Over 100,00 people were killed at Babi Yar between September 29, 1941 and November 6, 1943.

Oh, come and gather round to hear
This story from afar,
As I unfold the tragedy,
The tale of Babi Yar.

It happened in the time of war,
And not to be outdone,
Aggression reared its ugly head
In 1941.

For Germans drove the Russians out
Of Kiev in Ukraine;
And there they set up their command:
Ruthless and inhumane.

For after Russian bombings of
The city, vengeance grew;
The Germans found their answer—this
Was what they chose to do:

“The Yids, they are responsible!
Those Jewish Bolsheviks!
We know we must retaliate
Against their cunning tricks!”

For there, outside the city, was
This natural ravine,
Which then became a killing field,
Macabre, a nightmare scene.

“All Yids in Kiev must report,
And if you don’t, you will
Be shot; make sure you do as told
Or else we’re sure to kill.”

And so, naively, all Jews came
And waited on the day
Unknowingly, to meet their end
As they were hauled away.

“Strip off your clothes, and put your things,
Your valuables in a pile,
And line up here—do as you’re told,
And wait a little while.”

Then one by one, they, line by line
Approached the precipice;
And naked told to face it
While they gazed at ghastliness.

For every row of Jews was shot
And face down they did fall
Into the ever-growing pile
Of bodies. One and all,

Well over thirty thousand souls
Would perish in two days,
Machine guns filling the ravine.
And when their bloody ways,

Their bloodlust wasn’t satisfied,
They came for the insane–
The hospital was emptied. Plus
The gypsies from Ukraine,

As well as Russian soldiers captured,
Kiev citizens,
Communists and ordinary
Soviet denizens.

Nude bodies struck, the women raped,
They buried the half-dead;
Or stepping on the bleeding pile
Would shoot to kill instead.

The little children, babies, were then
Hurled into the air,
Over the edge, into the pit,
Before their mothers there.

And then, they tried to shield their crime
In 1943,
By disinterring every corpse,
And in some secrecy

Would burn away the evidence.
And so for forty days
A hundred thousand dead or more
Became as ashen haze.

But this was all in vain because
In time the world would know
What happened in that deep ravine
Those many years ago.

For it indeed behooves us that we
Learn from this, and then
No more repeat the ugly past,
No never, not again.

And so, memorials today
Remind us, insofar
As we maintain the memory of
The dead of Babi Yar.

 

 

Theresa Rodriguez is the author of Jesus and Eros: Sonnets, Poems and Songs, Longer Thoughts, which has just been released by Shanti Arts, and Sonnets, a collection of sixty-five sonnets which has also just been released by Shanti Arts. Her work has appeared in such journals and publications as in the Wilderness House Literary Review, the Midwest Poetry Review, Leaf  Magazine, Spindrift, the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship, The Road Not Taken: A Journal of Formal Poetry, Mezzo Cammin, The Scarlet Leaf Review, The Epoch Times, and the Society of Classical Poets.  Her website is www.bardsinger.com.


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16 Responses

  1. Jeff Eardley

    Theresa, the madness going on at the moment is no comparison to what happened here. Thank you for a moving, poetic education on an event of pure evil and wickedness.
    I was moved beyond words by this. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you Jeff, I am so glad it was so moving to you. That means more to me than anything. That was the goal I was trying to achieve.

      Reply
  2. Dave Whippman

    A well-written reminder of the horror that happened those years ago. Thanks you.

    Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you, David, very much. I am glad the poem is serving its purpose as a reminder of what happened in that ravine all those years ago.

      Reply
  3. A.B. Brown

    It is a strange phenomenon to read something and be drawn in by the lulling, hypnotic effect from the rhythm of the lines, at the same time that an uneasy pit in one’s stomach develops from the discomfort caused by the subject matter, and the imaginative sympathy for the victims. I am reminded of Aristotle’s discussion of why people enjoy watching actors suffer onstage, though with stuff like this I don’t experience catharsis so much as I am moved from sadness to anger. Aristotle based his theory of catharsis on one viewing fictional or mythic events, rather than art based on historical events (though the distinction between myth and history was admittedly blurry with the Greeks). With a subject like the Babi Yar massacre, a purge of emotions would seem an inappropriate thing to occur in the reader…hence, the question of ‘why do people enjoy art about suffering’ is perhaps more of a conundrum than Aristotle thought, but the last two stanzas of the poem provide the answer.

    I know people who are holocaust deniers (ironically, all anti-semites), and it drives me crazy the way people ignore evidence and cherry-pick facts to construct their insane paranoid worldviews.

    Excellent stuff, Theresa!

    Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you, Andrew. I am glad that the poem produces “beauty through suffering” so to speak.

      Reply
  4. James Sale

    A telling and a moving tale; though reasonably well informed about the Nazis in the USSR during the WW2, I did not know of this specific incident. Horrific indeed and you tell this story extremely well – it builds and it builds. I am reminded of Theodore Dalrymple’s remark: ‘And thus the obvious truth – that it is necessary to repress, either by law or by custom, the permanent possibility in human nature of brutality and barbarism – never finds its way into the press or other media of mass communication.’ In abandoning convention, law, custom and what we might call ‘decency’, and insisting on ‘do whatever you want – be free’, we get closer and closer to allowing the possibility that these evils could return. Truly, in the CCP it appears that they have.

    Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you so much, James. When I was young, we had the book “Babi Yar” in my house– the name always stuck with me, but I didn’t know about the details of the massacre until recently. I have since obtained my own copy. I honestly have had a hard time reading through it, I’ve gotten about a third of the way through. Very dense and very disturbing. I had felt the urge to write about the massacre in the form of a ballad; as you say, it was “the Muse” who inspired me!

      Reply
  5. Cynthia Erlandson

    I agree with all of the above comments, Theresa. You have used ballad as a form of memorial and, as the poem says in the last verse, memorials are crucial if we are not to repeat historical evils.

    Reply
  6. Theresa Rodriguez

    Thank you Cynthia. I am so glad the ballad itself has become a memorial. I am glad the form that I chose to use has accomplished this goal!

    Reply
  7. David Watt

    Theresa, I had heard of this evil massacre, and it is a truly gut-wrenching incident. This ballad must have been difficult to write. Thank you for a well written reminder of what should never be repeated.

    Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you very much, David. It was indeed painful and difficult to write, but I am grateful for the inspiration I was given to write it. It really was gnawing at me until I had it done! I could hear the songlike quality of the rhymes in my head before setting down to write. I am glad it is a reminder of what happened, and what should never be repeated.

      Reply
  8. BDW

    As per Rus Ciel Badeew:
    “I think Ms. Rodriguez’ poem is important for one main reason, which especially occupies my mind now in America: To understand the present day world of rampant, tyrannical communism around the Globe, fed maniacally by the Chinese communists, I keep resorting to Russian poets and poetry of the 20th century, and how they had to endure such cruelty under the communist regime.

    “So, of course, Ms. Rodriguez’ poem, which takes up the same topic as many Russian writers did, none more famous than Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem of 1961 “Babi Yar”, which spoke of both Nazi and Communist atrocities, in relationship to the Jewish people and others. Though Yevtushenko’s poem is in Russian free verse, I recommend it to SCP readers, even in translation. We must be vigilant in the face of this garish, nightmarish onslaught.”

    Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you BDW, for your comments and reflections, and for sharing info about Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem “Babi Yar.” It is a beautiful and poignant poem. I am honored to be in the company of someone else who has written so compellingly about this tragedy.

      Reply

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