This Day in Jewish History |

1941: Nazis Massacre Jews at Babi Yar

September 30, 1941, was the second and final day of the mass killing of 33,771 Jews that took place in a Kiev ravine.

David Green
David B. Green
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A Jewish choir performs at the monument at the Babi Yar, scene of Nazi massacres. Many Ukrainians wish that more Jews had been sent there.
A Jewish choir performs at the monument at the Babi Yar, scene of Nazi massacres. Many Ukrainians wish that more Jews had been sent there.Credit: AP
David Green
David B. Green

September 30, 1941, was the second and final day of the notorious Babi Yar massacre of Jews, one of a series of mass killings undertaken by the Germans in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev during World War II. Babi Yar is the name of a ravine in the northern part of the city.

Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, and took control of Kiev on September 19 of that year. In the first days of the occupation, two large explosions took place: One destroyed the German command post, and the other hit the city center. The attacks were used as a pretext by the Germans for the roundup of Jews, although they had been carried out by Soviet forces.

At the time, some 60,000 Jews remained in Kiev, as some 100,000 had fled in advance of the approaching Nazi forces. On September 28, an order was posted instructing all “Yids” to appear at the corner of Melnikova and Doktorivska streets by 8 A.M. the following day. They were told to bring warm clothes and essential valuables.

The official report of Einsatzgruppe C, the mobile killing squad entrusted with operations in the Kiev area, noted that although only a fraction of the city’s remaining Jews had been expected to show up on September 29, in fact, more than 30,000 came. According to the account, “until the very moment of their execution, [they] still believed in their resettlement, thanks to an extremely clever organization.”

President Shimon Peres, center, at a memorial ceremony at Babi Yar.Credit: Moshe Milner / GPO

Over a 36-hour period, the Jews were marched to the Babi Yar ravine and killed. After being ordered to remove all of their clothes and valuables, and place the items in separate piles, the victims were driven in groups of 10 through a corridor of soldiers on both sides, into the ravine. There they were instructed to lie down on the piles of bodies of those who had already been murdered, and were then shot to death by police marksmen.

On the evening of September 30, the walls of the ravine were undermined, so that they collapsed inward, burying the dead under a layer of earth. According to the Einsatzgruppe report, the death toll numbered 33,771 Jews. Although measures had been taken to confirm the deaths of all those who were in the ravine, at least 29 victims are known to have survived.

During the months that followed, Babi Yar was the site of a number of other mass murders, most of them of civilians of other ethnic minorities, including a large number of Roma (Gypsies). A rough estimate of the total killed at the ravine by the Germans is 100,000, but the figure could be far higher.

Later, before retreating from Kiev, in 1944, the Germans went to pains to exhume and burn the bodies buried in Babi Yar. They then scattered the ashes around the region.

It was not until 1976 that the Soviet Union, which regained control of Ukraine following defeat of the Third Reich, would allow any sort of memorial at the site at all. And when commemoration was permitted, in the form of the Monument to Soviet Citizens and POWs, no reference was made to the fact that the Jews were singled out for victimization. The first monument that did acknowledge the fate of the Jews – a seven-branched menorah – was installed only after the fall of the Soviet Union, in 1991.

This past July, the World Forum of Russian-Speaking Jews announced its plan to construct a memorial museum and synagogue at the site in the coming years.

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