Babi Yar, the site near Kiev of one of the most horrific crimes of the Nazis, where the Nazis shot and buried tens of thousands of Jews, especially women, the elderly, children and the sick, was one of the largest and deepest Kiev gorges. It was located on the outskirts of Kiev and bordered the grounds of the Jewish cemetery. At the site of most of the shootings, it was about ten meters deep, on the ground it was about ten meters and at the top about 80 meters wide. The length was about half a kilometer.
Among those shot was Velvele, the little Jewish boy on the tricycle on the old photo posted with him. His full name was Valentin Pinkert. He was shot by German murderers in uniform the day before Yom Kippur in 1941.
The Wehrmacht conquered Kiev on September 19, 1941. Just eight days later, on September 27, notices were posted in the city calling on Kiev’s Jews to gather near Babi Yar on Monday morning,September 29. The mass murder already decided by the German Wehrmacht and SS was staged by the Germans as a „resettlement measure“. To deceive about the true intentions of the German occupiers, the victims should bring things necessary for the journey such as passports, money, valuables, warm clothes, laundry, etc.
Of the approximately 930,000 inhabitants of Kiev, about 200,000 were Jews. Many, including Jewish men, had already been drafted into the Red Army.
Left behind by the Jews were primarily women, the elderly, the weak and children. They heeded the German call and gathered at the place indicated on the notices in a number that significantly exceeded The German expectations, in order to be evacuated and resettled, as it was officially called by the German occupiers.
The vast majority of Jews certainly believed this call. „Some said that they were destined for the ghetto, others that they would be loaded onto military trains and taken to Palestine. Almost no one believed that they would be shot,“ recalls S. Ruwim. He was then 15 years old and was one of the few surviving direct witnesses of the war crime of the German conquerors at that time. They had already agreed on the murder of the entire Kiev Jews in a joint meeting of the participants a few days earlier.
For the preparations, the SS and Wehrmacht worked together in a coordinated and trusting manner.
On the side of the SS, men of the Sonderkommando (SK) 4a of the „Einsatzgruppe C“ under SSStandartenführer Paul Blobel as well as members of the Security Service (SD) were placed. The Einsatzgruppen had already been set up specifically to hunt down and shoot masses of Jews in the occupied territory. In addition, men of the Secret Field Police of the Police Regiment South of the German Order Police took part. Also involved were probably the members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists OUN –M ( Melnykisten ), which collaborated with the Germans with regard to their hatred of Jews, and the rival OUN – B of Stepan Banderas, who is still revered by many Western Ukrainians as a national hero today.
Wehrmacht soldiers of the 6th Army under Field Marshal Walter von Reichenau secured the situation. Reichenau had previously expressly welcomed the planned murder operation: „Wehrmacht welcomes measures and asks for radical action,“ he said telegraphically to Berlin.
SS-Obersturmführer August Häfner, who had taken part in the massacre, later testified that the shootings themselves were mostly carried out by SS members.
On the site to which they were taken from the meeting place, the Jews had to undress completely about 300 meters from the gorge. Their valuables were collected, ID cards, photos and other things that the Germans considered superfluous were burned. People were then led to the edge of the gorge. What happened then was described not only by Jews who survived the massacre, but also by SS men in later court proceedings. „It is impossible to describe what was going on in this place, according to surviving eyewitnesses.
The events were dominated by weeping, despair and, above all, begging mothers for mercy for their children. Many lost consciousness.
A witness recalled a completely undressed young Jewish mother who spent her last moments giving her infant the breast. When the baby was thrown alive into the gorge, she jumped behind.
Kurt Werner, a member of the German SK 4, also remembered. He had to 7climb down into the gorge with other men. Then came the first Jews. „They had to lie down with777 their faces facing the earth. There were three groups of shooters in the pit, with a total of about twelve shooters.“
At the same time, new Jews were constantly being introduced. „They had to lie down on the corpses of the Jews who had previously been shot. The shooters each stood behind the Jews and killed them with shots in the neck,“ says Werner. The mountain of corpses continued to grow, the gorge filled with more and more people killed. The desperate cries of the Jews were particularly terrible when they could see for the first time the bleeding corpses of those just shot from the upper edge of the pit.
Kurt Werner did not express any sympathy for the victims later on. But pity for himself and the other men of the Sonderkommando because of the strenuous „dirty work“, as he called the shootings.
Incidentally, for historians, it has been proven after questioning those involved that each and every one of the shooters could have refused without being punished for it, but this was not done by the firing squads deployed.
The shooting took over 36 hours and was not finished until the following day. Based on the exact German accounting, it is known exactly how many Jews the SS men were shot on September 29 and 30, 1941. There were a total of 33,771 murdered Jews. The shooting rate was thus almost 1000 Jewish people per hour.
The SS reported with clear pride the successful execution of the murders of the defenseless victims to the Berlin Reich Security Main Office, the headquarters of the security services, and praised the excellent cooperation with the 6th Army of the Wehrmacht.
The „Event Report No. 101“, which was then produced in Berlin 2 days later, needed only about two dozen sober words to describe this horrific mass murder of defenseless Jewish victims:
„Sonderkommando 4a, in cooperation with the Group Staff and two commandos of the South Police Regiment, executed 33,771 Jews in Kiev on 29 and 30 September 1941.“
More words were not necessary to inform the higher floors of the SS apparatus of the largest single massacre committed by German units during the Holocaust.
After the shootings, the Wehrmacht blew up the side walls of the gorge to dig up the bodies. In 1943, after losing the Battle of Stalingrad, SS Standartenführer Paul Blobel returned to the Site of Horror.
His mission: to dig up the bodies and burn them, because the Nazi leadership feared that the Red Army could reconquer Kiev and wanted to cover up traces of the massacre. However, neither the Russians nor the Ukrainians have shown much interest in clarifying the events for various reasons. Until well into the present, Ukraine, in particular, has found no words of regret for Ukrainian collaboration in the mass murder of Babi Yar and has found it particularly difficult to make it clear that the victims were exclusively innocent Jewish people.
Since in Babi Yar also shootings and assailments of shot Jews were carried out, the number ofcorpses had grown to about 60,000 people by 1943.
The vast majority of the 300 forced laborers who had to carry out the excavations on behalf of the Germans in 1943 were subsequently shot by them. A few managed to escape. They later reported on this cover-up action by the Germans, coded „1005 B“.
Some of those responsible were later brought to justice. The SS-Standartenführer and Einsatzleiter Paul Blobel was sentenced to death at the so-called Einsatzgruppen trial during the Nuremberg Trials and executed in 1951. Field Marshal Reichenau succumbed to a stroke in 1942, city commander Eberhard committed suicide in 1947, and several others were sentenced to prison decades later. Others of the participants came to court, but were considered „unable to negotiate“.
Some Jews also managed to survive the massacre. They had not been fatally hit and remained under the corpses until the Germans had left.
On the basis of the testimonies of the survivors and contemporary witnesses on both sides of the horror, the deliberate and arbitrary shooting of many small children in the arms of their mothers, perpetrated by the German SS with the help of the German Wehrmacht, which exceeds any imagination, and the mass murder of completely innocent Jewish people is documented and documented in detail.
Nowadays practiced by different sides and from different, sometimes very transparent motives, the unculture of Holocaust denial, the relativization of guilt, the victimization of perpetrators, the exculpatory honoring of the Wehrmacht or even just forgetting is deeply disgusting and mendacious.
It does not stand up to the innocent face of Velvele, the little Jewish boy on the tricycle shot with thousands of other children.
Dr. Rafael Korenzecher
(The text and the photo are based on material and articles from Yad Vashem, the FAZ, the Focus and other German and international sources )