Babi Yar memorial for the 33 771 Jews killed in Kiev in 2 days

Babi Yar memorial for the 33 771 Jews killed in Kiev in 2 days


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It is estimated[1] that 100 000 people were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators at the Babi Yar ravine in Kiev. As Yittzchak Rabin stated in an address on 12 September 1995:

Here in this gorge of hell the history of a great Jewish world has ended – the world of the Ukrainian Jews, from whose midst the first dreamers of Zion came forth, the best Jewish poets and writers, the great pioneers and trailblazers of Zionism”

On the day of Yom Kippur on 29 September 1941 the Jews of Kiev were ordered to gather near the Jewish Cemetery for “resettlement”. They were then led to the nearby ravine of Babi Yar where they were forced to hand over their belongings, undress and lie face down. They were then shot by members of Einsatzkommando 4A [2]. In the space of two days 33 771 Jewish men, women and children were murdered in this way. The Babi Yar ravine was thereafter repeatedly used as a killing site for tens of thousands more Jews, Roma, Sinti and partisans until it was liberated by the Soviet forces. As the German Army retreated the Nazis attempted to hide the evidence of their massacres by exhuming the bodies and burning them.

These terrible events then sunk into historical oblivion, so much so that Jews were not mentioned during the Soviet Union’s commemorations of the Second World War. This denialist trend was challenged in 1961 by the great Russian poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko (born 1932) who aroused a national awareness about the calamity of Babi Yar with the following poem[3]:

“No monument stands over Babi Yar.

A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.

I am afraid.

Today, I am as old

As the entire Jewish race itself.”

In 1962 in his 13th symphony titled “Babi Yar” the great Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich composed a choral musical form of an outcry by Yevtuschenko against antisemitism through the ages until the massacre of Babi Yar. It ends with these words:

There is no Jewish blood in my blood

But I feel the loathsome hatred of all antisemites as though I were a Jew –

And that is why I am a true Russian.”

Until Ukraine became independent from Russia in 1991 plans for Holocaust monuments were thwarted by surges of post-war Soviet Russian antisemitism. however, since then the genocide of the Jews began to be commemorated as part of that nation’s history.

In 2006 the sculptor Valeriy Medvedew created a memorial devoted to the children killed in the shootings at Babi Yar. As the reality of this crime was too terrible to visualize, he substituted the children with bronze figures of their broken dolls.

In Abigail’s painting the memory of Babi Yar is frozen in time, confronting the viewer with a ghostly rigidity, as an intense reminder of zachor: “remember”.  Abigail has also portrayed the child victims as doll-like figures, surrounding her image of Medvedew’s memorial. They are festively arrayed in their beauty and purity, as they were during their lives prior to their devastating fate. The artist is seated below, turning her back to her two easels, drawing the viewer into her visions and reflections of this cataclysmic event. On the left easel she has depicted the numinous presence of the Shekhinah within the web of the universe, while on the right she has portrayed a four-winged angel floating within the universe and a monument to Janusz Korczak rendered in the style of hieroglyphs that evoke the spirit of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. In this way the artist connects the death of Korczak’s orphans in Treblinka with the children who perished in Babi Yar.


[1] Cape Town Holocaust Centre. Exhibition of Babi Yar. By kind attention of Richard Freedman, Director.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Translated from the Russian by Benjamin Okopnik. See also: Zvi Gitelman. The Soviet Politics of the Holocaust. Young (ed.) 1994 p. 139.

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A4 Print (approx 21 x 30 cm), A3 Print (approx 30 x 42 cm), A2 Print (approx 42 x 60 cm), A1 Print (approx 60 x 84 cm)


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