Wednesday 2 March 2022

The bombing of Babyn/Babi Yar

The name has horrific connotations for all of us. Yesterday Russian forces hit not only Kyiv's TV tower but also the memorial which hadn't been constructed at the time Yevtushenko wrote his famous poem, marking the Nazi massacre at the ravine outside the Ukrainian capital. Four people visiting it were killed. I found on YouTube film of a performance of Shostakovich's Thirteenth Symphony, setting this and other Yevtushenko poems I didn't know had taken place - conducted by Thomas Sanderling, Russian-born son of Kurt, on the very site last October, to mark the 80th anniversary of the atrocity. As there are no subtitles, here's a translation of the poem by Benjamin Okopnik. Here's a link to the website where I found his translation. Certain horrible ironies resonate there now.

No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
Today, I am as old
As the entire Jewish race itself.

I see myself an ancient Israelite.
I wander o’er the roads of ancient Egypt
And here, upon the cross, I perish, tortured
And even now, I bear the marks of nails.

It seems to me that Dreyfus is myself.
The Philistines betrayed me – and now judge.
I’m in a cage. Surrounded and trapped,
I’m persecuted, spat on, slandered, and
The dainty dollies in their Brussels frills
Squeal, as they stab umbrellas at my face.

I see myself a boy in Belostok
Blood spills, and runs upon the floors,
The chiefs of bar and pub rage unimpeded
And reek of vodka and of onion, half and half.

I’m thrown back by a boot, I have no strength left,
In vain I beg the rabble of pogrom,
To jeers of “Kill the Jews, and save our Russia!”
My mother’s being beaten by a clerk.

O, Russia of my heart, I know that you
Are international, by inner nature.
But often those whose hands are steeped in filth
Abused your purest name, in name of hatred.

I know the kindness of my native land.
How vile, that without the slightest quiver
The antisemites have proclaimed themselves
The “Union of the Russian People!”

It seems to me that I am Anna Frank,
Transparent, as the thinnest branch in April,
And I’m in love, and have no need of phrases,
But only that we gaze into each other’s eyes.
How little one can see, or even sense!
Leaves are forbidden, so is sky,
But much is still allowed – very gently
In darkened rooms each other to embrace.

-“They come!”

-“No, fear not – those are sounds
Of spring itself. She’s coming soon.
Quickly, your lips!”

-“They break the door!”

-“No, river ice is breaking…”

Wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar,
The trees look sternly, as if passing judgement.
Here, silently, all screams, and, hat in hand,
I feel my hair changing shade to gray.

And I myself, like one long soundless scream
Above the thousands of thousands interred,
I’m every old man executed here,
As I am every child murdered here.

No fiber of my body will forget this.
May “Internationale” thunder and ring
When, for all time, is buried and forgotten
The last of antisemites on this earth.

There is no Jewish blood that’s blood of mine,
But, hated with a passion that’s corrosive
Am I by antisemites like a Jew.
And that is why I call myself a Russian!

And here's heroic President Zelenskyy's reaction yesterday:


Liam mansfield said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

You don't seem to grasp how much is at stake here, Liam, and I'm not just referring to the nuclear threat. I hope at least you've watched Zelenskyy's speech,

We all go about what we're doing, but the suffering of Ukrainians should be in our minds more or less constantly. This time we can't just turn away from knowing what's happening and retreat into our own little worlds. And sending help is only a small part of it.

Liam mansfield said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liam mansfield said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

If you think the Metropolitan Opera was wrong to dispense with Anna Netrebko, you're the disgrace. I've written about why it doesn't wash when she says she, too, is 'non political' - because she actively supported Putin's re-election campaign (just like Gergiev) and was photographed in Donetsk holding up the separatist flag.

At the moment being non political is being non human. 'Thoughts and prayers' are worthless. Now please don't post any more of this stuff here - you have deeply offended a Czech friend of mine who may or may not make his own reply.

Susan said...

Thank you for this. Zelenskyy's "You killed Holocaust victims for the second time,"juxtaposed with Yevtushenko's poem, is beyond chilling.

David said...

Now Thomas Sanderling has shown himself to be the Mensch I thought he was from meeting him, resigning his post as Chief Conductor of the Novosibirsk Philharmonic Orchestra (a fine one) with eloquent disgust at Putler's actions. I must add to the post when I have more time.

David said...

I see Liam has removed his comments. Lacking, it seems, the courage of his own convictions. Sorry to see that.

Andrew Lambert said...

So sorry to see you’re leaving LinkedIn, David, but I will follow you here. I support you 100% of course with regard to the utterly tragic events in Ukraine.

David said...

Thanks, Andrew - I had qualms about leaving behind all the nice people like yourself I met on there, but we can all stay in touch. Ultimately I got fed up with myself for rampaging about the lack of moderation etc, since I'd threatend all the time, but 'dammit, you DON'T go!', as the Major General sings in 'The Pirates of Penzance'.