Israel’s president arrived in Ukraine on Tuesday to honor the victims of the Babi Yar massacre eight decades after one of the most infamous Nazi mass slaughters of World War II.
Nearly 34,000 Jews were killed within 48 hours in Babi Yar, a ravine in the Ukrainian capital, when Kyiv was under Nazi occupation in 1941. SS troops carried out the massacre with local collaborators.
“It is imperative to keep speaking about this horrific event and learn its lessons,” Israeli President Isaac Herzog said before arriving for the first state visit of his presidency.
“The only way to build a present and future in which atrocities and crimes against humanity can find no foothold is to study the past, including the Holocaust and persecution of the Jewish people,” Herzog said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after meeting with Herzog, “The memory of these victims is sacred for us, for each Ukrainian.”
Zelenskyy, Herzog and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier are set to attend a ceremony Wednesday to remember the victims of the massacre.
The three are also scheduled to inaugurate a memorial center, still under construction, dedicated to the stories of Eastern European Jews who were killed and buried in mass graves during the Holocaust. Of the 2.5 million Jews, 1.5 million died in Ukraine alone.
Speaking Tuesday at a conference in Kyiv about the Babi Yar massacre, Dani Dayan, the chairman of Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, noted the importance of “an uncompromising look and complete acceptance of all the painful facts of the past” for Ukraine.
“It is extremely important to memorialize the Jewish victims of the Nazis,” he said. “Nevertheless, it is also necessary to recognize and teach about the role of local collaborators in Babi Yar as well as in other places during the Holocaust.”
Yad Vashem marked the anniversary of the massacre by uploading a new online exhibit featuring photographs of Jews murdered in Babi Yar, which the World Holocaust Remembrance Center has collected over the years.
“This moving exhibit serves as an eternal remembrance and silent testimony to the persecution of the Jewish people, and specifically the Jewish community of Ukraine,” Dayan said. “During the fateful massacre between 29-30 September 1941, 33,771 Jews were brutally murdered, whole families destroyed in matter of hours or days, sometimes four generations, at Babi Yar. In many instances, these images are all that remain to remember their very existence.”
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