USC Shoah Foundation Debuts IWalk and IWitness Activity for 75th Anniversary of Babi Yar

Mon, 09/26/2016 - 5:00pm

Coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre in Ukraine, USC Shoah Foundation has published a new IWitness activity about Babi Yar and has begun leading a brand-new IWalk at the historic site in Kiev.

Nearly 34,000 Jews from Kiev were shot to death on September 29 and 30, 1941, by SS and German police units and their auxiliaries at Babi Yar, a ravine in the northwest of the city. The massacre was one of the largest mass murders at a single location during World War II. In the months after the massacre, tens of thousands more were killed there, including Roma, Communists and Soviet prisoners of war, for a total of about 100,000 killed in total at Babi Yar.

Over 100 testimonies in the Visual History Archive mention the Babi Yar ravine or massacre.

A new Ukrainian-language IWitness activity was just published: Babi Yar: Two Tragic Days in September 1941. Students learn about the personal experiences of those who were forced to go to Babi Yar on September 29-30, 1941. They will watch the stories of survivors and eyewitnesses of the 1941 Babi Yar massacre and work with historical documents, statistical data, fragments of a documentary novel, and photographs. Exploring the history of Babi Yar, students can find out about similar events that took place in other towns and villages in Ukraine, and about how society creates memories of past crimes. 

The activity was written by Anna Lenchovska, USC Shoah Foundation regional consultant in Ukraine.

Lenchovska also developed a Babi Yar IWalk, in which participants walk through the historic site of Babi Yar and the Babi Yar memorial while watching testimony clips from the Visual History Archive on tablet devices. The clips cover the history of Babi Yar, pre-war and occupied Kiev, the killings, stories of survival, commemoration and denial.

Lenchovska called on the teenagers and young educators who attend the Tolerspace educational center in Kiev, which has piloted testimony-based educational programs before, to serve as “peer guides” of the Babi Yar IWalk. She took a group of 10 teens and five educators on the IWalk for a practical training session on Sept. 24, preparing them to lead 10 IWalks from Sept. 26 to Oct. 7. The IWalks will be attended by school groups and also local professionals and opinion makers.

The first IWalk was already held today, led by two teens and two educators, for a group of 8th and 9th grade students from a school in Kiev. For 12 out of the 16 students on the IWalk, it was their first time visiting Babi Yar. After the IWalk was over, one students said she wanted to bring her parents and tell them about what happened there, while two other students commented that they wished there was more of a memorial or museum, so people would understand the importance and tragedy of the massacre.

“I would like that a museum with video testimonies would be opened here. More people can learn about the tragedy the way we did today,” said Kirill, 13 years old.

For the peer guides themselves, leading the IWalk is a powerful way to learn the history of Babi Yar and share it with fellow Ukrainians, who might not know much about the massacre or its relevance to current events. Lenchovska shared the following feedback from the peer guides:

Vsevolod Homa, a second year philosophy student, said that it was valuable for him to learn the details of how totalitarian regimes proceed from persecution and discrimination to homicide.

Svetlana Polkovnikova, who fled from Lugansk because of the war, said that it is important for her to learn about Babi Yar because she now has a better understanding of how it feels to live under occupation.

Katya Osipchuk and Nastya Kostenko, 14 years old, have not studied this topic at school, but were very interested in becoming guides for the Babi Yar IWalk.

Angelina Verbovskaya, an IDP from Crimea, would like to spread the word about the history of Babi Yar among her classmates, since there are some neo-Nazi sympathizers in her class. She thinks that the IWalk may make them reconsider.”