Yevtushenko's Babi Yar


 Babi Yar, a poem written by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, tells the story 
of the Nazi invasion into a small part of Russia, in which, throughout 
the duration of World War II, over one-hundred thousand Jews, Gypsies 
and Russian POW's were brutally murdered. However, what is unique 
about this particular perspective is that the narrator is not a Jew, 
but a mere observer who is aghast at the atrocities that took place 
during the Holocaust. It is through allusions, as well as other 
literary devices, that Yevtushenko elucidates caustically the 
absurdities of the hatred that caused the Holocaust, in addition to 
the narrator's identification with the Jews and their history of 
 Perhaps, the most effective literary device used in "Babi Yar" is 
the allusion. The first clear allusion seen in the poem is the one
concerning Egypt(line 6). This reference harks back to the Jews' 
enslavement in Egypt before they become a nation. In line 7, the 
narrator makes reference to how so many Jews perished on the cross. 
The reason for these initial allusions in the first section is clear. 
Yevtushenko is establishing the history of the Jewish people, being 
one of oppression, prejudice, and innocent victims. The next illusion 
in the poem is a reference to the Dreyfus Affair, a more modern 
display of irrational and avid anti-Semitism. It is in the Dreyfus 
affair that an innocent man is accused of espionage and is sent to 
jail for more than ten years, notwithstanding an overwhelming amount 
of evidence pointing to his innocence, simply because he is a Jew. 

 Yevtushenko uses these allusions to lead up to his referral to a 
boy in Bielostok who is murdered by the Russian common-folk. Clearly, 
The narrator is teaching a lesson with a dual message. Firstly, he is 
informing the reader of the horrors that took place in Russia during 
the Holocaust. Perhaps even more of a travesty, however, is the fact 
that humankind has not learned from the past in light of the fact that 
this "episode" is merely one link in a long chain of terrors. 

 Yevtushenko goes on to allude to Anne Frank, a young Jewish 
teenager who left behind a diary of her thoughts and dreams,
and how the Nazis strip her of any potential future she has when she 
is murdered in the death camps. Clearly, the allusion creates images 
in the mind of the reader that mere descriptions via the use of words 
could not. 

 Another effective literary device used in the poem is the first 
person narrative in which the narrator identifies with those victims
which he describes. This is seen in the case where the narrator says 
"I am Dreyfus", or "Anne Frank, I am she." The narrator does not claim 
to understand what the feelings and thoughts of these people are, but 
rather, he is acknowledging the fact that they are feeling, "detested 
and denounced" and that unlike the rest of the world who turned its 
head, or the Russians who actually abetted such heinous crimes, this 
gentile narrator can not empathize, but does sympathize with his 
Jewish "brethren." 

 Another extremely powerful device used by Yevtushenko is the 
detail of description and imagery used to describe events and
feelings that are in both those whom he identifies with, as well as 
himself. "I bear the red mark of nails"(line 8) seems to include
much of the suffering that the Jews have to endure. The statement is 
almost one of a reverse crucifixion in which the Jews are crucified 
and now have to suffer with false accusations, blood libels, and 
Pogroms for the duration of time. The poet describes very clearly the 
contempt most people have for the Jewish people and how many of these 
people aided in the barbarity . In line 13, for example, the poet 
speaks of "shrieking ladies in fine ruffled gowns" who "brandish their 
umbrellas in my face." In addition, Yevtushenko also depicts 
explicitly how the "tavern masters celebrate" at the sight of "(a 
Jewish boy's)blood spurt and spread over the floor." 

 The contrast of age in "Babi Yar" is also quite effective. In the 
last three sections, the reader finds out that the narrator is
remembering the past, mourning those who have perished. This gives the 
reader the perspective of one who speaks of the tragedy as though he 
is removed from it, as well as the view of one who is part of that 
history of horror in which all must remember, memorialize, learn from, 
and never forget. 

 Clearly, "Babi Yar" is a poem about the tragedy of the Holocaust 
and how its effects and teachings transcend race, religion, color, and 
sex, and involves the whole of the human race. Yevtushenko depicts 
powerfully the tragedy of the absurdity of the long based ill founded 
hatred that many people feel towards the Jewish people as a whole. In 
addition, the narrator speaks to each reader as if he is a Jew, not in 
the sense of having gone through the experience, but rather in the 
sense of being a part of the remembering process, part of the humane 
society which feels a moral obligation to recognize what took place 
and to learn from that experience, lest humanity be condemned to 
repeat the unthinkable. Perhaps, it is most appropriate that 
Yevtushenko concludes the poem with the ironic charge of saying that 
only when all of the anti-Semitic and hate based people are hated and
"spit on", can the narrator truly be a "Russian", the standard for 
true humanity. 


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