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. By this he is showing how weak and frail she was. She was definitely undeserving of the events that she had to live through, but in addition to that she was only a small weak child, as weak as a twig. Even more so he shows how good of a person she was that she was so full of love, yet could not even experience the sky or trees, only sit in a dark room. After these narratives the poet starts the next section of the poem. In his own voice, he asks his people not to fear love. If everyone just got along, then everything would be nice and happy. He says it will be like spring, which is the usual metaphor for new and better times. This stanza is a general plea to non-Jews that everyone should just be friends and then the process of world harmony will be sped up. This is contrasted to the following stanza where the author again remembers the tragedy of Babi Yar and the Holocaust. Using imagery of bare trees and howling winds, the poem makes a description of winter, which is a metaphor for bad times. So the author contrast the two seasons of winter and spring showing how right now hatred is keeping everyone in winter, but once there is peace then spring can start and life will get better. The rest of the poem focuses on what the Russian people must do to change their attitude about Jews. First the author criticizes them for acting so shamelessly, and then he says that Jews must be accepted by all Russians who can honestly call themselves that. This is compounded when it says that one can truly be a Russian only when he undergoes the same treatment that the Jews go through, only when they experience the same type of hatred. This final statement is a reversal of the general view of the Russian people, and it reaffirms how Yevgeny Yevtushenko is a person who is not afraid to go against the popular opinion in order to make life better.