Babi Yar In Kyiv: A Living Holocaust Memorial

Holocaust in Kyiv in 1941-1943

In the autumn of 1941, one of the gravest massacres in human history occurred in a ragged ravine on the outskirts of the Nazi-occupied Kyiv. More than a hundred thousand Jews – nearly 34 thousand in two days – were annihilated by the Nazis at Babi Yar in the Second World War.

On September 28, a few days after the occupation of Kyiv by the Nazis,  announcements in Russian, Ukrainian and German were posted all over the city:

“All the Yids (Jews) of the city of Kyiv and its vicinity must appear on Monday, September 29, 1941, by 8 a.m. at the corner of Melnikova and Dokhterivska streets (next to the cemetery). Everyone must bring documents, money and valuables, and also warm clothing, bed linen etc. Any Yids who do not follow this order and will be found elsewhere will be shot. Any civilians who enter the dwellings left by Yids and appropriate their things will be shot”.

Such announcements in Russian, Ukrainian, and German were posted all over Kyiv.

The Jewish people decided to go because they thought they would be evacuated by train as the railway station was nearby. Nobody could possibly assume there would be a mass execution.

Nowadays, standing there in Babi Yar, it is difficult to imagine how many people died there and the horror that those people must have witnessed in the moments before they were murdered. And I am deeply convinced that everyone, regardless of nationality should visit this place.

In 1976, this memorial commemorating all victims of the Nazi regime at Babi Yar was erected without making specific mention of the Jewish victims. The central figure of the monument is a Soviet soldier.

If you ask a taxi driver in Kyiv to bring you to Babi Yar in most of the cases they will drive you to the area with the monument of a Soviet soldier dedicated to commemorating all victims of the Nazi regime at Babi Yar. But this place is not connected with the massacre of Jews. In general, there are nearly 20 places of mass shootings in the overall area of Babi Yar.

One of the biggest ravines where the massacre of Jewish people occurred is located in the other part of the big territory of this park. In the picture below you can see one of the real ravines. Jews were brought in groups of 30-40 people, their personal belongings were taken away. After that, they were ordered to undress and driven with sticks to the edge of the ravine 20-25 meters deep they were shot.

One of the real ravines of mass murders of Jews in 1941 in Babi Yar.

Originally, this ravine was 10 meters further but in 1943 when the Nazis began retreating they tried to destroy the traces of the terrible crimes and they used explosives to blow the ravine along the edges.

The ravine where the massacre occurred is located just behind the menora monument in the forest.

Not far from the menora monument is located the corner of the streets (next to the cemetery) where the Jewish people were asked to gather on the first day of shootings, on September 29. Nowadays, people usually walk along with this alley silent. No words can ever express the sadness we all feel.

Those eyewitnesses who survived in that terrible event told that when the groups of Jewish people approached this place closer they could hear the gunfire and blood-curdling screams. They started realizing what was going on. But it was impossible to return back, behind the line of people was standing the squad of Nazi soldiers with guns and dogs.

Memorial to the children murdered in Babi Yar.

The number of all murdered people in Babi Yar does not include children under the age of three, who were also killed there but were not counted. Nazi begrudged bullets for the children and instead of shooting they buried them alive.

On the photo above you can see a small monument in memory of those whose life was cut short during the Second World War before they could grow up – Jewish children. In the bronze monument is immortalized a little girl with outstretched hands, surrounded by broken toys. The sculptor Valeriy Medvedev was present during the excavations in Babi Yar where such toys were found. So he included some of those toys into the sculptural composition of the monument.

On the original monument to the murdered gypsies was a sculpture of a crucified Roma.

Not far from the central alley there is one more memorable sign – a bronze Roma van brought to the capital from Kamenets-Podolsky. It is installed in honor of the Roma who were murdered in Babi Yar. In 1941 not far from this area was located a horse market with two Roma encampments. And they were the first victims of mass destruction in Babi Yar in September 1941.

The composition represents a Roma van, which has always been a symbol of the free and nomadic Roma life. The full-size van stands on a pedestal of stones. It was riddled with automatic gunfire. It is wrapped with a garland of forged metallic flowers. On the plates, there are the inscriptions in the Gypsy and Ukrainian languages: “To the Romas, annihilated by fascists 1940-1945”.

Poem about Babi Yar

“No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A drop sheer as a crude gravestone.
I am afraid.
Today I am as old in years as all the Jewish people.
Now I seem to be a Jew.
Here I plod through ancient Egypt.
Here I perish crucified, on the cross, and to this day I bear the scars of nails…”

These are lines from the famous poem “Babi Yar” by a poet, novelist, actor, and screenwriter Yevgeny Yevtushenko. When in 1961 Yevgeny visited Babi Yar for the first time (together with Anatoliy Kuznetsov who actually witnessed how Jewish people were gathered and took to Babi Yar) he was shocked that there was no monument to commemorate the murdered people in Babi Yar. Moreover, in the place of mass shootings was a dump.

All this affected the poet so much that he wrote a poem in just a few hours, sitting in a hotel in Kyiv, where he was supposed to give his recital. The next day, Evtushenko publicly read a new poem in Kyiv. The poem “Babi Yar” became one of the elements of a breakthrough of the twenty years lasting silence about this tragedy. In the poem, he denounced the Soviet distortion of historical fact regarding the Nazi massacre of the Jewish population in Babi Yar in September 1941.

There are tragedies, the immensity of which makes words powerless. In Babi Yar, it feels to avoid words and think it all silently. Let the memory revive in our souls and let our minds be filled with the desire to know, to understand, and to remember those horrific events in Kyiv in September 1941.


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2 thoughts on “Babi Yar In Kyiv: A Living Holocaust Memorial”

  1. Victoria, I read all the remarkable information you posted about Babi Yar and the many memorials there–thank you very much! I plan to visit Babi Yar when I am in Kiev for a few days in September and the information you posted will be very, very helpful as I plan my trip.

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