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, mostly civilians, of whom a significant number were Jews, were murdered by the Nazis there during World War II.
The Babi Yar ravine was first mentioned in historical accounts in 1401, in connection with its sale by "baba" (an old woman), the cantiniere, to the Dominican Monastery. In the course of several centuries the site had been used for various purposes including military camps and at least two cemeteries, among them an Orthodox Christian cemetery and a Jewish Cemetery. The latter was officially closed in 1937.
More than thirty thousand Kievan Jews gathered by the cemetery, expecting to be loaded onto trains for deportation. The commander of the Einsatzkommando reported two days later:
The crowd was large enough that most of the men, women, and children could not have known what was happening until it was too late: by the time they heard the gunfire, there was no chance to escape. According to the testimony of truck driver Hofer:
All were driven down a corridor of soldiers, in groups of ten, and then shot. Anatoly Kuznetsov described the massacre:
Victims were then ordered to undress, beaten if they resisted, and then shot at the edge of the Babi Yar gorge. According to the Einsatzgruppen Operational Situation Report, 33,771 Jews from Kiev and its suburbs were systematically shot dead by machine-gun fire at Babi Yar on September 29 and September 30, 1941.
In the evening, the Germans undermined the wall of the ravine and buried the people under the thick layers of earth.
The implementation of the decision to kill all the Jews of Kiev was entrusted to Sonderkommando 4a. This unit consisted of SD and Sipo, the third company of the Special Duties Waffen-SS battalion, and a platoon of the 9th police battalion. The unit was reinforced by police battalions 45 and 305 and by units of the Ukrainian auxiliary police.
The commander of Sonderkommando 4a of Einsatzgruppe C, which carried out the Babi Yar massacre and a number of other mass atrocities in Ukraine during the summer and fall of 1941, was SS-Standartenführer Paul Blobel. A unit of Einsatzgruppe C, Police Battalion 45 commanded by Major Besser, carried out the massacre, supported by members of a Waffen-SS battalion. Units of the Ukrainian auxiliary police, under the general command of Friedrich Jeckeln were used to round up and direct the Jews to the location.
One of the most often-cited parts of Kuznetsov's documentary novel is the testimony of Dina Pronichev, an actress of Kiev Puppet Theater. She was one of those ordered to march to the ravine, forced to undress, and then shot. Jumping before being shot and falling on other bodies, she played dead in a pile of corpses. She held perfectly still while the Nazis continued to shoot the wounded or gasping victims. Although the SS had covered the mass grave with earth, she eventually managed to climb through the soil and escape. Since it was dark, she avoided the flashlights of the Nazis finishing off the remaining people alive, wounded, gasping, in the grave. She was one of the very few survivors of the massacre; she later related her horrifying story to Kuznetsov.
Mass executions in the ravine continued. Roma people were also rounded up and murdered at Babi Yar. Patients of the Ivan Pavlov Psychiatric Hospital were gassed and then dumped into the ravine. Thousands of other civilians were killed at Babi Yar.
Among those murdered were 621 members of Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). Ukrainian poet and activist Olena Teliha and her husband, renowned bandurist Mykhailo Teliha, were murdered there on February 21 1942.
Estimates of the total number of dead at Babi Yar during the Nazi occupation vary. The Soviet estimation stated that there were approximately 100,000 corpses lying in Babi Yar. In 1946, the Soviet prosecutor L. N. Smirnov cited this number during the Nuremberg Trials, using materials of the Extraordinary State Commission set out by the Soviets to investigate Nazi crimes after the liberation of Kiev in 1943.
According to testimonies of workers forced to burn the bodies, the numbers range from 70,000 to 120,000.
In the course of the occupation, the Syrets concentration camp was set up in Babi Yar. There, interned communists, Soviet POWs, and captured Soviet Partisans were murdered. On February 18 1943 three Dynamo Kyiv football players, who took part in the Match of Death with the German Luftwaffe team were also murdered in the camp. It is estimated that 25,000 people died in the camp.
Before the Nazis retreated from Kiev, they attempted to cover up their atrocities. Paul Blobel, who was in control of the mass murders in Babi Yar two years earlier, supervised the Sonderaktion 1005 eliminating its traces. For his war crimes he was sentenced to death by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal in the Einsatzgruppen Trial and was hanged in June 1951.
For six weeks from August to September 1943, more than 300 chained prisoners were forced to exhume and burn the corpses (using headstones put up by locals as bricks with which to build ovens) and scatter the ashes on farmland in the vicinity (to this day many Ukranians will not eat cabbage grown on those local farms.). During the exhumations, a group of prisoners secretly armed themselves with tools and scraps of metal they managed to find and conceal. They picked the locks with keys they found on victims' bodies. Martin Gilbert quotes historian Reuben Ainsztein:
On the night of September 29, 1943, as the camp was being dismantled, an inmate revolt broke out. The prisoners overpowered the guards using their bare hands, hammers and screw drivers. Fifteen people managed to escape. Among them was Vladimir Davіdov, who later served as a witness at the Nuremberg Trials. Among other escapees were Fyodor Zavertanny, Jacob Kaper, Filip Vilkis, Leonid Kharash, I. Brodskiy, Leonid Kadomskiy, David Budnik, Fyodor Yershov, Jakov Steiuk, Semyon Berland, Vladimir Kotlyar. Once Nazi control was re-established in the camp, the remaining 311 inmates were murdered.
Soviet leadership discouraged placing any emphasis on the Jewish aspect of the Babi Yar tragedy; instead, presenting these events as crimes committed against the Soviet people in general and the inhabitants of Kiev. The first draft report of the Extraordinary State Commission (Чрезвычайная Государственная Комиссия), dated December 25 1943 was officially censored in February 1944 as follows:
|Draft version||Published version|
|"The Hitlerist bandits committed mass murder of the Jewish population. They announced that on September 29 1941, all the Jews were required to arrive to the corner of Melnikov and Dokterev streets and bring their documents, money and valuables. The butchers marched them to Babi Yar, took away their belongings, then shot them."||"The Hitlerist bandits brought thousands of civilians to the corner of Melnikov and Dokterev streets. The butchers marched them to Babi Yar, took away their belongings, then shot them."|
In his 1961 book Star in Eclipse: Russian Jewry Revisited, Joseph Schechtman provided an account of the Babi Yar tragedy. In 1966, Anatoli Kuznetsov's Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel was published in censored form in the Soviet monthly literary magazine Yunost. Kuznetsov began writing a memoir of his wartime life when he was 14. Over the years he continued working on it, adding documents and eyewitnesses testimonies. He managed to smuggle 35 mm photographic film containing the uncensored manuscript when he defected and the book was published in the West in 1970.
Several attempts were made to erect a memorial at Babi Yar to commemorate the fate of the Jewish victims. All attempts were overruled. An official memorial to Soviet citizens shot at Babi Yar was erected in 1976. This remembrance is still complicated in the great numbers and many sorts of persons murdered there.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the Ukrainian government allowed a separate memorial specifically identifying the Jewish victims.
The massacre of Jews at Babi Yar has inspired a number of creative ventures. A poem was written by the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko; this in turn was set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich in his Symphony No. 13. An oratorio was composed by the Ukrainian composer Yevhen Stankovych to the text of Dmytro Pavlychko (2006). A number of films and television productions have also marked the tragic events at Babi Yar, and D. M. Thomas's novel The White Hotel uses the massacre's anonymity and violence as a counterpoint to the intimate and complex nature of the human psyche.
In a recently published letter to the Israeli journalist, writer, and translator Shlomo Even-Shoshan dated May 17, 1965, Anatoli Kuznetsov commented on the Babi Yar tragedy:
"In the two years that followed, Russians, Ukrainians, Gypsies, and people of all nationalities were murdered in Babyn Yar. The belief that Babyn Yar is an exclusively Jewish grave is wrong. [...] It is an international grave. Nobody will ever determine how many and what nationalities are buried there, because 90% of the corpses were burned, their ashes scattered in ravines and fields."
Since 1976, a number of monuments have been built to commemorate the numerous events associated with Babi Yar tragedy, including:
(This list is not comprehensive).
Also, there was a proposal to mark the thousands of Roma (Gypsies) killed at Babi Yar by building a monument designed as a Gypsy wagon. However, this plan has not yet gathered a sufficient financial and administrative support.