On this day, The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC) will officially unveil a new symbolic synagogue designed by the renowned architect Manuel Herz to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of the Babyn Yar massacre. The synagogue design takes its inspiration from pop-up books and from the wooden synagogues of Ukraine of the 17th and 18th century.
The symbolic synagogue, which is located near the site of the massacre, is an important component of the BYHMC’s efforts to remember the 34,000 Jewish victims shot at the Babyn Yar ravine by the Nazis in September 1941 and the tens of thousands of Ukrainians, Roma, mentally ill and others shot thereafter throughout the occupation of Kyiv. Called Babyn Yar Symbolic Synagogue, the structure takes its inspiration from the pop-up book. When closed, the building is a flat structure that is manually opened, and then unfolds into the three-dimensional space of the synagogue. It is an imaginative, one-of-a-kind design. Meanwhile, the interior references the wooden synagogues of Ukraine from the 17th and 18th century that have since been destroyed.
The symbolic synagogue is the first construction to be completed in the planned Babyn Yar memorial complex, which will stretch over an area of 150 hectares, making it one of the world’s largest Holocaust memorial centers. A dozen buildings will eventually be erected as part of the complex including: A museum to commemorate the Babyn Yar massacre; a museum to commemorate the Holocaust of Ukrainian and Eastern European Jewry as a whole; a structure depicting the names of the victims; a religious/spiritual center; an educational and scientific research center; a multi-media center; a learning and recreational space for children; an information and conference center and more.
Ilya Khrzhanovsky, BYHMC’s Artistic Director said: “Babyn Yar is a place of memory, history is literally absorbed by the ground here. We need to create a space that makes the story of Babyn Yar close, relevant to anyone, regardless of nationality, gender, age or religion. People who come to this territory will inevitably find themselves inside the knowledge of the Babyn Yar tragedy. The last generation of witnesses is passing away. Some more time, and the direct connection of time will disappear, future generations will lose the opportunity to understand, to know, to feel what happened 80 years ago. The Babyn Yar tragedy and the tragedy of the Second World War fade into history and become an abstraction. Our task is to avoid it.”
Herz, whose architectural practice is based in Switzerland, has completed projects including the Synagogue of Mainz and ‘Ballet Mécanique’ in Zurich with moving facades. Presently under development are a hospital in Tambacounda in eastern Senegal, plus other projects in Europe and Africa. Manuel has published widely on questions of space in Judaism and has taught at the ETH Zürich, Harvard Graduate School of Design, and the University of Basel.
For this project, which remarkably was only conceived at the end October 2020, Herz began with the Siddur (the book of prayers) and the Bible. He says: ‘If we conceptualize the synagogue as a building typology in its purest essence, we can consider it as a book. During the religious service, a congregation comes together, to collectively read a book. The shared reading of the book opens a world of wisdom, morals, history and anecdotes to the congregation. It is this notion that informs the design of the new Babyn Yar Synagogue.’