State-funded gang war brings “peace” to Baghdad, from “Shotgun Wedding: The Saint, the Insurgent and the Surge’s ‘Success'” by Chris Floyd

November 21st, 2007

Although 2007 will have seen the largest number of American military deaths in Iraq and the passing of the one million mark in Iraqi civilians killed, there has been much triumphant harrumphing of late about a slight drop in the horrific death count in Iraq — proof, we are told, for the umpteenth time, that the war of aggression has finally turned the corner (i.e., the conquered people have finally been beaten into submission).

To the extent that there has been any lessening of the ongoing slaughter for a short period, much of that can be put down to a factor little discussed in the American media-political bubble (at least not in terms of stark reality): the fact that the White House and St. Gen. David Petraeus have simply legitimized what used to be recorded as terrorist acitivity by paying the former killers of Americans to kill and repress other Iraqis. Thus, in some areas of Baghdad now controlled by American-paid, American-armed Sunni extremist militias, executions, mass killings, horrific torture, kidnapping and rampant extortion still go on — but these are no longer counted as insurgent violence. These horrors are now regarded as legitimate police actions by concerned citizens groups — almost all of them former close allies of the most savage sectarian bands (now loosely called al Qaeda by everyone, regardless of any actual relationship, however tenuous, to the gang of one-time CIA ally Osama bin Laden).

In other words, Bush and St. David are now giving American taxpayer money — and copious amounts of arms, equipment and flash vehicles — to those responsible for some of the most sickening assaults on innocent life since Bush destroyed Iraqi society and plunged it into sectarian warfare, which the Administration has encouraged and exacerbated at every step.

This is one way of keeping the American death count down: you just turn over various walled enclaves in Baghdad to a band of thugs in your pay, lard them with guns and money, then get the hell out of Dodge, letting the thugs do what they will. It is absolutely vital for the Washington warmongers to keep the American death count low. As long as only two or three Americans are being killed every day or so, they can keep a lid on the rising but still very manageable popular discontent with the war back home. The increased use of airpower — blunderbuss assaults on civilian areas with bombs and attack helicopters — also helps toward this goal. And, as noted, it also helps lower the official numbers on terrorist violence, following the age-old tradition of U.S. foreign policy: if somebody is killing, raping and torturing with our money, in our name, why then, it can’t be terrorism. It’s just a grassroots initiative to restore law and order, and bring freedom to benighted peoples.

… In Saturday’s Guardian, the paper’s remarkably courageous man in Baghdad, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, gives us a vivid portrait of one of these American-paid gangs in action. It is the tale of Abu Abed, a violent, neurotic, vainglorious killer of Americans (and former intelligence officer for Saddam Hussein) who has been crowned by none other than St. David himself to rule as undisputed king over the walled Baghdad ghetto of Ameriya:

Abu Abed, a member of the insurgent Islamic Army, has recently become the commander of the US-sponsored Ameriya Knights. He is one of the new breed of Sunni warlords who are being paid by the US to fight al-Qaida in Iraq. The Americans call their new allies Concerned Citizens…A former intelligence officer and a pious Sunni, Hajji Abu Abed has the aura of a mafia don. And for Abu Abed, like a don, connections are everything. His office is decorated with pictures of him hugging US officers, including the senior commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus…On Abu Abed’s desk stands a glass box containing a black suede cavalry hat and a letter proclaiming him an honorary US cavalryman.

The Americans pay him $400 (£200) a month for each fighter he provides, he said, and he had 600 registered. His men are awed by his courage, his piety and his neurotic rages…

Abu Abed began hugging St. David — and taking the Saint’s payoffs — after falling out with al Qaeda in a dispute over loot. The Qaedas were demanding a 25 percent cut of all swag to fund their self-proclaimed Islamic Republic of Iraq; Abu Abed balked at the demand, and decided to eliminate his rivals. But he was outgunned his fellow sectarians, so he turned to the Americans.

… And how is the huggable Abu Abed bringing the blessing of freedom to his fiefdom? Like so:

When we arrived at the house where [an] alleged al-Qaida commander was hiding, Bakr [Abu Abed’s head of intelligence] was already in action. He was dragging a plump man into a car, grabbing his neck with one hand and his BKC machine gun with the other. The horrified man begged them not to take him. By Allah, I didn’t say Qaida is better than you, you are our brothers, just let me go! A gunman kicked the man and pushed him into a car.

The suspect’s brother, still in his pyjamas, pleaded, and women in nightgowns stood in the street wailing and begging the gunmen to release him. The gunmen pointed their guns at the people and pushed them back. A young fighter carrying an old British sub-machine gun fired a burst into the air.

Abu Abed walked into the scuffle. The detained man was not the [alleged al Qaeda] target. Someone had overheard him saying Abu Abed’s men were worse than al-Qaida after Bakr’s men raided the house. Furious at the insult, Abu Abed aimed his gun at the brother. Al-Qaida is better than us, huh? Did you forget when the bodies were piled in the streets?

Some neighbours intervened, and the man was released. His brother grabbed him by the arm and pushed him inside. Abu Abed, shaking his head and waving his gun, walked back to his car, murmuring Al-Qaida, better than us…

He stopped in mid-stride and turned to charge with his men back into the house. They pushed the gate open and ran inside firing their weapons in the air. In the dark kitchen, they grabbed the man again, pushed him to the floor and kicked him. The women were screaming and crying. One of them pulled away her headscarf and wailed, holding on to the man’s ripped shirt as Abu Abed and the gunmen dragged him out, kicking and slapping him. Other fighters fired their Kalashnikovs in the air. The man was shoved into a car, as was his brother.

Abu Abed, screaming and pointing his gun, charged at the crowd. Qaida is better than me? I will show you! He held his gun high and quoted al-Hajjaj, a 7th-century ruler of Iraq, in a hoarse voice: Oh, people of Iraq, I had come to you with two swords, one is for mercy which I have left back in the desert, and this one — he pointed his gun at the crowd —is the sword of oppression, which I kept in my hand.

The convoy drove off, sirens blaring, fighters hanging out of the car windows.

Al Qaeda is not Abu Abed’s only enemy, of course. In addition to constantly threatening to renege on his deal with his new best friends — the Americans he used to kill — if they don’t properly acknowledge his authority, Abu Abed is also violently attacking forces aligned with the Iraqi government:

That night, Abu Abed decided to attack another group of Ameriya Knights under his general command. He suspected their commander, Abu Omar, was allied with the vice-president’s Islamic party, which has been trying to control the Sunni area.

I have to show them there is one commander. If the Americans don’t like it, I will withdraw my men, he told me. Let’s see if they can fight al-Qaida alone. By sunset, his men were gathered in front of the house again. He distributed extra guns and he carried an extra shotgun with his machine gun.

… Abu Omar’s men were rounded up. Some were put in pick-up trucks, others were squeezed in car boots. By the light of headlamps, Abu Abed’s men looted weapons, ammunition boxes and radios.

One terrified child was brought for questioning. Where are Abu Omar’s sniper rifles? Abu Abed asked him.

I don’t know, replied the boy.

Look, this head of yours, I will cut it off and put it on your chest if you don’t tell where the guns are by tomorrow. He tried to put his shotgun in the boy’s mouth but his men restrained him.

–From Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque (2007-11-10): Shotgun Wedding: The Saint, the Insurgent and the Surge’s Success.

An Iraqi boy peered Tuesday inside a car that was towed to a Baghdad police station after two women inside were killed.

October 11th, 2007

Here is a photo of an Iraqi boy peering through the windows of a white Oldsmobile at a Baghdad police station. The driver-side door is streaked with blood.

BAGHDAD, Oct. 9 — Two women died here on Tuesday when their white Oldsmobile was riddled by automatic gunfire from guards for a private security company, just weeks after a shooting by another company strained relations between the United States and Iraq.

The guards involved in the Tuesday shooting were working for an Australian-run security company. But the people they were assigned to protect work under the same United States government agency whose security guards sprayed bullets across a crowded Baghdad square on Sept. 16, an episode that caused an uproar among Iraqi officials and is still being investigated by the United States.

In the Tuesday shooting, as many as 40 bullets struck the car, killing the driver and the woman in the front seat on the passenger side. A woman and a boy in the back seat survived, according to witnesses and local police officials in the Karada neighborhood, where the shooting took place on a boulevard lined with appliance stores, tea shops and money changers.

American government officials said the guards had been hired to protect financial and policy experts working for an organization under contract with the United States Agency for International Development, a quasi-independent State Department agency that does extensive aid work in Iraq.

The organization, RTI International, is in Iraq to carry out what is ultimately a State Department effort to improve local government and democratic institutions. But a Bush administration official said the State Department bore no responsibility for overseeing RTI’s security operations.

… The guards who were in the convoy work for Unity Resources Group, an Australian-run company that has its headquarters in Dubai and is registered in Singapore, according to a statement by the company. Unity Resources was hired by RTI to provide security in Iraq.

Andrew E. Kramer and James Glanz, New York Times (2007-10-09): U.S. Guards Kill 2 Iraqi Women in New Shooting

Guernica

April 26th, 2007
Here is the painting, Guernica

Pablo Picasso (1937), Guernica

Seventy years ago today, on the afternoon of April 26, 1937, a group of twenty-nine German and Italian airplanes, commanded by Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen and acting on direct orders from the Spanish Command, attacked the Basque town of Gernika in northeastern Spain. Gernika (Spanish: Guernica), with a population of about 5,000 regular residents and a large number of refugees from the fighting elsewhere, was completely unarmed. The airplanes had been provided by the fascist powers to aid Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War. The bombers dropped explosives and incendiary bombs in five waves of bombardment, while the fighters strafed the streets with machine gun fire. The incendiary bombs created a firestorm that destroyed three-quarters of the buildings in Guernica, with most of the rest heavily damaged. The Basque government estimated that about 1,600 civilians were killed in the attacks, and about 900 wounded.

In Heavenly Peace: The Christmas Truce, 1914

December 25th, 2006

I first read this review essay a year ago, when Kevin Carson posted it at Mutualist Blog.

The Soldiers’ Truce

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce
By Stanley Weintraub
The Free Press, 2001
206 pages, $39.95 (hb)

It was the war that was supposed to be over by Christmas. It very nearly was. A spontaneous soldiers’ truce broke out along the Western Front on Christmas Eve 1914, four months after the start of hostilities.

Peace on Earth, goodwill to all men — British, French and German soldiers took these usually hypocritical Christmas sentiments for real and refused to fire on the enemy, exchanging instead song, food, drink and gifts with each other in the battle-churned wastes of no-man’s land between the trenches.

Lasting until Boxing Day in some cases, the truce alarmed the military authorities who worked overtime to end the fraternisation and restart the killing.

Stanley Weintraub’s haunting book on the Christmas Truce recounts through the letters of the soldiers the extraordinary event, routinely denigrated in orthodox military histories as an aberration of no consequence, but which was, argues Weintraub, not only a temporary respite from slaughter but an event which had the potential to topple death-dealing governments.

With hundreds of thousands of casualties since August from a war bogged down in the trenches and mud of France, soldiers of all countries were tired of fighting. There had already been some pre-Christmas truces to bury the dead rotting in no-man’s land but these truces had needed the approval of higher authority.

Soon, however, few would care about higher authority as an unauthorised and illegal truce bubbled up from the ranks.

The peace overtures generally began with song. From German trenches illuminated by brightly lit Christmas trees would come a rich baritone voice or an impromptu choir singing Silent Night (Stille Nacht). Other carols and songs floated back and forth over the barbed wire. A German boot tossed into the British trenches exploded with nothing more harmful than sausages and chocolates. Signs bearing Merry Christmas were hung over the trench parapets, followed by signs and shouts of you no shoot, we no shoot.

The shared Christmas rituals of carols and gifts eased the fear, suspicion and anxiety of initial contact as first a few unarmed soldiers, arms held above their heads, warily ventured out into the middle to be followed soon by dozens of others, armed only with schnapps, pudding, cigarettes and newspapers.

The extraordinary outbreak of peace swept along the entire front from the English Channel to the Switzerland border. Corporal John Ferguson, from the Scottish Seaforth Highlanders shared the pleasant disbelief — Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill.

Uniform accessories (buttons, insignias, belts) were swapped as souvenirs. Christmas dinner was shared amongst the bomb craters. A Londoner in the 3rd Rifles had his hair cut by a Saxon who had been his barber in High Holborn. Helmets were swapped as mixed groups of soldiers posed for group photographs.

Some British soldiers were taken well behind German lines to a bombed farmhouse to share the champagne from its still intact cellar. Soccer matches were played in no-man’s land with stretchers as goalposts. Bicycle races were held on bikes with no tyres found in the ruins of houses. A German soldier captivated hundreds with a display of juggling and magic. You would have thought you were dreaming, wrote captain F. D. Harris to his family in Liverpool.

The high command ordered the line command to stop the fraternisation. Few line officers did or could. The truce momentum could not be arrested. Deliberate or accidental breaches of the tacit truce failed to undermine it. Stray shots were resolved by an apology. If ordered to shoot at unarmed soldiers, soldiers aimed deliberately high.

Sergeant Lange of the XIX Saxon Corps recounted how, when ordered on Boxing Day to fire on the 1st Hampshires, they did so, spending that day and the next wasting ammunition in trying to shoot the stars down from the sky. By firing in the air, as the sergeant noted with approval, they had struck, like the class-conscious workers they were in civilian life. They had had enough of killing.

Military authorities feared fraternisation — a court-martial offence, punishable by death, it weakens the will to kill, destroys the offensive spirit, saps ideological fervour and undermines the sacrificial spirit necessary to wage war. It was politically subversive — A bas la guerre! (Down with the war!) from a French soldier was returned with Nie wieder Kreig! Das walte Gott! (No more war! It’s what God wants!) from his Bavarian counterpart.

After mucking-in with British soldiers, a German private wrote that never was I as keenly aware of the insanity of war.

Soldiers reasserted their shared humanity — Private Rupert Frey of the Bavarian 16th Regiment wrote after fraternising with the English that normally we only knew of their presence when they sent us their iron greetings. Now, we gathered, as if we were friends, as if we were brothers. Well, were we not, after all!.

If ordinary soldiers acted on these sentiments, a big danger loomed for governments and the ruling class. If left to themselves, the soldiers would have been home from the shooting war by Christmas all fired up for the class war at home. As Weintraub says, many troops had discovered through the truce that the enemy, despite the best efforts of propagandists, were not monsters. Each side had encountered men much like themselves, drawn from the same walks of life — and led, alas by professionals who saw the world through different lenses.

Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Sherlock Holmes creator, who had turned from jingoistic imperialism to spiritualism after the death of his son in the war, shot an angry glance to military and civil authority — those high-born conspirators against the peace of the world, who in their mad ambition had hounded men on to take each other by the throat rather than by the hand.

The high command on both sides were desperate to restart the war that had strangely vanished. Replacement troops with no emotional commitment to the truce were rushed in. The 2nd Welsh Fusiliers who had not fired a shot from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day were relieved without notice, an exceptional practice. Sometimes threats were necessary — when German officers ordered a regiment in the XIX Saxon Corps to start firing and were met with replies of we can’t — they are good fellows, the officers replied Fire, or we do — and not at the enemy!.

To prevent further spontaneous truces after 1914, the British high command ordered slow, continuous artillery barrages, trench raids and mortar bombardments — immensely costly of lives but effectively limiting the opportunities for fraternisation for the rest of the war. To discourage others, conspicuous disciplinary examples were made of individuals. For organising a cease-fire to bury the dead, which was followed by half an hour of fraternisation in no-man’s land with no shooting for the rest of Christmas Day 1915, Captain Iain Colquhoun of the 1st Scots Guard was court-martialled. Merely reprimanded, the message was nevertheless clear for career-minded British officers.

Tougher medicine was needed when French soldiers refused to return to the trenches at Aisne in May 1917 — 3427 courts-martial and 554 death sentences with 53 executed by firing squad were necessary to crank-start the war on this sector of the French front.

Repression from above won the day against the Christmas Truce of 1914 but it was the lack of soldiers’ organisation from below that stifled the potential for turning the truce into a movement to stop the war.

On the eastern front, on the other hand, fraternisation and peace were Bolshevik policy and in Germany, it was mutinies by organised sailors and home-based soldiers, which finally put paid to Germany’s war effort.

Weintraub has resurrected a beautiful moment in history, made all the more beautiful in the darkness of the carnage that was to follow when four more years of war took the lives of 6000 men a day. Far from a two-day wonder, the Christmas truce evokes a stubborn humanity within us. As folksinger John McCutcheon put it in his 1980s ballad Christmas in the Trenches, the war monster is a vulnerable beast when the common soldier realises that on each end of the rifle we’re the same.

reviewed by Phil Shannon (2002)
for Green Left Weekly, February 13, 2002

Testimony of a Kurdish survivor

October 19th, 2006

Two detainees who escaped after last-minute struggles with the Iraqi death squads told of stumbling into the night while a full moon shone down on a ghostly landscape dotted with mass graves and bullet-riddled corpses. Their testimony was the first eyewitness account of mass killings during Saddam’s 1988 Anfal campaign against Iraq’s Kurdish minority, during which prosecutors allege that 182,000 people were slaughtered.

Speaking anonymously from behind a screen, two Kurdish men described how they and their fellow camp inmates were driven to the desert in stinking trucks, stained with urine and faeces.

It was an unpaved road. Our vehicle got stuck in the sand … and we heard gunfire. It wasn’t that close, it was far from us, but we heard screaming and gunfire, one said.

Then it was dark, and they brought a group of people in front of a vehicle. The drivers got out of our vehicles and turned on the headlights, put three lines or four lines of people in front of our vehicle and opened fire.

The News – International (2006-10-19): Kurds tell of mass murder by Saddam death squads

It was dark when they brought a group of people (prisoners) in front of the vehicle. The drivers got out of our vehicles and turned on the headlights, the man said. It was really unbelievable, the number of people being killed like this.

He said some prisoners tried to snatch an automatic rifle from one of their guards, but the prisoners failed to grab the gun because we were so weak.

He said soldiers opened fire, spraying the prisoners with bullets.

I ran and fell into a ditch. It was full of bodies. I fell on a body. It was still alive. It was his last breath, he said.

He was lightly wounded. He took off his clothes in the ditch, thinking he was more likely to blend into the color of the sand if he were naked. He then began running again.

As I was running, I saw many pits, I saw many mounds, and I saw lots of people who had been shot, he said. The desert was full of mounds that had people buried underneath.

The Boston Herald (2006-10-18): Witness in Saddam Hussein trial recalls massacre of Kurdish detainees

Wartime, by Lynda Barry

October 11th, 2006

Lynda Barry, Wartime, The Lynda Barry Experience (1992).

This is a story by cartoonist and writer Lynda Barry (b. 1956), from her 1992 album The Lynda Barry Experience. You should listen to her tell it; but here is what she says, if you need a transcription:

[Radio recording (December 8, 1941):]

Hello, NBC, this is Bert Silan, speaking from Manila, and this time I’ve got a real scoop for you. Manila has just been bombed! In fact, right now it is being bombed. And without warning. Japanese bombers started bombing Fort William McKinley, Nickels Air Field, and an RCA transmitting station. At nine minutes past three o’clock, without warning…

I knew stories about war before I knew the alphabet. My mother’s from the Philippines, and not only do I know exactly where she was when the first planes dropped bombs on her province, but I can see it, and I can hear it. It’s morning; she’s in the third grade. There’s the sound of the bell ringing for morning recess, the shouts of the kids in the schoolyard, and then the high hum of the engines that make everyone stand still for a second, and look up. Then–explosions! The planes are right overhead, diving and shooting, and the kids are everywhere, screaming and running from machine-gun fire that rips into a woman ten feet away, whose knees buckle as my mother runs past her. It happened to my mother, but I see it. I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t. It comes back to me as a memory from my own childhood.

My mother says she never talked about the war when I was growing up. Oh God, she says, I’d never put you through it. Whether she knew it or not, she talked about it constantly. She has these scars, these round scars, that look sort of like a potato cut in half with a star pattern in the middle. When I was a kid, I had this idea that if I could just rub enough Jergens lotion on them, I could make them go away. The second I’d touch them, she’d always start talking about the war. Her stories became my dreams at night–recurring nightmares that always began with that high humming sound of the planes approaching. I knew the sound because whenever certain planes would fly over our house, my mother would freeze. There, she’d say, Right there. That’s the sound.

And like many children of parents who barely survived the war, I lived with her involuntary envy of my peaceful childhood. I lived with the guilt of having it. Her unbelievable shouts of, If I had known my life was going to turn out like this, I would have let the Japanese kill me! were echoed in the homes of Jewish kids I knew whose parents shouted things like I didn’t survive the camps for this! In our homes, the war never ended.

So when the question is calmly put to our president of how long will this upcoming war last, I feel like screaming–I know how long it lasts. I know a five day war can last three generations. And I know that it’s already begun. Without a single shot being fired, families of the soldiers being stationed in the Gulf are already being torn apart in ways that can never be repaired. There are kids sitting at their desks in school trying to cope with the most primal and devastating terror a child can face. Parents and husbands and wives of those soldiers are walking around this country in a daze while the clock ticks toward a ridiculously arbitrary deadline.

War becomes a part of our a DNA. It’s passed on to our children and on to our children’s children. It disfigures everything it touches. How dare anyone purposefully bring it into our lives when other options still remain.

[Television recording of George H. W. Bush (January 16, 1991):]

Just two hours ago, Allied air forces began an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait. These attacks continue as I speak. Five months ago, Saddam Hussein started this cruel war against Kuwait. Tonight, the battle has been joined. As our forces fight, they and their families are in our prayers. May God bless each and every one of them, and may He continue to bless our nation, the United States of America…

Babi Yar

September 29th, 2006

Babi Yar is a ravine outside of Kiev, in the Ukraine. Sixty-five years ago yesterday, the German occupying forces in Kiev posted signs throughout the city reading:

All Jews living in the city of Kiev and its vicinity are to report by 8 o’clock on the morning of Monday, September 29, 1941, to the corner of Melnikovsky and Dokhturov Streets (near the cemetery). They are to take with them documents, money, valuables, as well as warm clothes, underwear, etc. Any Jew not carrying out this instruction and who is found elsewhere will be shot. Any civilian entering flats evacuated by Jews and stealing property will be shot.

At the time, there were about 175,000 Jews living in Kiev and its suburbs. Sixty-five years ago today, on September 29, 1941, thousands of Jewish men, women, and children reported as ordered, expecting to be taken onto trains and deported. At the meeting-place they were surrounded by German soldiers and local collaborators from the Ukrainian auxiliary police, who drove them into small groups of ten, forced them to the edge of the gorge, and then opened fire with machine guns. The mobile killing unit Einsatzgruppe C, which kept records of the massacre, reported that they systematically killed 33,771 Jews from Kiev in two days, on September 29th and September 30th.

Here is a photograph of German soldiers, stepping through a landscape completely covered with fallen bodies at Babi Yar gorge.

After the end of World War II, Stalin’s regime became increasingly anti-Semitic, and the Soviet government refused repeated demands to build a memorial to the dead. This is a poem that the Ukrainian poet Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko wrote twenty years after the massacre, in 1961. The poem became widely known through recitations and samizdat circulation, but could not be published through the State-controlled press until 1984.

BABI YAR

No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
Today, I am as old
As the entire Jewish race itself.

I see myself an ancient Israelite.
I wander over the roads of ancient Egypt
And here, upon the cross, I perish, tortured
And even now, I bear the marks of nails.

It seems to me that Dreyfus is myself.
The Philistines betrayed me – and now judge.
I’m in a cage. Surrounded and trapped,
I’m persecuted, spat on, slandered, and
The dainty dollies in their Brussels frills
Squeal, as they stab umbrellas at my face.

I see myself a boy in Belostok
Blood spills, and runs upon the floors,
The chiefs of bar and pub rage unimpeded
And reek of vodka and of onion, half and half.

I’m thrown back by a boot, I have no strength left,
In vain I beg the rabble of pogrom,
To jeers of Kill the Jews, and save our Russia!
My mother’s being beaten by a clerk.

O, Russia of my heart, I know that you
Are international, by inner nature.
But often those whose hands are steeped in filth
Abused your purest name, in name of hatred.

I know the kindness of my native land.
How vile, that without the slightest quiver
The antisemites have proclaimed themselves
The Union of the Russian People!

It seems to me that I am Anna Frank,
Transparent, as the thinnest branch in April,
And I’m in love, and have no need of phrases,
But only that we gaze into each other’s eyes.
How little one can see, or even sense!
Leaves are forbidden, so is sky,
But much is still allowed — very gently
In darkened rooms each other to embrace.

They come!

No, fear not — those are sounds
Of spring itself. She’s coming soon.
Quickly, your lips!

They break the door!

No, river ice is breaking…

Wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar,
The trees look sternly, as if passing judgement.
Here, silently, all screams, and, hat in hand,
I feel my hair changing shade to gray.

And I myself, like one long soundless scream
Above the thousands of thousands interred,
I’m every old man executed here,
As I am every child murdered here.

No fiber of my body will forget this.
May Internationale thunder and ring
When, for all time, is buried and forgotten
The last of antisemites on this earth.

There is no Jewish blood that’s blood of mine,
But, hated with a passion that’s corrosive
Am I by antisemites like a Jew.
And that is why I call myself a Russian!

Y.A. Yevtushenko (1961), translated by Benjamin Okopnik (1996)

A memorial to the dead was finally placed at Babi Yar in 1991, fifty years after the massacre.