Back to Babi Yar

In the film, we ask why humans become monsters. There’s a scene where you see a car driving and it says ‘bread’ on it. We talked to the a historian there and he told us that the Nazis murdered so many people that at one point they had a pity for the bullets, so they put them in cars for transporting bread and pumped gas into them. And you say, where does this evil come from? How is that possible?”

The documentary “The Address on the Wall” harks back to the massacre of Jews at Babi Yar in Ukraine during World War II. Producer Nachum Slutzker and journalist-actor-host Alex Ansky, who lead the film, talk about the project

Making big

projects At the age of 65, entrepreneur Nachum Slutzker is more energetic than ever. As a music producer he has a fruitful partnership of many years with composer Baruch Berliner, and recently for the first time he is also behind a documentary film, “The Address on The Wall”. This special cinematic work harks back to the Babi Yar massacre of Kiev Jews by the Nazis some 80 years ago. This project is also shared by Israeli composer Baruch Berliner, and its leader is actor-journalist-host Alex Ansky.

Slutsker tells me that he regularly “does big projects. Lots of music, festivals, symphonies. In the last five months I have been to quite a few countries. In South America, South Korea, France, Switzerland, Italy. These are good things, overall.”

Regarding “the writing on the wall,” for which we gathered, he says that he was fascinated to join this project, which began with a concert by the Kiev Philharmonic Orchestra in 2016, held at the time to mark the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre and in memory of its 100,000 Jewish victims.

The Address on the wall, photo courtesy of Nachum Slutzker


“I still don’t understand how this could have happened”

“In its first version, the film was called ‘The hope’ after the concert that took place in Kiev and the text about Cain and Abel that was read in it,” Slutzker says. “The film was supposed to end with Alex Ansky reporting to viewers that he was standing in the center of Kiev, speaking Hebrew and representing the heirs of the massacred. But then I thought I wasn’t sure that was the right name. Anti-Semitism continues and spreads, the wars in the world do not stop.

“When I was a child in the Soviet Union, I visited museums where World War II was documented. I lived in Lithuania, where masses of Jews were murdered by the locals, and I had a dream in which I was walking in Babi Yar, surrounded by Nazi troops with dogs, and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony in the background. And I think about what the Nazis did back then and still don’t understand how it could have happened.

“I woke up drenched in sweat and called Sergei Krutsenko, the Ukrainian director of The Wall (who died of a heart attack after the film’s production ended). I told him I was sorry but there was no hope here, so the name had to be changed. We went back to Kyiv and changed the concept of the film and it came out really topical for today.”

Total annihilation

In the film Ansky, 84, returns to the history of our people in Kiev. He says that at the end of the 19th century, more than two million Jews lived in the city. Most of the community members concentrated in the Podol neighborhood and ran their businesses there. Then the viewer becomes acquainted with Hans, a polite and naïve young German, lacking combat experience, who has been sent to this arena. The film describes how the Nazi occupiers who arrived in Kiev in 1941 were initially kind to the local population, then transformed into vicious abusers, and what began as humiliation quickly turned into extermination. In Auschwitz and Babi Yar it was total annihilation.

The film shows how the Nazis choose Jewish musicians to entertain them in their playing, and finally they are taken on foot – on a death march from which there is no return. After reading Bible verses about Cain and Abel at a concert commemorating the massacres, Ansky arrives at the monument erected by the Soviets in 1976, 35 years after the massacre. Against the background of the epilogue, which summarizes the events and themes touched upon by the film, composer Baruch Berliner performs his new version of “God Full of Mercy”.
The film has already been screened at 18 festivals around the world and has also garnered several awards. “It turned out to be universal,” Slutzker says, “partly because we were trying to bring the Nazi soldier’s perspective. I’m not a religious person, but when I was in Babi Yar, following the dream, I found out that I touched on things that happened next. The guy you see in the movie fleeing and being shot by the Nazis is later killed in the war between Russia and Ukraine. It scared me that it was as if I could have seen these things beforehand. It turns out that we do write a script, but life has its own dynamic.”

The characters that emerge from the chaos

The project actually began in 2016, when Ansky arrived in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, to participate as an announcer in a memorial concert for the Babi Yar tragedy on the 75th anniversary of the massacre. At the concert, Ansky read biblical verses from Cain and Abel that were incorporated into the fourth movement of the symphonic poem “Genesis”, the work of Israeli composer Baruch Berliner.

In fact, the concert, performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine, was the trigger for the creation of “The Address on the Wall,” the hour-long documentary film that returns to the Holocaust of the Jews of Kiev. Ansky was filmed at various locations in the city doing his own little research on the history of Ukrainian Jews and the terrible massacre at Babi Yar. As Ansky walked the streets of modern Kyiv, he found it hard to imagine that 75 years ago Nazi soldiers were walking the same streets. At the concert, the connection between him and Slutsker and Ukrainian director Krutsenko was formed. The film they created describes the speed and drama with which Jewish life changed from the day the Nazis entered Kiev, and their miserable fate during the harsh and violent period of the war, and the massacre in which some 100,000 of Kiev’s Jews were murdered.

Out of the chaos emerge several characters who have been invited together to the war and into the plot of the film, each in its circumstances. For example, the German soldier Hans, who was taken to the Nazi army against his will and dragged into the machine of war and inevitable violence. In contrast to Nazi brutality, we witness his naïve and delicate feelings wordlessly forming between him and a beautiful young Jewish girl as she embarks on her final journey, and neither of them has any idea where the killing machine will take them.

The Address on the wall, photo courtesy of Nachum Slutzker


Contemporary and Ancient

The film “The Address on the Wall” raises questions and wonders like, Who are we? Why have we been murdering each other’s brothers since the dawn of our existence? Who am I, Cain or Abel? This is the question of questions and we must choose where we go – questions that are current even today. The film ends with the epilogue “God Full of Mercy”, a new melody by Berliner, commemorating the victims of the Holocaust.

Slutzker: “We ask in the film why humans become monsters? There’s a scene where you see a car driving and it says ‘bread’ on it. We talked to a historian there and they told us that the Nazis murdered so many people that at one point they had a pity for the bullets, so they put them in cars for transporting bread and pumped gas into them. And you say, where does this evil come from? How is that possible?”

How would you define this cinematic work stylistically?

“The film is such a fusion, a combination of drama, documentary and musical, and it also has philosophical and religious elements. It is both contemporary and ancient. We go back and forth in time.”

Why did the Soviets hide the massacre for many years?

“The Russians always wanted to tell about all the barbaric acts committed by the Nazis, but they didn’t want to publish this story and I don’t know why. Then, one day there was heavy rain in Babi Yar. There was a park where kids played. Following the rain, the earth moved and skeletons and skulls emerged from it, and then the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, whom Alex Ansky knew and even met in Israel, wrote his poem. He arranged for it to be published in a literary newspaper, but his editor was fired as a result. Yevtushenko also insisted that it be published in the West, and then it suddenly resonated. As a result, Yevtushenko became a hero of the people and the editor who was fired was reinstated.”

“Both Israel and Ukraine have changed, but what hasn’t changed is the memory and behavior of the Nazis and their supporters during World War II,” says journalist-actor-host Alex Ansky. “This thing was going to be deleted, so our film, the idea and the production, came to remind us of what was done there at the end.”

Can we forget the massacre of 100,000 Jews?

“Today it’s a blooming public park, people play sports and their morning runs there. There is no trace of what happened there, except for one monument and three inscriptions. The monument came to commemorate the victory of the Soviet army over the Nazis. But the film recreates the terrible days when this massacre was committed. This is our contribution to the preservation of memory.”

In one scene in the film, Ansky is seen approaching the tombstone with an icon in it’s head whose essence is unclear, and asking: “What do you see here?” And at the sight of one of the stones, on which 100,000 is written in Yiddish, he responds with astonishment: “100,000? No prayer? Without saying?!…” He then says in voiceover: “The exact number of Jews who survived the massacre is unknown. According to some sources, ten survived, out of more than 100,000.”

Alex Ansky, the Address on the wall, photo courtesy of Nachum Slutzker


“They too got their hit”

The film actually presents the terrible truth beyond the dry facts.

“In the film there are scenes of what was done there, and among other things you see on the wall a statue of a child looking at a statue and an inscription that appears on the wall, saying that all Jews have to show up at this and that hour at the train station with one suitcase. Lock their apartments and register. They didn’t know where they were being led. They were sent to death. It was a death march even before the concentration camps.”

What is astonishing to this day is that the facts were hidden until Yevtushenko published them.

“Yevtushenko actually brought it to the cultural consciousness of the world. Until then, historians had documented it. Yevtushenko hung out in Babi Yar with several people, writers and poets, and when they heard what had happened, they were blown away. They were shocked. Then he wrote his poem, and because of the words he wrote, and the way he distributed them in a Soviet newspaper and around the world, it resonated. The question arose, what did the Soviet Union do? Was there an account with the murderers? Did humanity judge them?

“Well, what the Soviet Union did at that time was they let the forest and the garden rehabilitate, and that’s what happened with the graves of the people who were slaughtered. It is not known if they were buried at all. They were probably just covered by the ground. And when I walk around there, like you saw in the movie, slowly I remember how they did it. They brought the people in bread trucks, pointed the exhaust inside and started the engine, and the people choked. That’s what they did.

Some call what happened to us a small holocaust.

“A small holocaust? I’m not sure I would have joined that definition. This reduces the uniqueness and singularity of a Holocaust of the magnitude from which we suffered during World War II. But what happened in the Gaza envelope, and still continues, is no less then murder. There is a disaster here, a Black Saturday that has been going on for more than three months. And it takes place day by day and hour by hour. I understand those who spend at least a third of the day sitting in front of the TV. And people don’t live in their homes yet, but in hotels. This is from inner exile. People became refugees within their homeland. People in the area celebrated Simchat Torah and others came to dance and rejoice. And everything they thought would never happen again, happened. That’s why the film is called ‘The Address on the Wall’. It’s like this hologram telling people, look what might happen if you don’t act wisely. A disaster will happen.
“The film is prepared for screening on the International Remembrance Day for what happened. But it has continued to happen ever since in the world in all sorts of places. Somehow things are forgotten and moved on, and it happens again and again. Look what happened to Israel. They said never again, but behaved wrong. Behaved arrogantly, didn’t make the right decisions. They said we were strong. That Israel is an empire. I don’t think Israel is an empire. On the map you can hardly see it. Such a thing takes and shakes an entire nation, an entire country and an entire people. It’s a dream that lasted for a while and now it’s being undermined. Some say that if they don’t stop in time and don’t change the floppy disks in time, the music that was once heard will still be heard today.”

The film will be screened on Friday, January 26 at 12:00 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque