Wednesday, January 27, 2016

International Holocaust Remembrance Day -- Babi Yar by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

On this day in 1945 the USSR liberated the prisoners left in Auschwitz. Over 1 million had died there, mostly Jews in the Holocaust.

It seems fitting to remember this anniversary with the words of the great Soviet poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko in his poem about the horror of the Holocaust at Babi Yar, a tremendously powerful cry about the evil that was done by the Nazis on Soviet soil and the terrible horror of this past all too recent and all too likely to repeat itself as it did in places like Rwanda.

Babi Yar by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A drop sheer as a crude gravestone. 
I am afraid.
Today I am as old in years 
as all the Jewish people. 
Now I seem to be
a Jew. 
Here I plod through ancient Egypt. 
Here I perish crucified, on the cross, 
and to this day I bear the scars of nails. 
I seem to be
The Philistine 
is both informer and judge. 
I am behind bars.
Beset on every side. 
spat on,
Squealing, dainty ladies in flounced Brussels lace
stick their parasols into my face.
I seem to be then
a young boy in Byelostok. 
Blood runs, spilling over the floors. 
The barroom rabble-rousers 
give off a stench of vodka and onion. 
A boot kicks me aside, helpless. 
In vain I plead with these pogrom bullies. 
While they jeer and shout,
"Beat the Yids. Save Russia!" 
some grain-marketeer beats up my mother. 
0 my Russian people!
I know you 
are international to the core. 
But those with unclean hands 
have often made a jingle of your purest name. 
I know the goodness of my land. 
How vile these anti-Semites-
without a qualm 
they pompously called themselves 
the Union of the Russian People! 
I seem to be
Anne Frank 
as a branch in April. 
And I love.
And have no need of phrases. 
My need is that we gaze into each other. 
How little we can see
or smell! 
We are denied the leaves, 
we are denied the sky. 
Yet we can do so much --
embrace each other in a darkened room. 
They're coming here?
Be not afraid. Those are the booming 
sounds of spring:
spring is coming here. 
Come then to me.
Quick, give me your lips.
Are they smashing down the door?
No, it's the ice breaking ... 
The wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar. 
The trees look ominous, 
like judges. 
Here all things scream silently, 
and, baring my head, 
slowly I feel myself 
turning gray. 
And I myself 
am one massive, soundless scream 
above the thousand thousand buried here. 
I am 
each old man 
here shot dead. 
I am 
every child
here shot dead.
Nothing in me
shall ever forget! 
The "Internationale," let it thunder 
when the last anti-Semite on earth 
is buried forever. 
In my blood there is no Jewish blood. 
In their callous rage, all anti-Semites 
must hate me now as a Jew. 
For that reason
I am a true Russian!

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