On May 14, the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, together with the Head of the Presidential Office of Ukraine Andrii Yermak and the Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmygal, unveiled a Symbolic Synagogue in Babyn Yar – a space for reflection and prayer. The unveiling ceremony was attended by government officials, religious leaders, ambassadors, cultural and public figures, the Righteous and their relatives.

“On this day, together with the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, we are opening a Space for Reflection, a memorial that is a symbol of the lost in the horrors of the Holocaust Ukrainian Jewry. Babyn Yar became a terrible symbol of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe because of the massacre of World War II. In just two days, almost 34,000 Kyivan Jews were killed. Today, it is important to honor the memory of these people and praise those who saved them at the risk of their own lives. Express gratitude for the hope they have given back to the world. And I hope that future generations will remember this feat for centuries”, – said the Head of the Presidential Office of Ukraine Andrii Yermak.

“The “space for reflection” in the form of a symbolic synagogue is a big step towards restoring the memory of all those who died in this place during the Second World War. This landmark event is a clear indication that the Ukrainian public consciousness affirms high ideals of respect for human life and recognition of responsibility and memory, which contribute to the construction of a free, democratic society. It is important that we open this memorial today, on the Day of Remembrance of Ukrainians who saved Jews during the Second World War. We honor the feat of these courageous people who have become and remain for us an example of humanity and self-sacrifice”, – stressed the Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmygal.

Part of the painted constellations decorating the ceiling

“Today, together with the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, we are unveiling a “Space for Reflection.” This will honor the memory of tens of thousands of Kyivan Jews who died in Babyn Yar during the terrible Holocaust. By opening the synagogue, we bring back the memory of these people. And it is very symbolic that we are doing this on the Day of Remembrance of Ukrainians who risked their lives to save Jews. Today we also honor the feat of all these courageous people. The revival of national memory begins with a rethinking of those places that in Soviet times were deliberately disguised as places of entertainment and recreation forgetting what really took place. Same happened here, with Babyn Yar. Now we return to this memorialization, which during the many years of Soviet rule was deliberately eradicated from our consciousness”, – said the Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine Oleksandr Tkachenko.

The event was also attended by Manuel Herz, an architect, professor at the University of Basel, author of a unique synagogue in Mainz and a symbolic synagogue in Babyn Yar, and president of the French Yahad-in-Unum organization, Father Patrick Debois.

“More people were killed in Babyn Yar than anywhere else on the planet. The answer to this terrible crime could be gloomy and minimalistic architecture traditional for Holocaust memorials. However, I am convinced that the monumental and static approach contradicts the tens of thousands of individual voices of the victims of Babyn Yar, – stressed architect Manuel Herz. – So the idea was born to create a performative architecture that transforms, surprises and gives a sense of awe. The Babyn Yar Synagogue should bring people together for a collective memorial ritual.” 

Babyn Yar, a discreet ravine, where 1000 of German people came to assassinate almost 34 000 jews, children, women in full Broad light. In front of everybody. A mass murder place wherefrom we have to teach to young generation all over the planet not to engage in mass shootings, in mass crime today. Unfortunately, until now, every day, on every continent mass shootings are devastating the planet. In Kabul, in Iraq, in Sуria. Anywhere. Babyn Yar must be and become an international center of prevention of mass crimes”, – Patrick Desbois, Chair of Scientific Council of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, Roman Catholic priest, founder/president of the French organization “Yahad-In Unum”.

State officials, diplomats, religious leaders, cultural and social activists also took part in the ceremony of awarding scholarship and unveiling of the Symbolic Synagogue. Among them: Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, chairman of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, His Beatitude Sviatoslav; Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine Epifaniy; Chief Rabbi of Kyiv and Ukraine (All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress) Moshe Reuven Azman; Head of the All-Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches Valery Antonyuk.

“We have no right to forget the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust, the victims and those who lost their loved ones in it. Memorialization in our country of genocides that occurred on the territory of Ukraine will be a proper and worthy way to honor the memory of innocent victims of totalitarian regimes and to heal the people’s memory. We must also remember and honor the feat of those Ukrainians who helped Jews to survive, saved at the cost of their own lives. These people are the Righteous, they have given us an example of sacrifice, courage and love to neighbor”, – said the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, chairman of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, His Beatitude Sviatoslav (Shevchuk).

“It is our duty to take care of the people who visit Babyn Yar to honor the memory and pray for the relatives and all those who died in the Holocaust tragedy. The opening of the Symbolic Synagogue, the space for reflection and prayer, in Babyn Yar, where almost 34,000 Jews were shot in just two days, is a manifestation of their memory and respect. It is important that we open this synagogue as a symbol of the revival of the memory of the Jews exterminated by the Nazis, on the Day of Remembrance of Ukrainians who saved Jews during the World War II, who helped them survive those terrible times,” – stressed Moshe Reuven Asman, Chief Rabbi of Kyiv and Ukraine (All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress).

A symbolic synagogue – a space for reflection and prayer – is located in Babyn Yar, next to the Menorah monument, on the slope of the ravine, which is traditionally a place of mourning, prayer and remembrance of victims of the tragedy for Jews.

The structure looks like a book, which opens and closes using special mechanisms. The synagogue book is decorated with patterns and texts of prayers that repeat the traditional interior of ancient synagogues in western Ukraine, destroyed during World War II and the Holocaust. The ceiling of the synagogue is decorated with patterns in the form of a map of the starry sky, reproducing the position of the stars on September 29, 1941 – the first day of the mass shootings in BabynYar. It is made of centuries-old oak wood collected from old abandoned buildings from different parts of Ukraine, which symbolizes the connection of the past with the future.

This year, on May 14, the Remembrance Day for Ukrainians who rescued Jews during World War II will be celebrated in Ukraine for the first time. This official date was set by a separate resolution of the Verkhovna Rada in early 2021.

The Righteous are people of non-Jewish descent who rescued Jews during World War II and the Holocaust, often risking their own lives.

After the war, 2,659 residents of Ukraine, whose feat was documented and recorded by the rescued or their relatives, were awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations. The decision to honour the Righteous Among the Nations was one of the provisions of the creation of the Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust Yad Vashem. 18 of them are still alive. Ukraine is the fourth country among 51 countries in the world in the number of Righteous Among the Nations.However, far more Ukrainians, saved Jews from extermination at that time. The main stage of gathering information about the Righteous deeds occurred in the period when the history of the Holocaust in the Soviet Union suffered from the policy of oblivion and distortion. Unfortunately, many of these heroic stories remain unknown to this day.