Babi Yar: Mass Murder in Kiev

Babi Yar Kiev – Wartime Map

For my September CARR Blog, there can be no other choice but to recall the events of September 1941, when the Germans murdered over 33,000 Jewish men, women, and children in Kiev, at the Babi Yar ravine, in just two days.

On September 19, 1941, the German XXIXth Germany Army Corps and the 6th Army entered Kiev, in the Ukraine. This city had a population of 875,000 people, of which 175,000 were Jews.

On September 24, 1941, and in the following days, several bombs were detonated in Kreshchatik and Prorizna Streets, which destroyed some buildings in the centre of the city, including the army headquarters and the Hotel Continental, where a number of German officers resided. Hundreds of Germans were killed, and the resulting fires destroyed a number of further buildings. These bombs had been placed by Soviet NKVD agents, who had remained in Kiev for this purpose.

German troops caught and executed a Jew on Kreshchatik Street, when he cut a water hose that was being used for fighting the fire. That may have been the excuse the Germans needed to accuse the Kiev Jews of being responsible for the explosions.

The German military commander of Kiev, Generalmajor Eberhardt, attended a meeting with the Höherer SS- und Polizeiführer SS-Obergruppenführer Friedrich Jeckeln, the commanding officer of Einsatzgruppe C, SS-Brigadeführer Dr Otto Rasch, and the commanding officer of Sonderkommando 4a, SS-Standartenführer Paul Blobel. They decided that the appropriate response to this sabotage should be the elimination of all Jews in Kiev.

The infamous massacre was to be carried out by Sonderkommando 4a, consisting of SD and Sipo members, the 3rd company of the Waffen-SS, a platoon of the 9. Polizeibatallion. Police Battalions 45 and 305 of the Polizeiregiment Süd and some Ukrainian auxiliary police troops would reinforce this murder squad.

A large ravine, called Babi Yar, was chosen as the killing site. This ravine was located at the edge of Kiev, around 10 km northwest of the centre of the city, beyond the Lukyanovka Jewish cemetery. On September 26, 1941, the German 637th propaganda company issued an announcement throughout Kiev, published by the printing office of the 6th Army, which ordered the Jews to report within the next three days at Lukianovska, Degtiarska, Lagerna, and Melnikova Streets.

The announcement read:

All Jews living in the city of Kiev and its vicinity must come to the corner of Melnikova and Dokhturovska* Street. (* misspelled version of Dokhturova Street / today Degtiarivska Street) (near the cemeteries) by 8 o’clock on the morning of Monday, September 29, 1941.

They are to bring with them documents, money, valuables, as well as warm clothes, underwear etc. Any Jews not carrying out this instruction and who are found elsewhere will be shot. Any civilian entering apartments left by the Jews and stealing property will be shot.

Thousands of Jews followed this order. In addition, to reinforce the propaganda, the Germans spread rumours that the Jews would be resettled to labour camps. Since the assembly point was situated near the goods station Lukianovska, most Jews believed the rumours.

Guarded by SS, SD, and Ukrainian auxiliaries, the Jews were marched in groups of 100 via Melnikova Street to the Jewish cemetery located near the ravine called ‘Babi Yar.’ The entire surroundings of the ravine had been fenced in with barbed wire and were cordoned off by three rows of troops: The outer circle was manned by Ukrainian police, the second with Ukrainian police and Germans, and the inner circle with German troops only.

At the killing site the Jews were ordered to undress and stack their belongings.  They were then led in groups of 10 to the edge of the ravine. There they were shot (by automatic guns and machine-guns) in front of their fellow sufferers, who were unable to escape.

The witness Iryna Khoroshunova, a resident of Kiev, stated in her diary entry for September 29, 1941:

We still don’t know what they did to the Jews. There are terrifying rumours coming from the Lukianovska Friedhof. But they are impossible to believe. They say the Jews are being shot…

Some people say the Jews are being shot with machine guns, all of them. Others say that 16 train wagons have been prepared and that they will be sent away. Where to? Nobody knows.

Only one thing seems clear: all their documents, things, and food are confiscated. Then they are chased into Babi Yar and there… I don’t know. I only know one thing: there is something terrible, horrible going on, something inconceivable, which cannot be understood, grasped or explained.

Sergey Ivanovich Lutsenko, former guard of the Lukianovska cemetery, testified:

They shot people from morning to night. At night the Germans went to sleep. The rest of the victims were locked in empty garages. This continued for five days. The Nazis brought more and more people, and from there only trucks with people’s clothes returned.

The mass murder of Jews in Kiev lasted until October 3, 1941. During the following months the ravine continued to be used as a killing site for Jews, Ukrainian civilians, Soviet POWs, and Roma and Sinti. According to Soviet sources, 100,000-200,000 people were shot at Babi Yar up until the time that the area was liberated by the Red Army on November 6, 1943.

In the ‘Operations Situation Report of Einsatzgruppe C’ of October 7, 1941, the Germans claimed that 33,771 Jews had been shot in Kiev on September 29 and 30, 1941.

This ‘aktion’ in Kiev stands as one of the most gruesome war crimes ever committed and should never be forgotten.

Mr Chris Webb is a Senior Fellow at CARR and the Founder of Holocaust Historical Society. His profile can be found here:

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