Special event honoring Yevgeny Yevtushenko held at Yad Vashem
(November 15, 2007 - Jerusalem) An event honoring Yevgeny Yevtushenko, author of the poem “Babi Yar”, was held in Yad Vashem on Thursday, November 15, 2007. Present at the ceremony were poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs MK Avigdor Lieberman, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev, World Chairman of Keren Hayesod Amb. Avi Pazner, Holocaust survivor from Belgium who facilitated Yevtushenko’s visit to Israel Josef Chaïm Kaufman, Chairman of the Association of Immigrants from Ukraine David Levin, Refuseniks, Holocaust survivors and their families.
During the ceremony, Yevgeny Yevtushenko performed a dramatic reading in Russian of his poem “Babi Yar”, and also read his English poem “The Child Babi Yar”. Reflecting upon the changes made at Yad Vashem since his last visit in 1989, Yevtushenko said, “It’s even more mighty, more accessible. It’s incredible work. I take another bow to all the creators and keepers of this great museum, fortress of conscience in our world.”
A section of Symphony No. 13, “Babi Yar”, by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, commemorating the murder at Babi Yar, was performed during the event.
Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev gave Yevtushenko a certificate of honor in recognition of his important contribution to Holocaust commemoration worldwide. Written on the certificate:
To Yevgeny Yevtushenko,
aPioneer of Holocaust Commemoration
whose great contribution to Holocaust remembrance
imparts the legacy to future generations
With deep appreciation
Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev said, “Throughout the world, and particularly amongst the Jewish people, we waited for these words that would penetrate and reverberate and stay with us throughout our lives. Upon hearing and reading them, they served as a powerful source of inspiration. They have inspired many artists and writers.” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs MK Avigdor Lieberman said, “It is difficult to overestimate the importance of Yevtushenko’s influence upon Russian poetry and Jewish consciousness in the Soviet Union. Though he wrote in the poem “In my blood there is no Jewish blood”, we, or I at least, consider him an integral part of the Jewish people, of our country.”
Yevgeny Yevtushenko was born in 1933 in Siberia. By the age of 16 his poems were already published in well-known literary magazines, and today is considered as one of the most creative of all the outstanding Russian poets. Through his poems, Yevtushenko fought against antisemitism, racism and oppression, expressing instead lessons of humanism, brotherhood and tolerance.
In 1960, Yevtushenko was the first Russian who crossed the “Iron Curtain” when he traveled outside of the Soviet Union to recite his poetry in the West. He published his poem “Babi Yar” in 1961 in the Soviet literary newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta. “Babi Yar” represented a watershed moment in many Russians’ and Ukrainians’ attitude toward the Holocaust. Thanks to Yevtushenko’s poem, the Jewish tragedy in the Holocaust became public knowledge after years of denial by the Soviet establishment. “Babi Yar” is a symbol for Jewish remembrance and since the publication of the poem, the world identifies Babi Yar as a symbol of the murder of the Jews in Ukraine, and of all the murders by the Einsatzgruppen and their collaborators. The poem also inspired the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich to write his Symphony № 13 ("Babi Yar").
As a member of the first Free Russian Parliament, Yevtushenko fought for an end to censorship and other limitations on free speech. He first visited Israel in the 1980s, and this is his third visit in Israel. He has received numerous awards and honors around the world. He has toured 96 countries and his works have been translated into 72 languages. Yevtushenko currently divides his time between Russia and the United States where he teaches Russian-European Cinema and Russian Literature at the University of Tulsa.
Selections from “Babi Yar”, translated by George Reavey:
No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A drop sheer as a crude gravestone.
I am afraid.
Today I am as old in years
as all the Jewish people.
The wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar.
The trees look ominous,
Here all things scream silently,
and, baring my head,
slowly I feel myself