Remembrance and education: Yom HaShoah and the Synagogue in Babyn Yar

Thursday, April 8th, marks the confluence of two significant events – the observance of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day throughout the Jewish world, and the dedication of a symbolic synagogue at the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center near Kyiv, where 33,771 Jews were murdered in a two-day period in late September 1941.The inauguration of the symbolic synagogue and prayer space at Babyn Yar will be part of the special broadcast on the Jerusalem Post website and Facebook page and the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center Facebook page on Thursday, Yom HaShoah.On Yom HaShoah, April 8th (at 8 PM Israel and Kyiv time/1 PM EST) , Natan Sharansky, former Prisoner of Zion and Chair of the supervisory board at the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, will participate in a panel discussion with Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of the National Coalition Supporting Euro-Asian Jewry, and Dan S. Mariaschin, chief executive officer of B’nai B’rith International. The three leaders will discuss the significance of the synagogue dedication, the Ukrainian government’s support for the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, and the dangers of resurgent antisemitism eighty years after Babyn Yar.Natan Sharansky (Credit: BYHMC)Natan Sharansky (Credit: BYHMC)Sharansky, who was born in 1948, recalled that as a boy, he and his friends were aware that something tragic had occurred in Ukraine but were never informed as to what had happened. “I was born in Ukraine a few years after the Holocaust,” he said. “Most of my Jewish friends had no grandfathers and grandmothers. We had very few uncles and aunts. It was clear that some awful tragedy had happened only a few years before we were born. We knew practically nothing.” The awful crimes of the Nazis, he said, were followed by those of the Communist regime, who attempted to erase the memory of what had occurred from the Jewish identity of the Jews of the Soviet Union. “For me,” Sharansky related, “the Babyn Yar Memorial is like the closing of a huge circle – of bringing back the memory of the world of our people and making it part of our history and our future.”The importance of the support given to the project by President Zelensky and the Ukrainian government, he says, cannot be overestimated – not only for the Jewish people but for anyone who values the desire to live in a free world. Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of the National Coalition Supporting Euro-Asian Jewry, echoed Sharansky’s words and stated that the dedication of the synagogue and the museum itself is a significant point not just in Jewish history but in the history of Ukraine and for the continent of Europe as a whole.

Mark B. Levin (Credit: NATIONAL COALITION SUPPORTING EURO-ASIAN JEWRY)Mark B. Levin (Credit: NATIONAL COALITION SUPPORTING EURO-ASIAN JEWRY)“Studies have shown,” noted Levin, “that as we get farther and farther from the end of World War II and the end of the Holocaust, that fewer people are aware of what took place. This will be a wonderful opportunity to provide that sense of memory not just for a new generation, but for several generations of people who have been removed from this tragedy.” He credited Ukrainian leaders for working to develop the plan for Babyn Yar. “I still remember sitting in my office here in Washington with the mayor of Kyiv, talking about his vision and his idea, and it’s hasn’t taken that long to see this idea blossom,” he said.Dan S. Mariaschin, chief executive officer of B’nai B’rith International, commented on the special significance of the synagogue in Babyn Yar. “Such horrific crimes were committed on this site, and it is so important that there be a prayer space – a symbolic synagogue in which to reflect on the utter tragedy that occurred on that site and the enormity of what happened there. Having a synagogue space can certainly contribute to elevating one’s spirituality.”Dan S. Mariaschin (Credit: B'NAI B'RITH INTERNATIONAL)Dan S. Mariaschin (Credit: B’NAI B’RITH INTERNATIONAL)The convergence of Holocaust Remembrance Day with the synagogue dedication in Babyn Yar led the trio to comment on the rise of antisemitism and the importance of educating about the Holocaust. “We have to make sure that we not only educate our own young people,” said Mariaschin, “but educate others as well, about who we are. We have our work cut out for us.” Levin added that those who deal in antisemitism need to be held accountable for their actions. “We have to ensure that governments around the world have adequate laws on the books to deal with the issue of antisemitism and extremism, and ensure that those laws are applied and enforced, and once they are applied and enforced, that those that are responsible are brought to justice.”Natan Sharansky commented that it is essential to emphasize that educating about the Holocaust is vital for all peoples. “We need to remind the young generation that we are not only talking about the physical killing of your great grandfather or your friend’s great grandfather. It’s about the struggle that continues to happen and the struggle to deprive us of our freedom and values – of a world where we can pursue happiness. The aim of us all is to live in a world of freedom, a world where people can live in accordance with their beliefs, with their values, and their desire to be happy.”Yom HaShoah, which marks the events of the Holocaust, and the dedication of the synagogue in Babyn Yar, are opportunities for people throughout the world to not only recall the tragic events of the past but to ensure that they will not reoccur.

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