Minsk and Vilnius encountered the same tragic fate — murdered in ravines. Some 1.5 million Jews lost their lives that way.
The central chapter of the Nazi’s “final solution” is still largely unknown. As I know from bitter experience, the Soviet regime after World War II did everything possible to erase Jewish identity and the memory of the Holocaust from collective memory.
The Soviet worldview rejected all national, ethnic and religious affiliation. And so, they described the Babi Yar massacre as a crime against the Soviet people and literally buried the truth by building highways, apartment buildings and even a stadium on top of Europe’s largest mass grave. They even tried to turn the area into a landfill.
Even though as an independent country Ukraine is trying to right this injustice, Babi Yar continues to evade the historical narrative. A recent survey conducted by the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya found that only a third of Israelis aged 18-29 know that the massacre took place during the Holocaust; 75 percent of respondents in Israel said they felt like the memory of the Holocaust was fading away.
The time has come to reinstate the balance. We are running out of time, as commemorating the Holocaust gets more and more challenging as the number of Holocaust survivors who witnessed the incomparable evil decreases each year.
Fortunately, significant efforts are being invested in ensuring that the victims of Babi Yar and other ravines in Eastern Europe make it into the history books.
A world-class museum is being set up at the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, whose supervisory board I head. Virtual history and education projects are already underway. New names of victims have been revealed, and details of their lives restored. Previously unknown stories were revealed of Ukrainians who helped save the lives of their Jewish neighbors.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Day is an opportunity to weigh how we remember humanity’s inconceivable deterioration to evil. All of us around the world pledge “never again,” and we mean it.
However, if we truly want to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, we must first know our history. It begins with the understanding that the Holocaust did not begin and end in Auschwitz. There are countless other Holocaust stories to tell. Now is the time to preserve and retell all of them.
Natan Sharansky is an Israeli politician, human rights activist and former chairman of the Jewish Agency. This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.