Blinken shares stepfather’s Babyn Yar story 80 years after massacre

“The only thing that ever stands between us and atrocities is our fellow human beings,” said Antony Blinken.

By Josh Plank, World Israel News

In an official statement on the 80th anniversary of the Babyn Yar massacre, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told how his stepfather once convinced a Soviet delegation to pay a visit to the Ukrainian ravine where 33,771 Jews were murdered in two days.

“I have been thinking a lot about why my stepfather urged the delegations to visit Babyn Yar,” Blinken said, referring to the day in 1971 when his stepfather, Samuel Pisar, urged a “hostile” Soviet delegation to join an American delegation at the site.

“I believe it was because he knew that one of the most powerful ways to conquer hatred is to show people where it leads – its human consequences,” Blinken said.

“And he knew the power of changing the mind of even a single member of that Soviet delegation, because the only thing that ever stands between us and atrocities is our fellow human beings. For just as people have the capacity to be perpetrators, so can they be righteous,” he said.

Pisar, a Jew born in Poland in 1929, had lost almost everyone he loved in the Holocaust. He survived Auschwitz, Dachau, and several other concentration camps.

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In 1971, he joined a small delegation of Americans for the off-the-record conference with a Soviet delegation in Kyiv.

“From the outset, the remarks from much of the Soviet delegation were hostile and rife with anti-Semitism,” said Blinken.

He said Soviets gave a tour of Kyiv, focusing on the city’s heroism in World War II, “without once mentioning the Jews.”

According to Blinken, Pisar said, “The numbers on my arm began to itch.”

Pisar decided to give an impromptu address to the delegates on the dangers of anti-Semitism, and he urged the groups to visit Babyn Yar.

Blinken said the Soviet delegation didn’t immediately respond to the suggestion, but quietly joined the American delegation at the site later that day, where there was “nothing to tell of the infamous mass grave under the newly planted birch trees.”

“After that visit, my stepfather said, the tone of the dialogue softened considerably,” Blinken said.