Remembering the Massacre at Babi Yar and the Holocaust of Bullets

Last week marked the 80th anniversary of the largest of several mass-shootings carried out by the Germans at Babi Yar, a ravine outside of the Ukrainian city of Kiev. There an estimated 33,771 Jews were murdered over the course of two days—likely the largest so-called Judenaktion (literally, “Jews operation”) carried out by the SS. Nazi Germany—with the help of local collaborators—carried out hundreds of such mass-shootings throughout what was then the Soviet Union during 1941 and 1942, leaving some 2.7 million dead without the aid of concentration camps or gas chambers. Izabella Tabarovsky has compiled a series of recent interviews with survivors from the USSR:

With the exception of one, all of the people we interviewed experienced the Holocaust in Transnistria, an administrative entity established by the Romanians, [who invaded alongside the Germans], in southeastern Ukraine between the rivers Dniester and Southern Bug, with Odessa as its capital, and studded with ghettos and concentration camps.

Some 250,000 Jews were murdered here by starvation, brutal forced marches, disease, forced labor, and mass executions. And yet, this horrific place offered an ever-so-slightly higher chance of survival if one was, perhaps, a bit stronger and healthier, a bit more resourceful, and much, much luckier than most. By contrast, virtually no one survived mass shootings such as Babi Yar in the German-occupied Soviet territories.

One interviewee, Mikhail Grimberg—from the Transnistrian shtetl of Krasne, now living in Jerusalem—recounts:

The Germans soon handed control over the small ghetto they established in the village to the Romanians. That was one of the happiest moments of Grimberg’s life: “This is how we stayed alive.” The moment they saw the Germans leaving, “we started kissing and hugging one another because we were so relieved. The Romanians may have robbed us and beaten us, but we were allowed to stay alive.”

Grimberg . . . described his days during the war as “cold and hungry,” and how, if he and his brother were lucky enough to find a rotten potato in the snow, he would savor it for as long as possible. “I would chew my food for a long time because I didn’t want to swallow it. I knew that as soon as I did, I’d be hungry again.”

When he moved to Israel in 1993, he found a job as a janitor in a Jerusalem yeshiva. He was thrilled that the Yiddish-speaking students—many of them from the United States—wanted to hear him sing in Yiddish. “The way I look at it is, God saved me and took me out of the ghetto. So many others were shot and killed, and for some reason I was spared.”

Read more at Tablet

More about: Holocaust, Kiev, Soviet Jewry

Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy