Remembering Babi Yar, the Holocaust and God’s Lessons Through History
On Saturday, people around the world will observe Holocaust Remembrance Day. As Christians, we have a unique obligation to mourn — and to remember the Biblical truths demonstrated by this moral failure of humanity.
Auschwitz. Dachau. Buchenwald. The graveyards of the Holocaust are so well known that their names linger in our conscience even 80 years afterward. But there is another graveyard whose name few of us know. By forgetting the name, we risk forgetting the stark lessons that 33,371 men, women and children gave their lives to teach. This graveyard is called Babi Yar.
The Massacre at Babi Yar
The story of Babi Yar began in the summer of 1941 as the Germans invaded Soviet territory. At this point, the Nazi plan to annihilate European Jewry in the death camps had not yet emerged. The only way to achieve their goal at that time was as horrific as it was simple: round up the Jews and force them to dig a large pit. Then shoot and kill them one by one.
Though these massacres were coordinated by the German Einsatzgruppen, local collaborators were needed to identify the Jews and carry out the actual executions. Motivated by greed and often anti-semitism, locals would sort the massive piles of clothing, jewelry and gold teeth stolen from the dead.
God knew each person killed at Babi Yar by name. He has not forgotten their lives or their deaths — and neither should we.
In late September 1941, the remaining Jews in Kiev were ordered to report to the authorities. They were told to bring all their valuables and warm clothes. Their assumption was probably that they would be “resettled.” Few at this time knew the Nazis’ ultimate plan: total elimination of the Jews.
Upon arrival, they were made to strip naked and brought to the ravine at Babi Yar. In order to fit as many corpses in the ditch as possible, the victims had to lay on top of the still-warm bodies of their murdered neighbors. A gunman stood on top of the pile of bodies, then shot them one by one.
In a span of just two days, 33,771 people were murdered this way. The names of most victims are still unknown.
Every Person at Babi Yar Was Known by God and Made in His Image
Though many remain nameless to this earth, they are not nameless to God. As we read in Luke 12:6-7, God values us so much that he knows the number of hairs on our heads. God formed us before we were born. He knew each person killed at Babi Yar by name. He has not forgotten their lives or their deaths — and neither should we.
We also know that our God has a heart for the weak and the afflicted. The victims of Babi Yar lived under an earthly authority that said some people were less-than-human. For that reason, they were imprisoned, enslaved and murdered.
But God does not abide by our earthly wisdom. He uses the weak to shame the strong. From the Jewish children starved in the ghettoes to the mentally ill who were euthanized, every victim of the Holocaust had value to our God. Evil done to the weak and powerless of our society — the unborn, the homeless, immigrants and the poor — should devastate us as much as it does Him.
What The Bible Says About Us is True
Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked. The Ukrainian police officers who shot women and children in the ditch at Babi Yar were not the only collaborators. Others looted homes and shops of their Jewish neighbors. Millions turned a blind eye.
This evil is not confined by generation or geography. The false racial gospel preached by the Nazis can be traced to the American eugenics movement. Years before thousands were killed at Babi Yar, Americans sterilized the “feeble-minded” in order to improve our “racial hygeine.” In fact, the book The Passing of the Great Race, was used as part of the defense at the Nuremberg trials. Hitler is also rumored to have sent fan mail to its American author, Madison Grant.
Indeed eugenics came of age in the Third Reich, but it was born on American soil.
Though standing against injustice would cost us fairly little, we still put ourselves before others. What would we do if it cost everything?
And though most of us are not murderers or eugenicsts, we are guilty of turning a blind eye to injustice every day. Are we doing all we can to stop the killing of the unborn? Do we look right past the homeless? Are we too busy when our needy friends ask for help?
No oppressive regime has a gun to our heads. Doing the right thing would not put our lives at risk. And yet when doing right would cost us fairly little, we still put ourselves before others. What would we do if it cost everything?
We Are Not Living for This World
Nazis thought that by eliminating the weak and undesirable, they could create an earthly utopia. By wiping out the Jews and the “unfit,” the Third Reich hoped to create a society that would last a thousand years. For this dream, they committed atrocities like the massacre at Babi Yar.
Some earthly kingdoms protect their citizens well. Some abuse them. But rest assured that every earthly kingdom will fall. Only the Kingdom of God is eternal. We must make sure that our greatest hope is in it and not the fleeting authority of this world.
The greatest hope that the world has is that the organizers, executioners or profiteers of Babi Yar were eventually brought to justice. Without justice, the evil of this world is overwhelming.
But Christians can endure in a world of tombs like Babi Yar because we know there is a just world to come. Though they may have a foothold today, the tombs will not be victorious. We have hope because Christ, our Savior and Judge, does not dwell in the tomb. He is risen.