Commemorating the Holocaust

            September 2013    
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Babi Yar

A poem by Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Translated into English by David Edelman

September 2013 will mark the 72nd anniversary of the massacre at "Babi Yar". Here is a short preamble:

In the fall of 1941 (September 19) the invading German army occupied the capital of Ukraine Kiev. Ten days later, on September 29 they rounded up most of the city's Jews, led them out of town, made them strip naked, and murdered them all. 34000 Jewish men, women and children perished that day.

They were stacked up layer upon layer at the place of execution- a ravine called "Babi Yar". It was the biggest mass killing perpetrated by the Nazis and their collaborators. For decades Soviet authorities refused even to acknowledge the Jewish identity of the victims. The code of silence was broken only in 1961 with the publication of a poem by renowned Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. It was named simply "Babi Yar".

The poem immediately became controversial, because it not only exposed the Nazi atrocities, but also the callousness of Russian government and still prevailing antisemitism in the Soviet Union of 1961. Below is my feeble attempt at translation of this great work as a commemorative piece for the approaching anniversary of one of the most horrific symbols of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust.

Babi Yar

Translated into English by David Edelman

A poem by Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko

There are no monuments at Babi Yar,
No proper headstones, not a slightest mention,
I tremble here, I fill so old,
As old perhaps as Jewish nation

It seems to me right now I am lost
Among the ancient Egypt's streets I linger
And now I am dying on the Cross
I fill the nails through my bloody fingers

It seems to me I'm Dreyfus and the crowd
Spits in my face ridiculous indictments,
And idle ladies with despicable excitement
Pock into me with their parasols

I see myself in Bialystok, a boy,
Pogrom is raging burning, kicking crushing,
And yelling "Kill the Jews, save mother Russia",
A barman rapes my mom with utter joy

Oh, people of my land, I know you can be
Deep down in your souls compassionate and decent,
But very often you are easy overwhelmed
By charlatans to whom you look and listen

It seems to me I'm now Anna Frank
Impatient like a tender branch in April,
And I'm in love, I'm happy as a lark,
And every little cell in me awakened

Come closer, dear, we haven't got much time,
They're coming soon, please look into my eyes,
Let us embrace, and let us say "Goodbye"
Remember me, remember me and smile...........

The trees at Babi Yar are standing silent
Like giant candles over countless graves,
Surrounded by all this death and violence,
I fill how I'm slowly turning gray,

The silence here is louder than drumbeat,
I hear those voices pleading from the land,
I'm every here murdered precious young kid,
I'm every here trampled down old men,

There can be no forgetting, no forgiving,
The world of future can't be ever bright
As long as in it walking, laughing, breathing
The very last on Earth antisemite

No Jewish blood in me, of that there is no dispute,
But I'm despised with overwhelming passion
By every antisemite like a Jew,
And that is why I am a real Russian.


from the September 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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