DIE JUDISCHEN GEFALLENEN
A Roll of Honor Commemorating the 12,000 German Jews
Who Died for their Fatherland in World War I.

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BABI YAR (Kiev – Ukraine)

        Preface to Yevtushenko’s poem...

    In 1964, I was led to the mass grave of thousands of Jews, slaughtered by Nazis in World War II. This site was named Babi Yar.

    In 1941, old men, women and children were ordered to assemble under the pretext of relocation and led to a ravine where they were brutally murdered. For many years after the war, the massacre was not acknowledged by the Soviet dictatorships. Large apartment complexes were constructed on the perimeter of the ravine where “the ground trembled with gases from decomposing bodies.”* It was rumored that construction would follow in the ravine.

    Following much international outrage, a monument was erected, dedicated to all victims without ethnic designation. In 1961, the poet Yevtushenko memorialized BABI YAR in the poem of the same name as presented here in a new translation by Ben Sher. The poem is a metaphor for centuries of violence perpetrated against Jews.

BABI YAR

by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

No memorial stands above Babi Yar –
Only a precipice, a crude gravestone.
Terror comes over me. I’m today
As old as the Jewish people themselves.

It seems to me now that I’m a Jew –
I’m wandering along ancient Egypt.
And now I’m nailed right to the cross,
And to this day my stigmata are visible.
It seems to me that I’m Alfred Dreyfus –
The Philistines my informers and judges.
I’m trapped,
thrown into a cell,
Hunted down,
spit at,
slandered,
While genteel ladies
sporting frills and flounces
Poke me in the face
with parasols as they squeal.
It seems I’m the boy from the pogrom,
The blood pours out,
spills along the edge,
Reeking of onions dipped in vodka,
The lords of taverns pillage and plunder.
Shoved under the murderer’s boot,
I beg for mercy in vain. Howling
“Kill the Jews and save Mother Russia!”
The wholesale grain merchant
rapes my mother.
Oh, people of Russia!
I know –
You are in essence internationalist.
But sometimes hands that are impure
Have taken your pure name in vain.
I know the goodness of your native land.
How vile
that, hardly moving a muscle,
The anti-Semites have puffed
themselves up
With the name “Union of the
Russian People”!
It seems to me that I am Anna Frank,
Transparent like an April bough.
I am in love,
I don’t need many words.
What we need is
to look into each other’s eyes.
How our sense of sight
fails us,
Our sense of smell!
The leaves of the spring trees
are beyond our reach
as is the sky above.
Yet, we can still do much –
how tender
To touch each other in the dark.
Are they moving towards us?
Have no fear –
You can hear
The rumble of spring itself
trooping in.
Come to me.
Give me now your lips.
Are they breaking down the door?
No, the winter ice is cracking…
The wild grass rustles above Babi Yar.
The trees look down in dread
like judges.
Everything here howls silently,
Lowering my hat,
I feel myself slowly turning grey,
Turning into a shriek,
a monolithic slab
Above tens of thousands
buried here.
I stand here like
every old man shot,
Like every infant, baby shot.
Every nerve in me remembers!
Let the “Internationale”
ring out
When the last anti-Semite on Earth
is buried.
There is no Jewish blood in me.
Yet, I am hated with calloused rage
By every anti-Semite – like a Jew,
And that is why …
I am a true Russian!

1961

Benjamin Sher Russian Translator
January 2, 2006
    
  • Anatoli, A. (Kuznetsov), trans. David Floyd, (1970), Babi Yar, Jonathan Cape Ltd. ISBN 0-671-45135-9
  • The attached images are those I took of the ravine with much apprehension. At that time I was employed by the USIA as a specialist in a cultural exchange program, designated “Communications USA.” (Leo Finegold)