Appeal to build headstone for the grave of author behind searing Babyn Yar account

Campaign launched to build a headstone for the unmarked grave of Soviet émigré Anatoly Kuznetsov, who wrote novel about massacre after witnessing atrocity aged 12


He witnessed the mass slaughter of Jews by the Nazis at Babyn Yar as a 12-year-old boy and later recalled the horror in his landmark memoir.

Now a campaign has been launched to build a headstone for the unmarked grave of Anatoly Kuznetsov.

The Soviet émigré died in London in 1979 and is buried in Highgate Cemetery.
His book, Babyn Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel, tells how soldiers marched more than 33,000 Jews into a ravine outside Kyiv in 1941 and systematically gunned them down.

It has been acclaimed as one of the most eloquent accounts of a human atrocity ever written.
Former JC political editor Martin Bright has launched an online crowdfunder to pay for a headstone to stand at his grave.

Mr Bright, now editor-at-large at Index on Censorship, said: “I was first told about Kuznetsov’s book by a friend who had visited Kyiv on a trip with his synagogue.

“It is a unique book that helped bring the world’s attention to the full scale of the Nazi atrocity and subsequent Soviet-era disinformation surrounding the massacre.

“A revival of interest in Kuznetsov’s work is well overdue. He found refuge in the UK and yet he is largely unknown here.

“I was astonished to discover that his grave is unmarked, but pleased that so many people were prepared to find a headstone to mark the resting place of this great writer.”

Mr Bright’s appeal for £2,000 has, at the time of publication, already reached £1,143 in pledges.
Kuznetsov lies two plots away from the actor Sir Ralph Richardson and just across from the artist Patrick Caulfield.

Pilgrims to the monument to Karl Marx walk past the author’s anonymous plot every day without realising they are passing the last resting place of this important witness to the horrific human cost of totalitarian ideology.

Babyn Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel was published in 1966, three years before Kuznetsov defected to the UK after finally losing faith in the Soviet Union following its invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

He recorded how posters were put up by the Nazis throughout the city, occupied only days earlier, ordering “all the Jews of Kiev and surroundings” to assemble at 8am the following day at Babyn Yar.

They were ordered to bring documents, money, valuables and warm clothing. The posters warned that all Jews failing to comply with the order would be shot. Many of the Jews, according to Kuznetsov, thought they were to be evacuated to a zone away from the front.

Kuznetsov described how the following morning. German troops checked the Jews’ documents, and helped by Ukrainian policemen, forced them to undress and march into the ravine.

There, Kuznetsov reported, machine guns mowed them down. Most, he wrote, were shot through the back.

He told of a Jewish woman who saved herself by crawling out during the night and of soldiers ordering the shooting of Ukrainians who had got into the ravine by mistake, in case they spread word about what had happened at Babyn Yar.

Throughout the Soviet era, leaders followed a policy of speaking of Nazi terror against Russians and Ukrainians without mentioning Jews. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia mentions only that, at Babyn Yar, the Nazis shot “195,000 peaceful citizens”.

It is believed the Nazis killed 33,771 Jews at the ravine and, during the course of the occupation, it is estimated that between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian Jews were murdered, according to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.

Former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev objected strenuously when Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote his poem Babi Yar, in which he criticised the absence of a monument at the site for the murdered Jews. Yevtushenko had to alter part of his poem to satisfy Khrushchev’s denial that Jews were the only victims of the massacre.

Luke Harding, author of several books on Russia, has described Kuznetsov’s book as “a brilliant documentary novel” and “a vivid, terrible and authentic account”.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive