Above: A monument stands today in the ravine at Babi Yar
Babi Yar is a ravine in the suburb of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, the site of a notorious massacre of almost 34,000 Jews on September 29-30, 1941, the largest single massacre of its kind during the Holocaust.
The German army occupied Kiev on September 19, 1941. One week later, leading Nazi officials including Maj. Gen. Friedrich Georg Eberhardt and SS and Police Leader Friedrich Jeckeln made the decision to murder the Jews of Kiev. The order was carried out by a Sonderkommando unit commanded by Paul Blobel at Jeckeln’s direction.
Posters were placed around town ordering Jews to assemble outside the cemetery for relocation. Many Jews followed the order, expecting to be relocated by train. The Nazis, with the assistance of Ukrainian police, implemented their plan on the unsuspecting victims. A truck driver later testified to what occurred:
“[O]ne after the other, they had to remove their luggage, then their coats, shoes, and over-garments and also underwear … Once undressed, they were led into the ravine which was about 150 meters long and 30 meters wide and a good 15 meters deep … When they reached the bottom of the ravine they were seized by members of the security police (Schutzpolizei) and made to lie down on top of Jews who had already been shot … 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.”
In the evening, the Germans undermined the wall of the ravine and buried the people under the thick layers of earth. In the months that followed, thousands more were seized and taken to Babi Yar where they were shot. It is estimated that more than 100,000 people were killed in Babi Yar during the Nazi occupation of Kiev.
A concentration camp was set up at Babi Yar, and mass executions continued there until the German forces departed from Kiev. In August and September 1943, in anticipation of fleeing the city, the Nazis ordered several hundred prisoners to exhume and burn the corpses, so that no trace of the crime would remain behind.
From 1941 to 1944, under Nazi occupation of Ukraine, 1.6 million out of 2.7 million Ukrainian Jews perished in the Holocaust. For his war crimes, Nazi commander Paul Blobel was sentenced to death by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal and was hanged in June 1951.