Babi Yar

In 1962, the Russian poet Evgeny Evtushenko visited the site of Babi Yar, a deep ravine northwest of Kiev, where in September 1941 an estimated 70,000 Jews were executed by Nazi soldiers.  Evtushenko returned to his hotel room and immediately penned a memorial poem in which the first line – 'There are no monuments over Babi Yar, the steep precipice, like a rough-hewn tomb' – reflected his 'refusal to accept the injustice of history, the absence of a monument to so many innocent slaughtered people'.  Shortly thereafter, Shostakovich read the poem and decided to set it as part of a symphonic work that would include five movements, each of them based on an Evtushenko poem.  Only the first movement, ‘Babi Yar’, cites the Holocaust specifically. Despite late attempts to censor the performance, the premiere was held on 18 December 1962 and was enthusiastically received by its public.  Today, the piece is informally known as the ‘Babi Yar’ Symphony.