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Yevgeni Yevtushenko, the Poet of of “Babi Yar”, Died on 1 April 2017

The Russian poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko is dead. The poet and author, frequently designated the “voice of de-Stalinisation” and who most recently lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma (USA), died at the age of 85 on 1 April 2017. Yevtushenko achieved great renown with such works as the poem “Babi Yar”, set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich in his Symphony No. 13, Op. 113.

In “Babi Yar”, Yevtushenko refers to a gruesome massacre by the German Wehrmacht of Jewish men, women and children in the so-called “Women's Pit” (“Babi Yar”) in the vicinity of Kiev in the war year of 1941.

Yevtushenko's poem “Babi Yar” was published in September 1961 and aroused a stir. Shostakovich said the following in his posthumously published memoirs based on recorded conversations with Solomon Volkov: “The poem shocked me. It shocked thousands. Many people knew about Babi Yar. But it required this poem to bring Babi Yar into people's consciousness. The memory of Babi Yar was to have been wiped out. First the German occupiers tried this, then the Ukrainian functionaries. But Yevtushenko's poem proved that Babi Yar will never be forgotten.”

Yevtushenko's poem was not only a requiem for the murdered Jews, however, but also a startling warning against anti-Semitism in their own country and everywhere in the world. This also concerned Shostakovich: “It would be good if Russian Jews could finally live happy and unmolested in Russia, where they were born. One must unceasingly draw attention to the dangers of anti-Semitism. The virus is still too vigorous. No one knows if it will ever die off.”

 

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