Locate that giant Larry Miller flag. Go east on Yale. You are there. The parking lot is rarely full. On RTD, take the 83D. The park is to your north. Go up the slope toward the ravine on its northern edge.
Denver’s Babi Yar Park is Colorado’s Holocaust Memorial. Congress established Days of Remembrance (April 24 through May 1 in 2022) to reflect on the Holocaust. Yom Hashoah, a specific day to remember the Holocaust, arrives on Thursday. Shoah means whirlwind in Hebrew. We feel ill winds blowing now — in Ukraine and elsewhere.
A brisk wind blew over an Israel American Council placard as Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser addressed a crowd of several dozen gathered at a Holocaust remembrance event on Sunday. Unperturbed, Weiser spoke movingly about his family’s liberation by Americans from Nazi concentration camps.
Next to speak was legendary Denver Rabbi Raymond Zwerin, a Babi Yar Park visionary. It was the 1960s and Russia (then the Soviet Union) were treating Jews terribly. This angered and activated Rabbi Zwerin and Lillian Hoffman. They responded by forming the Colorado Committee of Concern for Soviet Jewry.
Lillian Hoffman was married to renowned Denver liquor retailer, Harry Hoffman. She famously confronted Soviet dignitaries at a dinner hosted by Colorado state Sen. Dennis Gallagher, who was interfaith chairman for the Committee of Concern.
Gallagher, who died Friday at age 82, enjoyed a special relationship with Denver Jews, many of whom were his constituents and friends. On Sunday, Lena Fishman was there at Babi Yar Park, educating people about the Golda Meir House Museum on the Auraria Campus, which was Gallagher’s brainchild.
Golda was born in Kyiv but escaped to America. As an adolescent, Golda came to Denver, where she developed thoughts that would propel her to being the leader of Israel.
Rabbi Zwerin told me how, back in the late 1960s, he convinced Gov. John Love and Mayor William McNichols of Colorado’s need for a Holocaust memorial. They approved the then-barren, Zwerin-selected, 27-acre parcel of land running along a ravine flowing west from Cherry Creek State Park.
This spectacular, somewhat hidden and under-utilized Denver park, was designed by famous landscape architects Lawrence Halprin and Satoru Nishita.
“On September 29, 1941, in Kyev, Ukraine, USSR, German Nazi units rounded up the Jews and murdered them in the ravine called Babi Yar, In two days, 33,771 men, women, and children were annihilated. The Babi Yar carnage continued throughout the next two years of German occupation; the final death count exceeding 200,000 Jews, Ukrainians, and other ethnic groups. The message of Babi Yar Park is a message not alone of Jewish rights, but of human rights. The tragedy that befell Jews, Ukrainians and others at Babi Yar, teaches us a universal principle. When one group of people is harmed as others remain silent and indifferent, all humankind suffers. This Babi Yar is a reminder of that other Babi Yar. That was a place of cruelty and death. This is a place for quiet contemplation, to celebrate life, aspiring to the best that is within the human spirit, a place to pray for an end to all inhuman acts in our time.”
For months now, we’ve real-time witnessed Vladimir Putin homicides throughout Ukraine, including the early shelling of Babi Yar’s memorial site. Some experts surmise the timing of Putin’s War is tied to Babi Yar. Eighty years ago, news of Nazi atrocities trickled out slowly to the western world.
Historical attention to Ukraine’s Holocaust by Bullets was reignited when Russian author Yevgeni Yevtushenko published in 1961 his famous poem, Babi Yar. Soviet Russian and Ukrainian anti-Semitic complicity at Babi Yar were condemned.
Read Yale historian Timothy Snyder’s compelling book, Bloodlands, to appreciate how Stalin’s murderous bigotries were as heinous as Hitler’s. Stalin’s starvation and terrorism campaigns against Ukrainians, Jews and others was monstrous. When Putin started venerating Stalin, it should have alerted red warning lights everywhere.
Rabbi Zwerin, an accomplished author, composed the inscriptions throughout Denver’s Babi Yar Park. Although not part of the original plans, the landscape led naturally toward formation of a six-pointed Jewish Star of David. Visitors are inspired by 100 linden trees at the Babi Yar Park’s eastern edge, just beneath South Havana, where you can read this inscription:
“In this grove at Babi Yar, each tree stands tall. Each a living memorial to men, women, children — the majority Jews with Ukrainians and others.
“In every leaf, there lives in every branch, their families in every rooted trunk, their past.
“Life courses even when leaves have fallen. Memory persists even after presence parts.
“Can we not learn from the trees? Each stands alone — yet, flourishes in the benevolent shade of others.
“Seasons change: so must we. Winter’s madness must not dry the sap of loving life again.”
Craig Silverman is a former Denver chief deputy DA who also has worked in the media for decades. Craig is columnist at large for The Colorado Sun. He practices law at the Denver law firm of Springer & Steinberg, P.C. and is host of The Craig Silverman Show podcast.
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