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This Month in Holocaust History – At the JFR – September 2023

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This Month in Holocaust History – September

Babyn Yar (Photo courtesy of USHMM)
Aerial photograph of the Babyn Yar ravine taken by the German air force (Photo courtesy of USHMM, # 23810)

The Babyn Yar Massacre

On September 19, 1941, German forces entered Kyiv, the capital of Soviet Ukraine, after the Soviet Union was invaded by the German army in June of 1941. Approximately 160,000 Jews lived in the city, making up a significant proportion of the population. Before the invasion of Kyiv about 100,000 Jews were able to flee, while 60,000-70,000 Jewish mothers, children, and the elderly remained in the city. A few days after the German occupation, the NKVD (Narodny Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del, the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs), the Soviet secret police agency, orchestrated two major explosions, obliterating the buildings of the German army headquarters and part of the city of Kyiv in the process.

The Germans used this sabotage as the reason to punish and murder the rest of the Jews that resided in Kyiv. On September 28, 1941, German officers released an announcement in the local newspaper, ordering all the Jews in Kyiv to report to the corner of Melnikova and Dekhterivskaya Streets with their personal belongings, valuables, linens, and documents on September 29, 1941. Any Jewish person who refused to follow these orders would be shot. This announcement did not seem to hint of any danger to the Jews who read it, as most of the population believed that they were being transferred or resettled into another area. Many Jews complied, thinking it would be safer to obey, not knowing that they would be shot and killed in a ravine called Babyn Yar, northwest of the city.

According to the reports by Einsatzgruppe C, the mobile killing unit that followed the Wehrmacht into the area, 33,771 Jews were massacred in Babyn Yar over the course of the next two days, which included Yom Kippur, making this one of the largest mass killings during World War II in one location. The victims, mostly elderly Jews, were marched in small groups in a line into the ravine, guarded by SS and German police units and their auxiliaries. They were forced to take off their clothes, and were then machine-gunned into the ravine and covered with dirt and rock once the massacre ended on September 30. For the next two years, thousands of Jews, Russian prisoners of war, Soviet civilians, and Soviet officials were shot and killed at the Babyn Yar ravine. It is estimated that 100,000 people were murdered at Babyn Yar over the course of the German occupation. On November 6, 1943, the Soviet army liberated Kyiv.  Survivors of the massacre testified against the members of the German police who were tried for the Babyn Yar crimes in January 1946.

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