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An Examination of Religious Ambivalence in Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel by Anatoli Kuznetsov Essay

Updated on May 8, 2013

The Tragedy of Babi Yar

The events of the Babi Yar massacre took place at the end of September in 1941 during Stalin’s reign and during the height of World War II. Religion is seen a bit different in this book from the point of view of an atheist (Kuznetsov) who attended soviet school and “knew for sure that… heaven didn’t exist…” (Kuznetsov 70).

A Monument at Babi Yar
A Monument at Babi Yar

Absence of God

His mother and father raised him to be atheist, despite his grandmother’s trying for him to be religious. Their views relied on the physical. His mother told him, “There is no God. People fly up in the sky in aeroplanes and they've never seen any God there.” (Kuznetsov 49). Most descriptions throughout the book are very matter of fact and leave nothing up to God. It was not God who invaded and killed thousands of innocent people, it was other people. God was not there to save anyone. The ones who were saved were saved because of chance. In the chapter “How Many Times Should I be Shot” he conveys that it was never a matter of God’s will whether people lived or died. It was a matter of chance. He had an equal chance of survival that he did of dying. He wanted to live long enough to see all of the evil doers of Babi Yar and the holocaust die. It would seem as if hate drove his survival, and he never left it up to God.

The Appeal of Religion

However, there is also something about his grandmother’s strong faith that is appealing to the reader. She is kind and cheerful in spite of the atrocities going on around her. She is also aware that the atrocities that are going on are due to corruption in the country even when her husband can’t see the same. Everyone else blindly follows and seems oblivious to some of the evils going on until it is too late. The grandmother gives the family a lot of joy when she has everyone celebrate Easter festivities in peace and gives the family time to have a bit of solace during the peace time. She works so hard to make Easter cakes for the family that she becomes sick. While she is sick lying in bed her medicine bottle breaks which Kuznetsov recognizes that others take to be an He admits to not believing it, but he also says that, “…the damned bottle would have to go and break at that moment!” (Kuznetsov 242). By even bringing it up he is admitting there is something mysterious about his grandmother’s religion and the strange event that occurred. While he won’t admit it, sometimes there are things beyond explanation.

Descriptions of Death

The more morbid descriptions in the book describe human bodies as just material or matter rather than husks that souls used to occupy. There is a feeling of dead humans being treated as just dead animals rather than people who once had souls. The descriptions of the jobs at the dig-site of Babi Yar were very matter of fact and had no emotional connections to it. Kuznetsov describes the “Hookers” as the ones with hooks who dragged bodies out by “sticking the hook under the chin and pulling the lower jaw-bone” (374). This process is described to show how all these people had to disconnect themselves from everything in order to go through this evil that the Nazi’s were putting them through. The other jobs such as prospectors, cloakroom attendants, builders, stokers, crushers, and gardeners are all described without emotion, as if without souls. Whether the atrocities had hardened any part of soul that was there or if they never had souls to begin with are uncertain in this passage, but the fact is that this is tough emotionless work for Topaide and the other prisoners there.

Other Hubs in the Series

This hub is one of a series of hubs on Religion and Atheism in 19th and 20th century Russia and Russian Literature. Please visit the other hubs in this series:

Atheism and Religion in 19th and 20th Century Russia

Religious Ambivalence in The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

Religious ambivalence in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Works Cited

Kuznetsov, Anatoli. Babi Yar A Document in the Form of a Novel. New York: Farrar, Straus Giroux, 1970. Print.


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