Nearly 34,000 Jews were rounded up by Nazis in Ukraine and shot dead in the Babi Yar ravine near Kyiv on two days in September 1941 in what became known as the “Holocaust by bullets”.
As the 80th anniversary of the massacre approaches, the French Senate hosted a conference to remind people of the horror of Babi Yar, aiming to make up for what it considers Ukraine”s failure to keep the memory alive.
“A Ukrainian leader once asked me there’s no monument to Babi Yar, so what, why is it important?” explained author and Holocaust survivor Marek Halter.
“I said because when there is a monument, you pass by it with your child and your child will ask what is it? And you will have to answer him”.
Several memorials have been erected at Babi Yar, but the participants in the conference called for Ukraine to do more to commemorate the massacre.
The meeting came at the request of Ukrainian opposition deputy Vadim Rabinovich, who’s also a representative of the Jewish community.
He drew attention to what he claims is his country’s tolerance of neo-Nazis, holding up a photo taken at the funeral of a Ukrainian Nazi.
“France is the country that gave birth to democracy,” he told the meeting. “If today we don’t tell our European friends what’s happening about such a historical event as Babi Yar, a place where tens of thousands of people were shot and where there is not even a small monument, there will be a big problem”.
The conference was organised with the help of the French senator Nathalie Goulet, who thinks Babi Yar is not well enough known in the West.
“Every day we try to fight against extremism and anti-Semitism,” explained Goulet. “These movements are contagious, they have ramifications everywhere. What I saw in Ukraine frightened me. When I see that former Nazis are celebrated, that they have national funerals, we cannot remain silent. And I believe that France, which is a friend of Ukraine, which is a sovereign country, can help keep this memory alive.”
The 80th anniversary commemorations of the Babi Yar massacre are due to take place on September 29 and 30 in Kyiv.