KIEV, Sept. 26 â€“ President Viktor Yushchenko hosted presidents of Israel, Croatia and Montenegro on Tuesday for the anniversary of a Nazi massacre of Jews and other ethnic groups during World War II.
The presidents attended the opening of the exhibition to mark the anniversary of the massacre at Babiy Yar, a grassy ravine in Kiev where Nazi forces killed 34,000 Jews in two days 65 years ago.
â€śThe main goal of the todayâ€™s event is for the mankind to read once again the pages of the tragedy of Babiy Yar,â€ť Yushchenko said at the opening of the exhibition.
The commemoration ceremonies are to start by the monument to the memory of the victims of the Babiy Yar massacres Wednesday and will be followed later in the day by an international Holocaust forum.
Nearly 34,000 Jews, many of them elderly, women and children, were forced to gather at Babiy Yar by German troops just days after the Nazi invasion. They were shot along the ravineâ€™s edge on Sept. 29 and Sept. 30, 1941.
The ravine continued to be used for executions and up to 60,000 more people -- Jews, Roma, Ukrainians, Russians, resistance fighters and Soviet prisoners of war -- were killed there until 1943, according to historical documents.
â€śBabiy Yar buried not only bodies of people, it buried the peopleâ€™s dreams, hopes and expectations,â€ť said Yushchenko, whose father was imprisoned at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. â€śIt has become a deep wound for each of these nations.â€ť
A forum on xenophobia and anti-Semitism is being organized jointly by Ukrainian authorities, the World Holocaust Forum and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.
â€śThe Holocaust didnâ€™t come out of nowhere, it formed gradually. Itâ€™s only by examining closely the microbes called anti-Semitism that we can understand where they come from,â€ť said Moshe Kantor of the European Jewish Congress.
Yushchenko said: â€śBabiy Yar must become a vaccine that should help protect everybody from aggressive, bloody xenophobia.â€ť
Before retreating from the advancing Red Army in 1943, Nazi troops exhumed and burned the corpses at Babiy Yar in a last-ditch bid to hide the atrocities committed there.
But the secrets of Babiy Yar became part of the accusations against senior Nazi officials at the Nuremberg trials and a monument was erected in Soviet times to the memory of the victims.
Soviet authorities, however, sought to play down the sensitive Jewish component of the history of Babiy Yar. Anniversary gatherings were banned at the site and there was an attempt to build a stadium there in the 1960s.
Ukraine currently has about 100,000 Jews -- the fourth largest Jewish population in the world after Israel, Russia and the United States. (nr/afp/ez).