Why one of the Holocaust’s worst massacres is marked only by charred menorah
KIEV, Ukraine (JTA) – On a muddy path in Babi Yar Park, Vladimir Proch negotiates deep puddles as he shadows two rabbis and a group of Ukrainian officials.
An 87-year-old Holocaust survivor, Proch lives near the Kiev ravine where Nazis and local collaboratorsmurdered more than 50,000 Jews starting in September 1941. He has followed every twist of the 15-year saga to commemorate victims in a manner befitting the tragedy’s scale, which even by Nazi standards was extraordinarily barbaric.
Sensing the clergy and officials were part of the latest effort to memorialize the victims, Proch approached one of the rabbis, Yossi Azman, and asked him incredulously: “Do you really think we’ll finally get a proper monument?”
Proch has good reason to be skeptical. Since 2001, numerous Jewish groups and tycoons have attempted but failed to win municipal support to upgrade a notorious site where Jewish victims are memorialized only by an unfenced 6-foot menorah.
Built near a construction-waste dump roamed by homeless people and packs of stray dogs, the menorah is still charred from a recent torching – the sixth assault by vandals on the monument in the past year alone. Swastikas adorn two entrances to a metro station near the memorial park.
Yet with the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre approaching, authorities and community representatives say they are determined to build a new monument and avoid the pitfalls that thwarted previous attempts — including funding problems, concerns about building atop and desecrating human remains and internal feuding within Ukraine’s fractious Jewish community.
The new initiative to commemorate the Holocaust at Babi Yar began officially last month, when Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk convened a standing committee of officials and community representatives who meet every week. They aim to build a new monument by Sept. 29, the anniversary of the day in 1941 when Nazis began marching Kiev’s Jews to the ravine on the city’s outskirts and systematically massacring them with machine-gun fire. By some estimates, 100,000 Jews, Roma, communists and Soviet prisoners of war were murdered at Babi Yar, including over 33,000 Jews on those first two days alone.
The current memorial plan is an unambitious blueprint for two memorial paths that would connect the site of the menorah, situated on the park’s outer edges, to its center. One path will be dedicated to the Jewish victims, another for Ukrainians who risked their lives to save Jews.
The fate of the menorah, which Jewish groups placed here provisionally 25 years ago, is uncertain. One design, which is favored by the local municipality, features a
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