80 years after Babyn Yar massacre: tools to keep the memory alive, learn the lessons

January 28, 2022

For two days, September 29 and 30, 1941, 33,771 people were exterminated. More than thirty thousand of them were Jews.
A zoom press conference was dedicated on Tuesday to the 80th anniversary of the Babyn Yar massacre ahead of an event “Lessons from Babyn Yar: History, Memory and Legacy” which is jointly organised by the House of European History in Brussels and the Kiev-based Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC).
The conference, organized in cooperation with the European Jewish Asociation, discussed lessons 80 years later, as well as unveiling new and unique tools to keep the lessons, history and memory alive, including actually putting faces and names to those murdered for the first time.
Among the speakers, French Father Patrick Desbois, founder of Yahad-In Unum and head of the scholarly council of BYHMC, stressed that Babi Yar was a criminal site where the genocide of the Jewish people took place in the center of a large city in a large country (Kiev, today Ukraine).
‘’The locals willingly aided the young fascists. The gunmen were given sandwiches and tea with little vodka in it as the mass executions lasted many hours,’’ he noted.
Father Patrick asked a practical question: where did the tons of items and valuables taken from the Jews before their execution go? ‘’It would seem that everything should be documented, but it is easier to find detailed evidence and statistics of the shootings than information about the confiscated property of those killed. It was as if the Germans were embarrassed to write about such facts.’’
He added, ‘’For me, this is another terrible evidence of the Babi Yar tragedy: human life is reduced to zero. It is only the result of statistics, nothing more. Even more terrible is that the USSR, on whose territory the tragedy took place, tried to hide the truth about Babyn Yar for a long time. Nevertheless, our generation has a goal: to find the hidden facts and restore the history of this bloody genocide.’’
“I visited Raka in Syria where there was a mass grave. Journalists came, journalists went. Perhaps in 80 years there can be a debate about what is a ‘fitting’ memorial. What is important is keeping the memory and lessons alive,’’ stressed Father Desbois.
One of the panelists, Marek Siwiec, Director of European Affairs at BYHMC,  provided information about many ongoing projects, each of which can contribute to the restoration of the truth about Babyn Yar.
Colossal work has been done: out of more than 33,000 dead, 28,428 names have been identified, and essential family and personal facts have been restored. All these invaluable findings became the basis of a vast program titled “Project Names.”
‘’It brought us closer to the real life of those who were shot at Babi Yar. They say that the death of one person is a tragedy, but the death of tens of thousands is a statistic,’’ said Siwiec, who is a former member of the European Parliament.
‘’Project Names’’ allows us to turn dry statistics into pain for everyone who was left in that terrible place, who did not live, who did not love, who did not leave their continuation on earth,’’ he added.
Another project mentioned by Siwiec, “Red Dot” (Red Dot Remembrance), is unique: more than 3,000 people provided information about the WWII war crimes. This app has so far registered 2,850 sites across of Europe of the ‘Holocaust by bullets’ which enables users to see and learn what took place wherever they are.
‘’These are mass extermination sites, eyewitness accounts, evidence supported by documents, which were kept with German punctuality and pedantry throughout the war,’’ explained Siwiec.
On the Babyn Yar massacre anniversary date of 29th September, 15,000 schools in Ukraine will participate in a “lessons of the Holocaust Day”.
‘’The key word underpinning all of our activities is education. It is only through education that the tragic disasters of the past can never be repeated,” said Siwiec.
Marek Rutka, a member of the Sejm, the Polish parliament, and chairman of the parliamentary group for the commemoration of the crimes at Babyn Yar and for a Europe free from genocide and hatred, explained that members of his political party  regularly visit the sites of the Shoah executions. ‘’They see heartfelt tragedies lead to politically literate conclusions about the need to talk about the Shoah on a European scale. There is no genocide without the tolerance of neighboring countries. These words can be taken as a motto for the whole debate.’’
Anton Schneerson, who contributed this article for European Jewish Press,  is a Ukrainian Jew living in Germany. The Jewish community of his hometown, Dnipro, managed to build one of the world’s most prominent Holocaust museum that deeply covers the Babyn Yar tragedy.
 
https://ejpress.org/80-years-after-babyn-yar-massacre-tools-to-keep-the-memory-alive-learn-the-lessons/

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COVID Diary- Reflections from Our Advisory Board Member Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs

Every Day during the Corona crisis our Advisory Board Member Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs (NL) writes a diary, on request of the Jewish Cultural Quarter in Amsterdam, which is published on the website of the NIW, the only Jewish Dutch Magazine. Rabbi Jacobs is the head of Inter Governmental Relationships at the Rabbinical Centre of Europe. We will be regularly publishing a selection of his informative, sometimes light hearted, but always wise pieces.
For our Dutch readers you can follow the diary every day at NIW home page: https://niw.nl
Every day in my e-mail box I receive statements of support like this: “I would like to wish you a lot of strength and wisdom because of the hatred for Jews that is raging throughout Europe. It all started in the 3rd century when the Church Fathers changed the policy by excluding the Jews. Lies they made up back then are still going around. My heart weeps, and I pray for you and all the Jews, that the Lord will protect you all. ”
Today should have been an ordinary day. From 9:00 am – 11:00 am I had my annual guest lecture at a Theological University, then a visit to a seriously ill woman in hospital, then home to answer emails, followed by an online meeting about kosher slaughter with a European Commissioner, a pastoral meeting at my house, ticket booking for grandson’s bar mitzvah in the US and then some chores to finish the day. I would end it with a brisk walk with a good friend and then, as a kind of ritual closing of the day writing my diary. But it went differently than planned. I usually have good control over myself emotionally. But today I didn’t. It started with the emailed statement of support that hit home hard the reality of rampant anti-Semitism, with the result that when I was asked about the situation in Israel during my guest lecture, I expressed myself too emotionally: After I delivered it, I received the following message from an Assistant Professor: “Thank you for your impressive lecture. But we were shocked by your remark that if you weren’t Chief Rabbi, you probably would already have moved to Israel. The image you painted of a captain prevented from leaving a sinking ship was as shocking as it was telling in that regard. Thank you for the open, personal and vulnerable tone of the conversation, which also touched me personally. Strength and wisdom in championing the importance of a safe place for the Jewish people in our country,” I don’t know if I should have expressed myself in that way, because in the end I have no intention of allowing myself to be expelled from my native country, which I have been a part of for at least ten generations. But the recent hatred was so visceral, so all pervading, that it exhausted my usual high levels of enthusiasm.
The European Union Commissionner was friendly and politically correct. She will stand up for kosher slaughter, but I did not get the impression that the antisemitism, which forms the basis of the attempted ban by Poland, was felt by her. This did not add to my mood I must say. And so again, in my view, I made a mistake and mentioned that in my daughter’s street in London loudspeakers were heard calling on the rape of Jewish women and girls as part of protests. It is a pity that one even needs to mention and underline the obvious to make the point. But let us go back to animal welfare for a moment on which kosher slaughter is under scrutiny. If there is one religion that attaches great importance to animal welfare it is my own. Why not tackle the real and demonstrable animal suffering: the transporting across hundreds or thousands of kilometres of animals? In any case, why on earth are we discussing animal welfare while antisemitic slogans are being shouted at across Europe during anti-Israel demonstrations? Is this a priority while the vile spectre of jew-hatred is rising again? It feels to me like the politicians are fiddling while Rome burns!
As if to compound this impending sense of Jews being cast adrift, the Prime Minister here in Holland and 5 of his ministers had a falling out about Israel. The five believe they should ask forgiveness from the Palestinians for allowing Jews to move to Israel after the Holocaust. So yes, my sanity tells me that moving to Israel would be wise. But a captain is never the first to leave asinking ship. And my heart belongs in Holland. I am certain that there are an increasing numbers of Jews from all over Europe who are actively weighing up their options. That their hearts belong in Europe, but common sense in the face of repeated attacks on them pulls them towards Israel. The fact that we even have to weigh up such a choice is indicative of a deep malaise in society and politics here, where Jews are having to defend things that shouldn’t even need defending – our very freedom of religion – whilst the elephant in the room – increasing antisemitism and particularly its new variant antizionism, run amok. I go to bed and am grateful for the many expressions of support and hope for better times and a better frame of mind for myself. I hope.

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COVID Diary- Reflections from Our Advisory Board Member Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs

Every Day during the Corona crisis our Advisory Board Member Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs (NL) writes a diary, on request of the Jewish Cultural Quarter in Amsterdam, which is published on the website of the NIW, the only Jewish Dutch Magazine. Rabbi Jacobs is the head of Inter Governmental Relationships at the Rabbinical Centre of Europe. We will be regularly publishing a selection of his informative, sometimes light hearted, but always wise pieces.
For our Dutch readers you can follow the diary every day at NIW home page: https://niw.nl
Inspired by a wise old lady who very carefully asked my opinion about insulting people, for example in a cartoon, I came to the conclusion that freedom also needs boundaries.
 
The first question is, of course, what is insulting? I read recently in a paper that “It is to be feared that airline (ELAL) policy will only become more orthodox”. What’s the meaning of this? And what is Orthodox?
 
To obey the law or not, if that is what is meant by orthodox, is not the same as good or bad. I remember Gerhard and Beppie Caneel, survivors of the war. Good, sweet, gentle people through and through. Both came from the war seriously damaged and yet always cheerful.
 
They came to the shul every Shabbat, but otherwise they did not really live according to Jewish law. My Judaism is my heart, Gerhard often said. And that was a visible truth. But they were considered Orthodox by members of the congregation who only appeared in the synagogue on the High Holidays, that is, three times a year.
 
And people who only entered the synagogue on the Day of Atonement thought those High Holiday Jews were orthodox and me probably very orthodox.
 
In other words: who sets which boundary where? And the most important question: should there be boundaries? Why all those boxes? I am Jewish and just as Jewish as Beppie and Gerhard. And whether I am good? That is determined Above! But I know 100% that Beppie and Gerhard were good people through and through. And so I find “the fear that the ELAL will become more orthodox” a polarising statement. And polarisation is dangerous, whether in word or image.
 
And so I asked some survivors what they think about that wise old lady’s concern about consciously insulting believers. All survivors I approached shared her view that there should be limits to free speech. Everyone may think that his way of thinking is the only correct one, but there must be room for others to have a different opinion. If I condemn a different religion or way of life in razor-sharp words, it should be possible. But if my conviction calls for killing or discriminating against the other, then I must be called to order and put under lock and key because of sedition.
 
But what if I just insult? If that is allowed, why are we, as a Jewish community, so excited about the floats in Aalst? Anything and everything is possible, right?
 
Some years ago I was confronted with an educational audiovisual program from the churches. The images were formed with sand. There were images and a narrator. The subject was the origin of Christianity. Supporters and opponents of the new religion were all Jews.
 
But in the broadcast, the opponents had long noses, all looked very angry and gave the impression that they were bad people. How will those images affect the youthful viewers of that program? We went to the makers of the program with a minister friend, with the result that they adjusted the entire program. Their intention was absolutely not to incite hatred! I am a staunch fanatical super ultra-orthodox advocate of freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. But what if violence ensues as a result of being insulted?
 
What then? That old wise lady is of the opinion that insulting is also wrong. I share her opinion.
 
I find it unacceptable to destroy fellow human beings spiritually, deeply hurting them. And so I can protest against the float in Aalst because I experience it as insulting.
 
The Jew with a long nose, tons of money and dollar signs. I can also go to court. But violence against a float that proclaims a message that I find dangerous, taking the law into your own hands or calling for the right to take into your own hands: no way!
 
And so I think that old wise lady, herself a survivor of the Shoah, is right. Anything and everything is allowed, but not unlimited. And that is why I was so delighted that I was allowed to lay a wreath in front of the Jewish monument with Mayor Marcouch in Arnhem last Sunday, despite corona.
 
An Islamic mayor and a Jewish rabbi stood hand in hand (because of corona only in spirit) to demonstrate that what could happen then must never happen again. And a few hours later, during the virtual commemoration of Kristallnacht, the Protestant Churches declared loud and clear in a statement that together, from a deep sense of belonging, we will fight against anti-Semitism and for friendship.
 
Freedom of expression, of the press, of belief: Certainly. But…with limits!

Two youths attack Austrian Jewish teen wearing Star of David ring

The victim was treated in a local hospital for cuts and bruises to his face. Police are searching for the assailants.

Two teenagers attacked a 16-year-old Jewish boy in the Austrian city of Gratz before he was able to get away.
The victim was treated in a local hospital for cuts and bruises to his face. Police are searching for the assailants.
According to a report from the Gratz Jewish community, the victim was wearing a ring decorated with a Star of David when he was accosted March 4 on the street near a high school by the two teens, who demanded to know if he was Jewish. When he answered that he was, the boys told him to “piss off.” Then one of the boys slapped and punched him in the face while calling him a “shit Jew.”
In a statement Elie Rosen, head of the Jewish community in Gratz, said local schools need help in addressing antisemitism and should not only be teaching about the Holocaust but about the history of the Middle East conflict.
“The fact is, the word ‘Jew’ is used as an insult in schoolyards,” the statement read in part. “We have to help schools prepare to take on this problem.”
“Unfortunately, Gratz is not an exceptional case,” he added. “This incident is part of a development in Europe.”
Rosen accused society in general and the political leadership of failing to take such incidents seriously.
According to statistics on antisemitism in Europe compiled by the European Action and Protection League, antisemitic incidents in Austria more than doubled in 2018 to 547 from 255 in 2014. Data for several countries was presented at the European Jewish Association annual conference in Paris last month.
With more than 150 members, the Jewish community of Gratz is the second largest in Austria. According to the European Jewish Congress, about 15,000 Jews live in Austria today, most of them in Vienna.
The article was published in the JPost
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