«Jewish Observer»
November 2002
5763 Kislev

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Another anniversary of mass shootings' start in Babiy Yar is marked with sadness and pain. Here 61 years ago 200 thousand Kievites and war prisoners became fascists' victims. Among them were 35 thousand children.

Gun bursts were heard in the ravine Babiy Yar from September 29, 1941 till September 29, 1943. Among those killed by Hitlerites were Ukrainians, Russians, Gypsies, Germans, Poles... But the biggest number went to Jews - 150 thousand.

The present aspiration to commemorate Holocaust victims is understandable. It is to become a museum-educational center to be erected near to the existing monument of Soviet times in the Dorogozhitskaya street.

We talk about a would-be museum complex to the president of Council of national communities of Ukraine, president of Jewish council and president of the Foundation "Memory of Babiy Yar".

- Ilya Mikhailovich, the idea of creating a Center is known not to have been born yesterday...

- The question of a museum "Babiy Yar" and museum of history of Ukraine's Jews emerged alongside with the creation of Kiev Jewish culture society in 1988. Local authorities offered us one building, then another. But we failed to make use of these premises due to objective reasons. Then there was a "Joint's" decision to create community centers of Jewish culture in Moscow, Petersburg and Kiev. They were to promote the development of scientific, museum, educational, musical, sports and other programs. We asked the leadership of "Joint" (by the way, this charitable organization was maintaining 800 thousand Ukrainian peasants during the famine of 1932-1933) to create in the center two museums: museums of Holocaust "Babiy Yar" and History museum of Ukrainian Jews (prior to the war such museums were in Odessa, Lvov, Chernovtsy).

- In the place of a would-be center (construction is planned for next spring) stands a memorable stone President of Ukraine laid in 2001. What will museums house?

- Half of the space (up to 7,000 square meters) will be under museum expositions. The same room will go under a research institute, archives, sound and video recording libraries, storerooms, cinema hall, thematic library, computer class, book shop, assembly and exhibition halls, library with a reading hall, cafeteria. The center will also house a synagogue, and in the place of a symbolic burial of Ukrainian patriots - Elena Teliga and her companions-in-arms - a memorial church will be created.

- The idea is backed on the top level, a project by Israeli architects Ulrich and Daniella Plezner is approved of. At the same time your brothers in faith have made a worldwide noise accusing you and your supporters of cynicism, blasphemy and other sins. What do your opponents want?

- I think everything boils down to a plot of land under a future Center - that was the spark that set the forest on fire. How is it permissible to construct anything on the land soaked in blood of the innocent? I ask in response: why aren't you concerned about a TV center, swimming pool, filling station, stadium nearby being constructed on the bones of Jewish cemetery? Today, too, they play football within 70 metres from "Menorah". Over two and a half thousand citizens were shot dead in the former October palace, but they dance there performing both hopak and freilekhs, and Jews mark merry holidays there.

For decades nobody doubts the fact people were exterminated in Babiy Yar on the space between houses #25 and 29 in the Teliga street. There, at the end of Babiy Yar stands a shop - on the bones of these killed. This is proved by documents, commissions, witnesses, geological and archeological examinations. Another commission was working this June. It confirmed: there were no shootings in the place of the monument in Dorogozhitskaya and on the allotted territory. A TV shooting recorded the work of this commission.

Next to the most sacred country's cemetery - grave of Unknown Soldier with Eternal flame and graves of more than 30 Heroes of Soviet Union - is found the Palace of youth and pupils. They dance and sing and amuse themselves 80 metres away from the sacred grave. Yet nearer - in the underground crossing - we encounter cafes, shops, hear music. Is it permissible?

- But your arguments did not stop Jewish opponents...

- This is most offensive. No Ukrainian organization, even most radical ones, has raised this problem. But my co-religionists fan national discord, disseminate wittingly false information in mass media and Internet.

Moreover, if I were unaware of the gist of the mater, I would myself sign some letters of these Pharisees - to such extent they are emotional and convincing. They declare rabbis of Ukraine and Israel oppose the construction. This is another lie, as rabbis do not object. The peak of hypocrisy became the declaration of "political parties and public organizations" missing a common signature. Their threat of holding wide scale and active forms of "civil protest" evokes apprehension. The same threats are contained in other declarations.

- I can imagine what could have happened if representatives of other nation had declared about such measures. Those very Jews would have declared them anti-Semites and raised such a noise...

- And our opponents get away with it. Of late one herald abroad, distributed worldwide, has published an interview with... Ilya Levitas who allegedly doubts the expediency of creating this Center. But I gave this interview to nobody. And I have never opposed the construction. Such a falsification.

- You are also accused of the Center's planning to hold entertaining events...

- This is all rubbish. Yes, music will sound in the Center. But these will be famous symphonies by Shostakovich, Klebanov, Stankovich, works by Mozart... What is bad here? I have been to twelve death camps of Europe where four million of people were murdered. Everywhere I have seen memorial centers, which have cafes, assembly halls and classes.

- Ilya Mikhailovich, apart from land interest you critics brink over with, probably, offense and envy...

- There are people used to participating in all Jewish projects. But not everybody is glad to invite them. Another moment: after the Center is created some public organizations will lose their independence and, correspondingly, funds. It is them who excite people: say, the Center will stand on the bones of victims. There will be dances and entertainment there. By the way, the Gagarin cinema, school #24, shop, metro line located close by the monument to Holocaust victims are built namely on the bones ... Why is there no protest heard in this connection?

- After the architects' idea, the Center shall become a symbol of the Jewish nation's being alive, of fascists' having failed to exterminate it...

- And it began its renaissance in a new independent Ukraine, which would have been impossible in a totalitarian country. The museum will, undoubtedly, personify an international idea. There will be halls dedicated to the tragedy of Gypsies, feat of Righteous Men, Ukrainian patriots, to links with all peoples of Ukraine.

Memorial church and synagogue will not divide people of different confessions; grief and sorrow common to the entire Ukrainian people will bring them together. I am confident the Center shall unite us still tighter on the ground of interethnic tolerance, humanism, respect for citizens of all nationalities. It will become part of a memorial zone with already existing monuments in the Dorogozhytskaya street, in the place of Syrets death camp, to shot children, "Menorah" in the Jewish cemetery. We intend to erect a monument in the place of Gypsies' shooting and to lay Alley of Righteous men. And the Center will become part of this memorial zone.

Interviewed by Ivan Ilyash
"Golos Ukrainy"

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