Yevtushenko's Babi Yar

Babi Yar, a poem written by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, tells the story

of the Nazi invasion into a small part of Russia, in which, throughout

the duration of World War II, over one-hundred thousand Jews, Gypsies

and Russian POW's were brutally murdered. However, what is unique

about this particular perspective is that the narrator is not a Jew,

but a mere observer who is aghast at the atrocities that took place

during the Holocaust. It is through allusions, as well as other

literary devices, that Yevtushenko elucidates caustically the

absurdities of the hatred that caused the Holocaust, in addition to

the narrator's identification with the Jews and their history of


Perhaps, the most effective literary device used in "Babi Yar" is

the allusion. The first clear allusion seen in the poem is the one

concerning Egypt(line 6). This reference harks back to the Jews'

enslavement in Egypt before they become a nation. In line 7, the

narrator makes reference to how so many Jews perished on the cross.

The reason for these initial allusions in the first section is clear.

Yevtushenko is establishing the history of the Jewish people, being

one of oppression, prejudice, and innocent victims. The next illusion

in the poem is a reference to the Dreyfus Affair, a more modern

display of irrational and avid anti-Semitism. It is in the Dreyfus

affair that an innocent man is accused of espionage and is sent to

jail for more than ten years, notwithezding an overwhelming amount

of evidence pointing to his innocence, simply because he is a Jew.

Yevtushenko uses these allusions to lead up to his referral to a

boy in Bielostok who is murdered by the Russian common-folk. Clearly,

The narrator is teaching a lesson with a dual message. Firstly, he is

informing the reader of the horrors that took place in Russia during

the Holocaust. Perhaps even more of a travesty, however, is the fact

that humankind has not learned from the past in light of the fact that

this "episode" is merely one link in a long chain of terrors.

Yevtushenko goes on to allude to Anne Frank, a young Jewish

teenager who left behind a diary of her thoughts and dreams,

and how the Nazis strip her of any potential future she has when she

is murdered in the death camps. Clearly, the allusion creates images

in the mind of the reader that mere descriptions via the use of words

could not.

Another effective literary device used in the poem is the first

person narrative in which the narrator identifies with those victims

which he describes. This is seen in the case where the narrator says

"I am Dreyfus", or "Anne Frank, I am she." The narrator does not claim

to underezd what the feelings and thoughts of these people are, but

rather, he is acknowledging the fact that they are feeling, "detested

and denounced" and that unlike the rest of the world who turned its

head, or the Russians who actually abetted such heinous crimes, this

gentile narrator can not empathize, but does sympathize with his

Jewish "brethren."

Another extremely powerful device used by Yevtushenko is the

detail of description and imagery used to describe events and

feelings that are in both those whom he identifies with, as well as

himself. "I bear the red mark of nails"(line 8) seems to include

much of the suffering that the Jews have to endure. The statement is

almost one of a reverse crucifixion in which the Jews are crucified

and now have to suffer with false accusations, blood libels, and

Pogroms for the duration of time. The poet describes very clearly the

contempt most people have for the Jewish people and how many of these

people aided in the barbarity . In line 13, for example, the poet

speaks of "shrieking ladies in fine ruffled gowns" who "brandish their

umbrellas in my face." In addition, Yevtushenko also depicts

explicitly how the "tavern masters celebrate" at the sight of "(a

Jewish boy's)blood spurt and spread over the floor."

The contrast of age in "Babi Yar" is also quite effective. In the

last three sections, the reader finds out that the narrator is

remembering the past, mourning those who have perished. This gives the

reader the perspective of one who speaks of the tragedy as though he

is removed from it, as well as the view of one who is part of