The Message of Babi Yar

There are very few people in the world who are willing to go

against the popular trends and do what they feel in their hearts is

correct. But Yevgeny Yevtushenko is one of those people. In his poem

Babi Yar, he tells the story of the modern persecution of the Jews,

focusing on atrocities like those of the massacre at Babi Yar and the

pogroms at Beilostok, and also the general anti-Semitism that killed

men like Dreyfus and pervades the entire Russian people. The poem uses

many literary devices, such as graphic imagery and contrasts, while

painting a very clear picture of the scenes of pure horror.

Babi Yar is written in many different voices, all of which,

however, have the same message. The author starts off with his own

perspective, then goes on and describes certain people in modern

Jewish history whose lives will forever be remembered as symbols of

the time. At the end of the poem the author comes back and speaks in

his own voice, yet this time he delivers a message to his people about

how they have committed a large number of these crimes against the

Jews, yet think that such actions are pure and good for Russia. By

switching from the voices of those who were so afflicted by the

persecution to a voice of accusation, the author effectively points

out how foolish the arguments of the Russians are when they try to

point out any validity in killing millions of Jews.

The poem starts out with a description of the ravine at Babi Yar.

However, all it says is that there is nothing to describe. It calls

the steep ravine, which is the grave sight of one hundred thousand

people, the only memorial that is there. This frightens the author,

because the massiveness of the tragedy deserves at least some

recognition. Then Yevtushenko realizes that fear is a part of Judaism,

something that is as old as them, and therefore originating with them.

He says that he too must be a Jew for he is afraid of what his

people and his society have become. Many years ago, in the "ancient

days," it would not be such a shock to see the Jews enslaved in Egypt

or crucified as a means of torture and death, but even in modern times

the same things are going on-he still has the marks from where the

nails pierced him. The author has used classical examples of Jewish

persecution which every one knows is gone in the physical sense, but

show how they still exist in the theoretical aspect, as the

persecution is still occurring.

In the next three ezzas, the poem takes the ezdpoint of three

figures whose stories are pertinent examples of what Yevtushenko is

trying to rely in this poem. First the voice of Dreyfus is used, and

the ezza describes how horribly and unfairly he was treated, and how

the country and its leaders turned their backs on him.

There are two important literary devices used in this section.

First the author puts the word "pettiness" on a line by itself. This

is used as a declaration of what the author feels anti-Semitism is

based on. It is because of pettiness that Dreyfus was accused

and further because of pettiness that he was not pardoned when it was

proven that he had not committed any crime. The next important device

is the description of ladies with their umbrellas. This is an image to

the wealthy aristocracy of France, who not only turned their backs on

Dreyfus and did not help him, but also increased the effort to have

him punished unnecessarily.

The next Jewish figure whom the author singles out is a boy from

the town of Bielostok, where one of the most horrible pogroms ever

took place. The entire ezza focuses on the image of how bad the

people were who participated in the pogrom. Using graphic images of

blood spurting all around and of victims pointlessly begging for

mercy, the author clearly shows how wrong the pogroms were and wrong

his countrymen were for allowing them to occur. A device the author

uses in this ezza is contrast, as in one line he writes how the

participants were crying that the pogrom was to "Save Russia," and on

the next line says that these same participants were beating up his

mother, whose