Kyiv (Kiev, Kiew) | Kyiv

/ / Order for Kyiv’s Jews to assemble near Babyn Yar, September 28, 1941 © USSHM Local women asking German soldiers what was happening.  At the background the Babyn Yar ravine which was deepened by the Soviet prisoners of war prior to the execution. ©  Johannes Hähle, Bundesarchives German soldiers in the occupied Kyiv. ©  Johannes Hähle, Bundesarchives Johannes Hähle was a professional photographer with the German army. In 1932 he joined the National Socialist Party, and with  the invasion of the Soviet Union he was sent together with the 6th Army in the Propagandakompanie 637 to report from the East. The clothes of the victims mudreded at Babyn Yar ©  Johannes Hähle, Bundesarchives The clothes of the victims mudreded at Babyn Yar ©  Johannes Hähle, Bundesarchives Babyn Yar, Ukraine, SS soldiers next to Jews before their execution, 1941©  Yad Vashem Archives 3521/133 An aerial photograph of the northeastern section of the Babyn Yar ravine taken by the German air force, On September 26,1943. ©  Bundesarchives Babyn Yar, Ukraine, A German policeman searching through clothes of murdered Jews, October 1941. © Yad Vashem Photo archives Babyn Yar, Ukraine, A pit where people were killed. © Yad VAshem Photo archives Id and Fruym Milner-Melnikov, killed at Babyn Yar. © Yad VAshem Photo archives The Syrets camp. The inmates of the camp were used for 1005 operation.© Public domain, Wikipedia

Execution of Jews in Babyn Yar (Babi Yar)

1 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before:
Period of occupation:
Number of victims:
At least 40,000

Witness interview

Vladimir R., a Jewish survivor: « The Jews walked in columns filling the length of the street, the police walked parallel to them. People went there on their own will. You would ask why?! It was only at the beginning of Mechnikov Street that the Jews started to feel like prisoners. The expression « on their own will » is not totally correct. They marched by themselves and nobody forced them out of their homes, but they couldn’t help but respect the Germans’ order which was posted throughout the city, in every yard, on every building. The orders read,-I remember exactly what it was saying, that all of the Jews of Kiev had to show up at the Lukianovskaya area at about 9am, -I don’t remember any more about the exact time, under the pretext of being sent somewhere else for forced labor. Those who did not respect the order would be shot. Those people who sheltered or hid a Jew, as the Germans called them “kike”, would be killed. That is why we can say that the Jews were forced to go there. The local population couldn’t hide them. Although, there were some people who did hide the Jews. These people were recognized as Righteous among the Nation.
YIU: Did the Germans have the lists?
W: Yes, there were lists for sure in every building. There were lists of the occupants that were systematically sent to the municipal administration. The Germans could have taken over those lists.
YIU : Were the lists shared before the war or under the Germans’ order?
W: I don’t know. Until today nobody could find these lists. That is why the exact number of victims is unknown.” (Witness n°236, interviewed in Kyiv, on October 10, 2005)

Soviet archives

“On September 28, 1941, under the orders of the German kommandant, all of the civilians of Jewish origin in the city of Kiev were to come with their valuables to the area of the Jewish cemetery on Lukyanovskaya Street. Respecting the order, I came with my child, and without my belongings, since I knew that we would be exterminated, along with thousands of other citizens of Kiev at the gathering place where an unimaginable, terrible scene was playing out. The huge crowd of people, from nursing infants to elderly people of advanced age, were surrounded by a reinforced guard of German soldiers armed with machine and submachine-guns. […] People with personal belongings were taken aside to a shed, where they were robbed of all their belongings; of gold rings, earrings, broaches, watches, etc. Crying, weeping, and screaming drowned the sounds of everything that was going on at the shooting site. At the same time, the Germans selected, from the crowd, 100-150 people, rushed them to the ravine, the so-called “Babi Yar”, and carried out the mass-shooting by machine and submachine-guns. I too found myself, together with my four and a half-year-old daughter, Lyudochka, in one of the groups selected to be shot. When I, together with others, were brought to the ravine (I was in the middle of this group), we were stopped. The nursing babies and small children were torn from their mothers’ arms and thrown like logs to the side, where they were shot from submachine- and machine-guns. Due to the fact that I was in the middle of the group and it was already dusk, I fell to the ground, without waiting for the shooting to start and I placed my child under me. At that time I heard the machine gun burst and dead and bleeding people fell on top of me. I stayed lying in this position for about two hours until all was quiet, thus remaining alive and saving the life of my child. When it was completely dark, I rose carefully and, making sure that no guards were around, took my child and started to make my way through the bodies to some safe haven in order to save ourselves. Very carefully, at great risk and with much effort, I reached the neighborhood of Babi Yar and hid for four days in one of the cellars. […]” [Deposition of a Jewish survivor, Elena Knysh, born in 1914, given to State Extraordinary commission (ChGK) on March 2, 1944; RG.22-002M:7021-65-235]

German archives

“A few days after our arrival in Kiev, a detachment of about 20 men from Poltava were formed there. I was assigned to this detachment as well. We stayed only for a short time in Poltava and then we, the drivers, were ordered to bring our damaged vehicles to Sonderkommando 4a’s headquarters in Kiev to repair them. There were three of us who went to Kiev. I think we arrived there by evening. Once there, we met with Blobel, who said to us: “Early tomorrow you too will take part […]”. Blobel left it unclear in what way we would take part in. Very early the next morning the squad members were loaded onto a truck and driven to an area outside of Kiev. I, myself, did not have to drive that day. The ride probably lasted half an hour. At the location where we stopped a huge mountain of clothing caught my attention. After we got out of the truck, we were first given some alcohol. It was either grog or rum. Then, I saw a huge ditch that looked like a dried riverbed. There were already many layers of bodies in it. At one place a wooden bridge spanned the ditch. The executions started with several of the members of our squad going down into the ditch. At the same time, about 20 Jews were brought via a connecting path. Other members of the security police were stationed at the ditch and were pre-occupied solely by filling the magazines of submachine-guns with ammunition. The Jews had to lie down on top of the bodies and were then shot in the back of the head. More and more Jews were brought to be shot. The marksmen then climbed out of the ditch and then other groups of the security police, including me, got into the ditch. I then had to act as a marksman for about 10 minutes, having to personally shoot 30 to 50 Jews during that time. I remember that men and women of various ages were shot. I do not know for sure anymore whether there were any children among them. It could be that there were mothers who were holding children in their arms. Most of the Jews were naked. A few were still in their underwear. I believe the shooting on that day lasted until about 3 p.m. Afterwards we returned to our quarters and had lunch.” [From the testimony of Viktor Trill, former driver of Sonderkommando 4a of Einsatzgruppe C, given during the pre-trial against members of the Sonderkommando 4a of Einsatzgruppe C, by the prosecutor’s office in Darmstadt; Barch, BAL, B162-5652]

Historical note

Kyiv is the capital of Ukraine, located in the north-central part of country on the banks of the Dnipro River. The first record of a Jewish community in Kyiv goes back to 930, although since the founding of the community in the 8th century, many Jewish merchants had remained. In the course of the next few centuries the Jewish community didn’t have a chance to grow much due to expulsion and constant rivalry between Jews and Christians. However, by 1809, 452 Jews lived in Kyiv making up about 25% of the total population and by 1815 the population increased to 1,500 Jews. Between 1827 and 1858 residence in Kyiv was either forbidden for Jews or limited only to Jewish merchants who would stay in the city for no more than one day. In 1861, there were two Jewish suburbs granted the right to stay in Kyiv. The first suburb was located in the Lybed district and the other one in Podol. By 1872 13,803 Jews lived in the city comprising 13% of the total population. The majority of Jews were artisans; mainly tailors and carpenters, or were involved in the printing business. There were many merchants among the Jews that were involved in small scale trade of farm products, textiles, clothing, and building materials. There were some wealthy Jewish families who lived off the sugar industry, the Brodsky and Zaitsev families for instance, as well as many physicians, lawyers, and other members of the intelligentsia. There were several pogroms organized in different periods: in 1648, May 1881, October 18, 1905, and in the fall of 1919. During these pogroms, many homes and shops were looted, and in some cases, Jews were murdered. However, the Jewish community continued to grow and became one of the most prosperous in all of Tsarist Russia, which Ukraine was a part of. There were at least two synagogues, one of which was built in 1898, and one kenessa, which was  located on  Yaroslavov Val Street. All of these buildings are preserved today, but only two of them are still used as synagogues. From 1920-1922 the population suffered from typhus and famine which ravaged the city. By 1923 32% of the population was Jewish. In the 1930s many Jewish merchants joined the trade unions, while others engaged in heavy industry. The main language of the Jewish community was Yiddish. On the eve of the war, around 230,000 Jews lived in Kyiv including refugees from occupied Poland. At the time of the German arrival on September 19, 1941, 40-60 thousand Jews remain in the city, including the Jewish refugees who arrived from the west, while thousands of local Jews managed to be evacuated or left on their own. However, the exact number of Jews who lived in the city on the eve of the war remains unknown and very debatable among the scholars.

Holocaust by bullets in figures

The mass execution of Jews started shortly after the German’s arrival, even before Kyiv was taken over by the German civil administration. Under the pretext of being responsible for the explosions that occurred on September 24, 1941, on Kreshatyk and Prorizna streets, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Germans soldiers and officials and the German headquarters was destroyed. The extermination of the Jews started immediately following. On September 28, through notes posted throughout the city, the entire Jewish population of Kyiv was ordered to appear on Monday, September 29, at 8am on the corner of Melnykova and Dekhtiarivska Streets with their valuables, food, and documents, under the pretext of deportation to the work camps. Those Jews, who showed up, according to Einsatzgruppen reports, numbered 33,771. They were taken on Melnykova street toward the Jewish cemetery, located close to the ravine, called Babyn Yar, also known as Babi Yar (Russian), where after being stripped naked, they were shot in groups of tens at its edge. The first mass shooting at Babyn Yar lasted two days and was conducted by Sonderkommando 4a, headed by Paul Blobel, and accompanied by German and local auxiliary police. Those Jews who were not murdered during the two-day massacre of late September 1941 were murdered in the first days of October 1942, by Einsatzkommando 5. There were an additional 1,500 to 3,000 Jews, according to different sources. At least 100 more Jews were killed in November 1941 by the same unit.

In the months following the massacre, the KdS Kiev stationed in Kyiv killed thousands more at Babyn Yar,, including more Jews, as well as non-Jews; including civilians, Sinti and Roma, Communists, Soviet prisoners of war, and Ukrainian nationalists. Most often, the victims would be driven by a gas van twice a week in the area of Babyn Yar and killed there. On October 18,1941, about 300 Jewish patients of the Pavlov psychiatric institution in Kyiv were murdered near Babyn Yar.

In May 1942, a labor camp was created in the Syrets area. It was located close to Babyn Yar. By December it numbered about 2,000 inmates, a third of whom were Jews. The inmates were systematically taken to the area of Babyn Yar and killed. In order to hide the traces of their crimes, the Germans began Operation 1005 under Paul Blobel, who was in command at Babyn Yar. For this operation, prisoners of the Syrets labor camp, Jews and non-Jews, were forced to dig up and burn the bodies. The night of September 28 to 29, 1943, after an organized uprising, a couple of dozen of detainees managed to escape and only 15, nine of whom were Jews, survived until the liberation.

Scholars believe that between 50,000 to 100,000 people were murdered at Babyn Yar, including at least 40,000 Jews. Additional mass graves were found at Darnytsa, the Syrets camp, and Kyivo-Pecherska Lavra, where a labor camp with young Jewish men (probably Jewish prisoners of war) was located. The city was liberated by the Red Army on November 6, 1943.

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