In “Babi Yar”, Yevgeny Yevtushenko pays tribute to the victims of the Holocaust in general, and particularly to those who perished in his homeland of Russia. Although he himself is not a Jew, Yevtushenko writes this poem with hopes of bettering his country’s society by deprecating anti – Semitism. In achieving this, Yevtushenko uses various literary devices, including allusions that appeal to non – Jews as well as Jews, imagery, and his voice and diction as a whole.
In his use of the first person, Yevtushenko is able to drive the horrific acts against the Jews close to home. He writes, “Anne Frank, I am she” and “I am every old man shot down here.” Thus, the Holocaust is portrayed as a first-hand, personal experience, which deepens the meaning of his message. Also, he uses the first person in historical allusions, saying “I roam in Egypt” and “I am Dreyfus”, hence taking the reader back to previous historical injustices towards the Jews.
These allusions, in reference to Egypt and Dreyfus, are meant to improve the world’s awareness of anti – Semitism. In Egypt, Jews were viciously mistreated and held captive against their will, as slaves. And Dreyfus, a Frenchman, was incarcerated for a crime he obviously did not commit, simply because of his religion, Judaism.
This seems to be the justification for his saying, “Fear is my ground – as old as the Jewish people”, since he, who actually represents the Jew, has constant known fear all throughout history. It is the ground on which he has walked on ever since his creation.
Additionally, if these allusions do not evoke sadness and repugnance in his non – Jewish readers, Yevtushenko insightfully makes use of the third and most potent parallel for injustice: The crucifixion of Jesus on the cross. This offers a point in history that Christians can relate to with sadness and therefore come to have sympathy for the Jews.
However, just to be on the safe side, Yevtushenko furthers this by citing the most universal source of horror and melancholy known to humanity: The thought of one’s mother getting hurt, or even worse, being “beat up”, in this case, by proponents of the pogroms, which were precursors to the Holocaust In addition, imagery is employed by Yevtushenko to portray aspects of the Holocaust.
For example, he writes, “in this dark room we can embrace”, although “we are forbidden the sky and the green leaves.” The darkroom refers to death, and the sky and the green leaves are used to represent life and the world. Thus, he is saying that although we will probably be deprived of life, we always have death in which to embrace and feel free to do what we wish.
This is a very dismal and chilling thought – that people who went through the Holocaust were reduced to looking for the bright sides to their imminent death.
Conversely, spring represents the end of the war, liberation, which took place at springtime. He rejoices, saying, “Come, let us is…” However, his words taper off, as his thoughts are plagued with what he and his people have just been through, and how many have not come out alive.
He is marked by confusion and bittersweet thoughts, as he does not know what to think or feel Initially, he says, “love do not fear the noise…it is spring”, because this noise is not typical of all the previous ones they have experienced, which evoked fear, anxiety, and paranoia, leading up to suffering; it is the sound of spring, marked by liberation and freedom at last.
Come, let us rejoice by kissing… but is this true bliss? “The sounds of thawing ice change to pounding on the door.” His thoughts of happiness turn gloomy, as he thinks of the unspeakable horrors he has witnessed. “The trees stare down, stern as my judge.” The surroundings in which the Holocaust took place give testimony to the atrocities of the war. “I am every old man shot down here and every child.”
He strongly senses and vividly recalls what has taken place and t is as if a part of him has died with all those who have gone down the drains of the Holocaust. Thus, it will be impossible to ever shake off this feeling, because not only was this bliss meteoric, but ill feelings and effects of the Holocaust are the only things he will bear with him the rest of the days of his life.
Hence, upon masterfully presenting the case against anti – Semitism, brightly illustrated by allusions and images, Yevtushenko appeals to the Russian people directly. He says he knows “their heart lives without bounds”, that they are pure and good-hearted, but sometimes a few individuals, such as anti- Semites “abuse the body of [their] clear name” and consider themselves as the definition of the Russian people.
So he says, “When the last reviler of the Jews is dead”, be glad and that is the only time I can proudly call myself a Russian. Therefore, Yevtushenko flatters the Russian people by expressing how good they are since they have nothing to do with antisemitism. Thus, he hopes they will not be influenced by anti – Semitism and allow such a thing as the massacre of Jews at Babi Yar to take place again.
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