Babyn Yar (or Babi Yar in English) is a ravine in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. It is here that one of the biggest single massacres of WW2 was carried out by Nazi Germany's forces against the Jewish population of Kyiv and it's surroundings. The massacres took place on 29 to 30 September 1941, murdering 33.771 innocent Jews by mass shootings.
The massacre was the largest mass murder of Jews at a single location during world war 2 to that date, under the rule of the Nazi regime and its Ukrainian collaborators. It is only surpassed overall by the later 1941 Odessa massacre of more than 50.000 Jews in October 1941 (committed by German and Romanian troops) and by Aktion Erntefest of November 1943 in occupied Poland with 42.000 - 43.000 victims. Victims of later massacres at the site of Babi Yar included Jews, Soviet prisoners of war, communists, Ukrainian nationalists, Roma and other so called 'enemies of the Reich'.
German forces occupied Kyiv on 19 September 1941. Between 20 and 28 September. On two occasions explosives caused extensive damage in the city. These explosions destroyed the German headquarters and the city center near Khreshchatyk Street. A large number of German soldiers and officials were killed in the blasts. Though the explosions were caused by mines left by retreating Soviet soldiers and officials, the Germans used this 'sabotage' as a pretext to murder those Jews who still remained in Kyiv. Two days later, on 26 September, the military governor General major Kurt Eberhard, the Police Commander for Army Group South, SS-Obergruppenführer Friedrich Jeckeln, and the Einsatzgruppe C Commander Otto Rasch. Sonderkommando 4a a sub unit of Einsatzgruppe C. They made it look like a reatlation for the explosions. Documents however showed that this anihalation of the Jews was carefully planned ahead of time. The mass-murder was to be carried out by units under the command of Paul Blobel (commander of Sonderkommando 4a part of Einzatzgruppe C which was in turn commanded by Dr. Dr. Otto Rash). These men were ultimately responsible for many atrocities in Soviet Ukraine during the summer and autumn of 1941.
The implementation of the order was entrusted to Sonderkommando 4a of Einsatzgruppe C commanded by SS-Standartenführer Blobel, under the general command of SS-Obergruppenführer Friedrich Jeckeln. This unit consisted of Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo), the third company of the Special Duties Waffen-SS battalion, and a platoon of the 9th Police Battalion. Sonderkommando 4a of Einsatzgruppe C and Police Battalion 45, commanded by Major Besser, conducted the massacre, supported by members of a Waffen-SS battalion. Contrary to the "myth of the clean Wehrmacht", the Sixth Army under the command of Field Marshal Walter von Reichenau worked together with the SS and SD to plan and execute the mass-murder of the Jews of Kyiv.
All Yids of the city of Kiev and its vicinity must appear on Monday, 29 September, by 8 o'clock in the morning at the corner of Mel'nikova and Dokterivskaya streets (near the Viis'kove cemetery). Bring documents, money and valuables, and also warm clothing, linen, etc. Any Yids who do not follow this order and are found elsewhere will be shot. Any civilians who enter the dwellings left by Yids and appropriate the things in them will be shot.
- Posted in Kyiv in Russian, Ukrainian, and German
On 29 and 30 September 1941, the Nazis and their collaborators murdered 33.771 Jewish civilians at Babi Yar. The difficulties resulting from such a large scale action in particular, concerning the seizure, were overcome in Kiev by requesting the Jewish population through wall posters to move. Although only a participation of approximately 5.000 to 6.000 Jews had been expected at first, more than 35.000 Jews arrived who, until the very moment of their execution, still believed in their resettlement, thanks to an extremely devious propaganda. From the cemetery, the Jews were marched into the ravine only two miles from the center of the city.
A truck driver at the scene described what he saw:
I watched what happened when the Jews (men, women and children) arrived. The Ukrainians led them past a number of different places where one after another they had to remove their luggage, then their coats, shoes, and clothes and also underwear. They had to leave their valuables in a designated place. There was a special pile for each article of clothing. lt all happened very quickly. I don't think it was even a minute from the time each Jew took off his coat before he was standing there completely naked.Once undressed, the Jews were led into the ravine which was about 150m lang and 30m wide and a good 15m deep. When they reached the bottom of the ravine they were seized by members of the Schutzpolizei and made to lie down on top of Jews who had already been shot. That all happened very quickly. The corpses were literally in layers. A police marksman came along and shot each Jew in the neck with a submachine gun. I saw these marksmen stand on layers of corpses and shoot one after the other. The marksman would walk across the bodies of the executed Jews to the next Jew who had meanwhile lain down and shoot him.
From: Himmler's Death Squad - Einsatzgruppen in Action, 1939–1945 (Ian Baxter)
The murder method described was a result of the experiences that Friedrich Jeckeln had gained during the mass murder in Kamenets - Podolsky in August 1941. Because the victims were piled up like sardines, Jeckeln called his method 'Sardinenpackung'. The riddled bodies were covered with thin layers of earth and the next groups were ordered to lie over them, to be similarly murdered. To carry out the murder of 33.771 people in the space of two days could not assure that all the victims had died. So there were a few who survived and, though badly wounded, managed to crawl from under the corpses and seek a hiding place. One of the executioners was Kurt Werner, a member of Sonderkommando 4a. Werner was present early in the morning in Babi Yar.
“As soon as I arrived at the execution site, I was sent down with other men to the bottom of the ravine. It was not long before the first Jews were brought to us over the edge of the ravine. The Jews had to lie face down on the ground near the canyon walls. There were three groups of archers at the bottom of the ravine, each consisting of twelve men. Groups of Jews were simultaneously sent down to these execution units. Each successive group of Jews had to lie on top of the bodies of those who had already been shot. The gunmen stood behind the Jews and killed them with a shot in the neck. I still remember the utter misery of the Jews when they reached the top of the ravine and saw the bodies. Many Jews cried out in agony. It's impossible to imagine the nerves of steel it took to do this filthy job down there. It was horrible.”
- Kurt Werner, member of the Sonderkommando 4a
Werner's self-pity is of course, completely selfish and absurd. The Einsatzgruppen however also understood how 'mentally heavy' the task for the men was. That is why they worked in shifts. In the evening, the Germans mined the wall of the ravine and buried the people under the thick layers of earth. According to the Einsatzgruppe's Operational Situation Report, 33.771 Jews from Kyiv and its suburbs were systematically shot dead by machine-gun fire at Babi Yar on 29 and 30 September 1941. The money, valuables, underwear, and clothing of the murdered were turned over to the local ethnic Germans and to the Nazi administration of the city. Wounded victims were buried alive in the ravine along with the rest of the bodies.
It is estimated that around 50.000 (Soviet accounts even speak of 100.000 dead) people were murdered at Babi Yar. The Germans continued to commit mass murders at Babi Yar until the Soviets re-took control of Kyiv in 1943. During this period, Germans shot Jews, as well as Roma, Ukrainian civilians, Soviet POW's and other so called 'Enemies of the Reich'. The true number may never be known.
It not until 1974 that the victims of the Babi Yar massacre received a memorial.
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“It was very narrow – about five feet wide. The soldiers were lined up shoulder to shoulder with their sleeves rolled up, each brandishing a club. When people walked by they were beaten. It was impossible to jump sideways or run away. Brutal blows, which immediately caused bleeding, came from left and right to their heads, backs and shoulders.
The soldiers kept shouting, "Quick, quick!" and laughed happily, as if they were watching a circus act. Everyone started screaming and the women screamed. It was like a scene in a movie; briefly, Dina watched a young man she knew from her street, an intelligent, well-dressed boy, cry. She saw people fall to the ground. The dogs were immediately put on them.
One man managed to get up with a loud scream, but others remained lying on the ground as people were pushed forward and the crowd continued, walking over the bodies and kicking them into the ground.”
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