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September 30, 2021 4:12 pm

Human Rights Activist Sharansky Warns of ‘Efforts to Erase Memory of the Holocaust’ on 80th Anniversary of Babi Yar Massacre

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

The Babi Yar massacre of the Jews of Kyiv, Ukraine, September 1941. Photo: Yad Vashem.

Ukrainian born Israeli human rights activist Natan Sharansky warned of “rising efforts to erase memory of the Holocaust” as the world commemorated the 80th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre, in which over 33,000 Jews were slaughtered on the outskirts of the capital Kiev by the Nazis.

“The biggest mass grave of the Holocaust is in Babi Yar. It is the symbol of the Holocaust by Bullets, but it is also the symbol of another crime – the crime of the Soviet Regime that did everything to erase from our memory the Holocaust: the killing of the Jews of Ukraine, of Belarus, of Russia by bullets in the Soviet Union,” Sharansky said Thursday. “We should also be very concerned by the efforts of some organizations and governments to distort the history for their immediate political aims today.”

Babi Yar, also known as Babyn Yar, is the Ukranian ravine where on Yom Kippur eve in late September of 1941, more than 33,000 Jewish men, women and children were shot dead during just two days by the Nazis.

Speaking at an online discussion dedicated to the anniversary of the massacre, as part of the Athens Democracy Forum conference, Sharansky emphasized that commemoration to honor the victims was important as much as ensuring that the lessons of history are learned in the modern era.

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Sharansky, who spent years in a Russian prison before finally being freed, has said he knew nothing about the Babi Yar massacre when he was growing up as a child, due to the Soviet policy of suppressing information about the tragedy after the Second World War.

“It was clear that the antisemitic policy of the Soviet Union was closely connected with their efforts to erase the memory of the Holocaust. It was clear then and it is clear today: antisemitism is rising in many countries, in Europe and the United States, and together with it is a rise in the efforts to erase the memory of the Holocaust,” Sharansky cautioned.

Sharansky also chairs the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC), which is currently being built in memory of the stories of the 2.5 million Jews of Eastern Europe, including 1.5 million in Ukraine alone, who were murdered and buried in mass graves near their homes during the Holocaust.

“We need to teach about Babi Yar because of the lesson of antisemitism,” said Father Patrick Desbois, head of the BYHMC Academic Council, at Thursday’s conference. “Antisemitism is coming back. It is not only hate speech, now unfortunately in France we hear someone was attacked, or a synagogue is attacked.”

“When the first Jew was killed for being Jewish 12 years ago, we were all in the streets — now no one is in the streets. We have to teach about the Holocaust to show the gravity of antisemitism, to show the connection between hatred and hate crimes,” Desbois urged.

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