BABI YAR By Yevgeni Yevtushenko
This is not my story, but it is a story worth telling.A poem, actually; one I haven’t seen translated intoEnglish – strange, I would have thought it renderedin every language.
Submitted by Ben Okopnik
Growing up in Russia, I experienced antisemitism;personally directed, ubiquitous, and violent,covertly approved of by the government. YevgeniYevtushenko’s poem, written to expose the inhumanityof Babi Yar, and the subsequent injustice of thegovernment’s refusal to raise a monument to thethousands of Jews executed there by the Nazi troops,produced a tremendous effect in Russia. Overtantisemitism slowly decreased, and many Russiansto whom this had been normal and accepted practice,woke up to a new realization.
I learned this poem by heart when I was very young,without understanding anything except the basicideas. Recently, I saw a copy of it, and remembered.
I still cannot read it without tears.
By Yevgeni Yevtushenko
No monument stands over Babi Yar.
I see myself an ancient Israelite.
It seems to me that Dreyfus is myself. *1*
I see myself a boy in Belostok *2*
I’m thrown back by a boot, I have no strength left,
O, Russia of my heart, I know that you
I know the kindness of my native land.
It seems to me that I am Anna Frank,
-“No, fear not – those are sounds
-“They break the door!”
-“No, river ice is breaking…”
Wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar,
And I myself, like one long soundless scream
No fiber of my body will forget this.
There is no Jewish blood that’s blood of mine,
1 – Alfred Dreyfus was a French officer, unfairly dismissed from service in 1894 due to trumped-up charges prompted by anti- Semitism.
2 – Belostok: the site of the first and most violent pogroms, the Russian version of KristallNacht.
3 – “Internationale”: The Soviet national anthem.