The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Commemoration of the Babi Yar Massacre during World War II and in the First Post-War Years

Scholarly publications and memoirs usually claim that Soviet propaganda tried to erase the memory of one of the largest Holocaust sites in the Soviet Union, Babi Yar. However, the commemoration of the Babi Yar massacre in the Soviet Union was a far more complicated process than is usually described. I will show in my presentation that Babi Yar was a focal point of Soviet propaganda during World War II and in the first post-war years.

During World War II Soviet propaganda used the Babi Yar massacre as a symbol of Nazi crimes against civilians, without mentioning that most of victim of the massacre were Jews. The Soviet press wrote about the massacre several times during World War II. Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov issued a memorandum on January 6, 1942, where he stated that the Nazis killed in Kiev 52,000 “men, women, old people and children… Ukrainians, Russians and Jews.” Soviets sent the memorandum to all countries with which the USSR had diplomatic relations.

One of the top Soviet leaders, Nikita Khrushchev, visited Babi Yar soon after the liberation of Kiev. Local officials brought Soviet, American and British correspondents to Babi Yar immediately after the liberation of the city. On March 13, 1945, the Ukrainian government and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine decided to build a monument in Babi Yar, but the project was not realized.

During the war and first post-war years Soviet propaganda used the Babi Yar massacre to demonstrate Nazi crimes against civilians, to get more support for the Soviet Union from the Western allies and more reparations from Germany. But during the Cold War the commemoration of the Babi Yar massacre could not bring additional benefits to the Soviet government and all projects of memorialization of the Babi Yar massacre were abandoned for many years.