I was planning this trip three years ago, one of the hardest
decisions I had to make regarded visiting Babi Yar. I was
not sure if our plans should include the site of one of the biggest
execution sites in Holocaust history. I had to take this issue
into consideration, and decide if our trip was to be one of sightseeing
or was it to be a pilgrimage. Our focus was to find information
about our ancestors and any leads on our genealogical roots.
However, I wondered if the visit to Babi Yar fit our purpose. I
also knew that this excursion would not be a comfortable one at all.
It would have been quite easy to simply
omit visiting the site by justifying that no-one from our family was
victimized by this incident - that we know of.
yet, it may give me an even harder impact on my conscience later
if I were to completely ignore Babi Yar. I knew our visit
to the sight would contribute only remembrance for the 33,771
Jewish victims. But it would ease my guilt, just to carry a
flower to the place and spend some time for silent
discussion about the holocaust is generally avoided, I had no
idea how much knowledge Heidi had of Babi Yar. And I
needed her help to decide if we should visit the site or
not during our trip.
knew of a few web-sites which had very graphic photos of the
executions but also, very clear documentation on the happenings
of those days in September 1941. I did not want to upset my wife
with this issue unless it is very necessary.
three weeks before our trip I sat down with Heidi and
updated her with my plan to visit Babi Yar on the first day of
arrival at Kiev. She did not object at all.
am not planning on having fun on this trip," she
said. "We have a responsibility to pay respect to the
then offered to show her some of the photos available on the
web-sites. It was very difficult for me to watch them
again for I had already seen them twice - once by myself
and a second time with Aaron, our son. Both times, I became extremely
emotional and could not help weeping.
defend myself, at this point, I must state that I am not naive
in terms of knowing human capabilities to engage in violent
acts, for I, myself, experienced the genocide in China during my
childhood. Of course its scale was not as big as what the Jews
went through. And yet, I know how the human body feels
when it dies. My infant sister starved to death on my
back. I carried my dead sister, still on my back,
for a few days walk to evacuate the city. I became
accustomed to walking through a street piled with hundreds of
abandoned corpses as I sold boxes of cigarettes to Russian
soldiers. In fact, I still remember the odor of those dead
bodies. Ironically, I lost my sense of smell around that
time; possibly my body had refused to smell that which it should
having experienced all that I had as a mere child, I could not
handle viewing the photographs of Babi Yar.
Heidi did not cry when she reviewed those photos. But her
face turned pale as if she struggled with an intense anger and frustration.
I heard her only say, "Why couldn't they have at least tried
to run away!?."
July 8, 2004, our second day in Kiev, Heidi and I left the Hotel
Dnipro, for the Metro station named Dorohozhichy.
Accompanying us was Vlad, my student acting as our interpreter.
According to the information I studied, there should be four
monuments built at the site of the Babi Yar ravines. My
initial plan was to start at the corner of Melnikovaya Street
and Dokterivska Street (by the old Jewish cemetery) and climb up
the hill to the ravine following the course of the "death
march" walked by the 33,771 Jewish Soviet citizens on the
morning of September 29, 1941. At the last minute, I was
nervous that my old body would not be able to handle the walk -
so instead we took the subway. Dorohozhichy Metro
station was situated between two monuments; one commissioned in
by the Soviet government dedicated to the Soviet citizens who
died at Babi Yar and another built in 1991 by the Jewish
community memorializing the Jewish citizens who were executed.
the Metro station we entered the park right behind the most
conspicuous looking bronze structure - the monument built
by the Soviets. Nearby we also found a small brown stone
monument recently built by the Jewish Heritage Community commemorating
the 60th anniversary. Heidi and I spent some time clearing
the weeds at the foot of the stone which read a quote from
Ezekiel 37:14, "I will put my breath into you and you shall
group of Gypsies approached us while we viewed the the main bronze
monument (created by M. Lysenko).
They just simply wanted some "Copeks (money)." Interestingly,
there was no mention of the Jewish victims in its inscription -
we thought this very odd. We placed a bouquet and
proceeded to the other side of the park to locate the monument
dedicated to the Jewish children who were executed. The sculptor
V. Medvedev's bronze appeared to welcome all who entered the
park and adequately reminded us of the sadness that once occurred
hardest sight to visit was the last of the four monuments known
as "the Menorah Monument", commissioned by the Jewish
Heritage Community and placed at the crest of ravine where the
actual mass executions took place.
the past, Heidi and I had a rather strange past time of walking
through unknown cemeteries - just to enjoy the quiet and
peaceful atmosphere and to imagine the types of lives the buried
may have lived. And typically, we do feel a peace among the
graves. But, as we finally arrived at the Menorah Monument, I
found myself in the middle of a most uncomfortable
feeling. As the woods rustled with the wind, I could hear
thousands of souls screaming - and my heart ached. I could
not breath for a while. I went into the woods following a
lightly worn path that lead me to a long, wide and winding ravine
and alone, I sat there for an hour, listening. Heidi, too,
appeared to need to be alone. Sitting at the crest of the
ravine, she wrote her thoughts in her notebook.
was one of the most unpleasant and emotional experiences I have
had in my life. We left the last bouquet of
flowers at the base of the menorah and walked downhill to
Melnikovaya Street toward the Jewish cemetery going the opposite
direction of the death march.
Norimi and Heidi