Remembering Zmievskaya Balka

August 11, 2017 § Leave a comment

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the massacre at Zmievskaya Balka, a ravine in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.  The literal meaning of Zmievskaya Balka is ‘ravine of snakes.’  It was here on 11-12 August 1942 that the Jewish men of Rostov were marched out to the ravine, just outside the city, and shot.  The women, children, and the aged of the Jewish population were gassed, and their bodies dumped at Zmievskaya Balka.  Communists and some Red Army soldiers met the same fate, along with their family.  All told, 27,000 people were massacred.  At least 20,000 of them were Jewish.

This massacre is one of the forgotten ones of World War II and the Nazis.  My guess is no one reading this post will have ever heard of it.  Soviet and Russian authorities have done their best to make sure the massacre, or at least the Jewish fact of it, is forgotten due to the on-going anti-Semitism of the state.

In 2004, activists managed to get a memorial plaque erected that identified one of the massacre sites and noted the Jewishness of the victims.  In 2011, approaching the 70th anniversary of the massacre, this plaque was removed. It was replaced with a more banal commemoration of the “peaceful citizens of Rostov-On-Don and Soviet Prisoners of War.”  This erases the primary act of the Nazis in Rostov 75 years ago: the eradication of the city’s Jewish population.  And, it obscures the Nazis murderous anti-Semitism.

This morning, organizers held a march to the sites of the massacre in Rostov, to remember this brutal massacre.  We owe it to them to hold the memory of these victims in our

Remembering Zmievskaya Balka, Rostov-On-Don, Russia, 1942

February 15, 2012 § 2 Comments

My sister-in-law’s husband is spear-heading this campaign.  Please circulate this widely.  The actions of the Rostov-On-Don city council are disgusting and an attempt to erase history and are thinly veiled anti-Semitism.  Let us ensure they cannot get away with this:

Please disseminate the following press release by the committee organizing the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of Zmievskaya Balka – “Russia’s Babi Yar.”   Scheduled events will commemorate a series of mass executions by Nazis just outside the city of Rostov, Russia between 1942 and 1943.  While grassroots commemorative initiatives have taken place since the early 1990s by Rostov’s small Jewish community, 2012 marks the first major effort to commemorate the Holocaust in Rostov publicly.

The planning process takes place amidst conflict over the recent decision by Rostov government officials to take down a memorial plaque that was erected in 2004, identifying most of the 27,000  Zmievskaya Balka victims as Jewish.  The replacement plaque does not mention Jews, but rather the “peaceful citizens of Rostov-on-Don and Soviet prisoners-of-war.”  Having struggled for decades to battle exclusionary nationalism and anti-Semitism in the construction of public memory of the events at Zmievskaya Balka, Rostov’s  Jewish community and the diaspora it has yielded have been spurred to action and are seeking support as well as information, donations of artifacts and broad participation in the commemorative activities.  

70th Anniversary Commemoration of Zmievskaya Balka – “Russia’s Babi Yar”

Rostov on Don, Russia,  August 12-14, 2012

Organizing Committee Announcement

August 2012 marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of mass executions of Jews by the Nazis in Rostov on Don, Russia, in the  Zmievskaya “balka” – a huge ravine on the edge of this southern Russian city of over one million residents. Here more than 20,000 people were killed. The greatest number of victims, including poisoned children,  died on August 11 and 12, 1942. For Russia, this place holds the symbolic importance of Ukraine’s Babi Yar. There is no place in Russia where a greater number of Holocaust victims lost their lives. Others were also killed here: Soviet citizens of other nationalities, prisoners of war, resisters, psychiatric hospital patients, and others.

In 1975, a memorial was erected at the Rostov “Zmievskaya Balka” and a small museum was built there.

This anniversary of the Rostov tragedy, dedicated to the memory of the victims, deserves attention on an international level, as this place has relevance for many famous people connected with the history of the Holocaust. Among those executed here was world-renowned psychoanalyst Sabina Spielrein (about whom several feature films have been made). Both before and after the war Alexander Pechersky lived in Rostov. Pechersky was the organizer of the only successful mass escape from a Nazi death camp — the escape from Sobibor. A British film about his exploits was well received.

Two other prominent Jewish leaders are connected to Rostov: Fedor Mikhalchenko, rescued in Buchenwald as a child and later to become Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Meir Lau, present day chairman of the Board of the museum “Yad Vashem.” Meir Lau, who is planning to attend the rememberance events, will be one of the honored guests. Government delegations, including the U.S. and Israel, are being invited.

Please note that August 11, 2012 falls on a Saturday (the Sabbath), which means that no memorial services will be held on this day.

August 12-14, 2012

Planned memorial /educational activities in Rostov-on-Don include the following:

– A memorial evening in one of the city’s largest halls on August 12th ;

– A ceremony at the Zmievskaya Balka on the morning of 13th August;

– Opening of a new exhibit at the Museum of the “Zmievskaya Balka” (August 13);

– International conference in memory of Sabina Spielrein  on the “Fate of Scientists during the Holocaust” (August 12th -13th );

– A seminar for teachers of Russia, CIS and the Rostov Region, “Lessons of the Holocaust –  the path to tolerance” (12th -14th August);

– A Holocaust Film Festival to feature both documentary and feature films;

We are seeking support from colleagues and interested parties across the globe.

How You Can Help:

–       Join the organizing committee.

–       Donate money to help us hire organizers and researchers.

–       If you have any information about the victims of Zmievskaya Balka or their relatives or descendants, please contact us.

–       Do you read Russian?  When searching for the names of the dead, we found the miraculously-preserved records of the Rostov synagogue circa 1850-1921.  Please help us translate these records, as well as other research articles on the events at Rostov, from Russian into English so that they may be more widely disseminated.

–       Contribute to memorial books or consider donating to the exhibit.

–       Spread the word: disseminate this press release widely. 

Please contact us for more information.

 Ilya Altman:  +79169064998,

Yuri Dombrovskiy:  +79037553043,

Web links:

On Hatred and Continuums: DeSean Jackson and GK Chesterton

July 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Apparently Philadelphia Eagles’ wide receiver, DeSean Jackson, said something stupid on satellite radio last week, using homophobic slurs to shut down a caller. He later apologised on Twitter, but followed that up with a stupid comment about himself being the victim of people trying to take him down, though he has since deleted that tweet and replaced it with more apologies.  Big deal, right? Well, sort of. See, Jackson has done a lot of good work in the world on behalf of bullied children, and bullying a belligerent caller makes him, well, a bully and therefore a hypocrite.

But the larger issue is the gay slur. Dan Graziano of ESPN comments that this hardly makes Jackson a homophobe, it just makes him stupid. “Gay” is a multi-faceted term, and is often used as a putdown or a dismissal in much the same way “sucks” is. That doesn’t make it right, however. In fact, it makes it offensive. For sure, Jackson wasn’t thinking of the deeper significance of the slur when he used it, but the very fact that “gay” is used in a negative connotation to note something sucks is problematic. “Gay” is a negative term in this sense, and that, I would argue, connects it to homophobia, even though it might not actually be homophobic. Either way, there is a continuum here.

I read all of this this morning after having read the most recent issue of the Times Literary Supplement I have received, due to the Canada Post strike.  It’s dated 10 June.  Anyway, the feature review is a discussion of two recent works on G.K. Chesterton (it’s behind the Times’ paywall, so I haven’t linked it here). I am no expert on Chesterton, in fact, I have never read him, nor am I all that likely to do so in the future, so take this for what it’s worth.

In discussing Ian Ker’s new biography of Chesterton, G.K. Chesterton: A Biography, reviewer Bernard Manzo discusses the charges of anti-Semitism against Chesterton.  First, let it be clear that Chesterton lived during a time when anti-Semitism was fashionable in the European and North American world. Second, anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism.  Both Ker and Manzo attempt to downplay Chesterton’s anti-Semitism, to qualify it. I’m not so sure.

Both Manzo and Ker point out that Chesterton did not believe Jews to be capable of being Italian, English, French, etc., due to the simple fact that they were Jews, and that “Jews should be represented by Jews and ruled by Jews” and that they should have their own homeland. Indeed, Chesterton argued that all Christians should be Zionist, though, ironically, he also argued that no Christian should be an anti-Semite. Ironic because he was one.

Chesterton also argued that those Jews who lived in other countries should be sent to homelands, not unlike that imagined by Michael Chabon in his novel, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Or perhaps, more to the point, not unlike the “homelands” for black South Africans during the Apartheid era, or reserves for aboriginals in Canada, or, ghettos for Jews in Nazi Europe. But Ker (and Manzo) think that this could not have been the logical outcome for Chesterton, who was “perfectly sincere” in his suggestion that Jews be excluded from mainstream society.

Both Ker and Manzo play down this anti-Semitism, arguing that it needs to be cast in light of Chesterton’s deep abhorrence of Nazism and its vicious anti-Semitism in the years before his death in 1936. I remain unconvinced. Certainly, Chesterton’s anti-Semitism did not advocate the extreme ends of Hitler and the Nazis. But that doesn’t make it ok. It doesn’t mean that Chesterton was not an anti-Semite. Qualifications such as that made by Ker and Manzo are problematic, in that they simply point to complications  of character.

Certainly, we are complicated creatures, we have internal contradictions and ambiguities, that’s what makes us human. But it should not let Chesterton off the hook anymore than noting that he lived in an era when anti-Semitism was fashionable.  Daniel Jonah Goldhagen has argued that Nazism was the logical outcome of this pan-Atlantic world anti-Semitism (he is less successful in arguing Germans were complicit in the Holocaust). If this is indeed the case, then Chesterton belongs on the continuum of Atlantic world anti-Semitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And attempts to discount it like those of Ker and Manzo are simply intellectual gymnastics and reek of intellectual dishonesty.

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