Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt
In the past week, I attended two related events: the 74th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre, and a ceremony to commemorate Ukraine’s “Righteous Among the Nations” — those who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. The two events illustrate the critical work Ukraine is doing to acknowledge and reflect on this dark period in its history while also ensuring that religious diversity remains a point of strength for Ukraine now and in the future.
On September 29th, I joined Prime Minister Yatsenyuk at the commemoration of the 74th Anniversary of Babi Yar. Both my German and Israeli counterparts were in attendance, and I was heartened to see such a representative spectrum of the Ukrainian religious community represented there, a reflection of the unity and religious pluralism that make Ukraine great. This was the third time I attended the annual commemoration, and I have been deeply moved each time. Babi Yar stands out as one of the most tragic episodes in a war full of horrors. It’s impossible to stand in a place that has seen so much suffering and not feel the overwhelming weight of what transpired there. Nearly 34,000 Jews were shot dead in only two days, and well over a hundred thousand – Jews, prisoners, Roma, and everyday Ukrainians were murdered.
But Babi Yar is not the only place of its kind in Ukraine. By some estimates there are more than 2000 such sites in Ukraine alone that serve as reminders of the Nazi attempt to exterminate Europe’s Jews. We must honor this tragic history and never forget the crimes committed throughout Europe seven decades ago, something I know this Ukrainian government understands instinctively. This kind of collective memory and collective remembrance is how European countries can acknowledge their past while ensuring it can never be repeated. By engaging in these acts of remembrance, Ukraine is building a more modern, tolerant, European country.
At the same time, it’s important to stand in solidarity with the survivors, and remember the heroes who risked not only their own lives, but also those of their families, friends, and neighbors by protecting Jews during the Holocaust. That’s why I was honored to join Mayor Klitschko in Kyiv to commemorate the “Righteous Among Nations”—those who served as beacons of hope and kept the light of civilization from going out. These brave individuals selflessly fought to save those they could. In the darkest hours of the 20th Century, these men and women were bright lights. They remind us that we all have a duty to confront evil, defend truth, unite in the face of threats to human dignity, and to strive to stop any who would abuse their neighbors.
By coming together to remember those who died, stand with those who survived, and honor the heroes who saved so many, Ukraine is holding itself up as a powerful example of a multicultural, tolerant European society. It’s the best way of living the words “never forget.”