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 stanzas, the poem takes the standpoint 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 stanza 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 stanza 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 stanza 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 existence obviously was not harming the country.

Anne Frank is the next figure whom the poem highlights. The poet
calls her "a translucent twig of April." He is using the image
of something small and fragile which can so easily be broken.