A Tech-Savvy Holocaust Memorial in Ukraine Draws Critics and CrowdsBreaking News
tags: Holocaust, memorials, Ukraine, public history
An advertisement on the Ukrainian-language version of Tinder, the online dating platform, offered a not-so-romantic experience.
“Touch the tragedy of Babyn Yar,” the ad suggested, urging users to learn more about one of the largest mass shootings of Jews in World War II, at a site in Kyiv.
The pitch was hardly an outlier. As Ukraine this week marks the 80th anniversary of the massacre at Babyn Yar, web-savvy advertising, modern art installations and audience-grabbing techniques like online gaming have become an integral part of a well-funded effort to update Holocaust commemoration.
The tech-heavy approach has drawn criticism from traditionalists, who say it dishonors the solemnity of the topic. The Nazis shot tens of thousands of Jews, Roma, Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war at Babyn Yar, as wells as patients from psychiatric hospitals and others.
But organizers concluded that a more modern presentation would draw bigger crowds, and they appear to have succeeded where numerous earlier efforts failed. What had been a largely deserted site except for official delegations, sometimes used inappropriately for barbecue parties or dirt-bike riding, has recently been filled with visitors bearing flowers and candles.
The anniversary ceremonies culminate on Wednesday with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, visiting the site and unveiling a modern art installation, the Crystal Wall of Crying. The full museum complex is expected to cost more than $100 million, about half donated by Russian oligarchs, and it is scheduled for completion in 2025.
The massacre at Babyn Yar, also known as Babi Yar, was one of the most notorious of World War II. In late September 1941, soon after German army entered Kyiv, the city’s Jews were told to gather near a train station in order to be resettled. Crowds of people, including many women and children, followed the order but when they arrived with their belongings, they were forced to undress and gather in a ravine. People were shot in small groups, more than 33,000 in a two-day period according to historians, and further mass shootings took place at the site throughout the war.
“I grew up with war stories from my grandparents’ generation,” said Andrej Umansky, a German historian with Ukrainian ancestry working for the private initiative, the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center. “But students today don’t have the same connection to the Holocaust. For them, it’s totally abstract. To talk about the Holocaust is the same as talking about ancient Rome.”
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