A visit to Babi Yar

Here I stand, looking at the ravine where the killings were done in Babi Yar 1941.

Here I stand, looking at the ravine where the killings were done in Babi Yar 1941.

 To day I visited Babi Yar. I did so also last year, and wrote about it in my Norwegian blog. That year I was well prepared, and had read about it as much as I could. Which in fact, wasn’t much, because this human tragedy is still a rather well kept secret. Most of the guide books about Kiev or the Ukraine don’t mention it at all, and those which do, do not tell how to find the place.

It is a shameful history, that of Babi Yar, and the shame still go on, I think, in some way. Babi Yar is a small ravine in the north western part of Kiev, the capitol of Ukraine. Ukraine was as part of the Soviet empire invaded by the Germans in operation Barbarossa starting from june 22, 1941. By that time, most of continental Europe was already in German hands, and the Nazis were struggling about the problem what to do with all the Jews.

The problem got huge when the Nazis invaded Poland with it’s 3 million Jews, and incomprehensible when they invaded the Soviet Union with Jews everywhere. As we all know, the SS established einzatsgruppen to straight out shoot the Jews, but the operations turned out slow and the elite soldiers of Hitler should have better things to do, than to shoot Jewish olds, women and children. The final solution was as we all know the gas chambers of Chelmno, Sobibor, Belzec, Majdanek, Treblinka and Auschwitz,  but until then there was a lot of terrible executions by gun shots. And Babi Yar was the worst of them all.
Kiev – in which at the time lived a population of approximately 875 00 people, among which 20 % were Jews – was attacked and conquered between 23’rd of August and 26’th of September 1941. An inconceivable number of 665 000 inhabitants were captured as prisoners of war by the Germans, more than twice the numbers of equally staggering Soviet defeats in Minsk, Smolensk and other cities. The German victory was astonishing.
But there were problems with the Jewish population. It was too large, and there was no Ghetto around, neither did it seem to be any plan by the Germans of building one near Kiev. So what should they do? 20 % of 875 000 is 195 000, far too many to shot down straight or to control easily within ordinary city borders. And in 1941 there existed no concentration camps designed for Jews, no termination camps, nowhere to send them, no Auschwitz.
The solution were chosen in typical Nazi-manner. Parallels are to be found several places, but not in such a scale in Kiev. There were some gun shots and explosions in Kreshchatik, the main street of Kiev, some hundred germans were killed, and the Nazis took immidatly action. They caught a Jew trying to cut a water hose used to deal with the fires, and blamed the citys Jewish population for all the sabotage. An order were given for all the Jews to meet at the corner of Melnikova and Dokhturova streets, those found elsewhere would be immidiatly shot. As they often did, the Germans also ordered the Jews to bring their belongings, so as to make them believe they were to be taken somewhere to live there, and also to make it easier for themselves to gather their belongings.
Faced with the alternative of being shot, the Jewis population of Kiev followed the German instruction and met as they were told. They didn’t know they were to be shot anyway. Instead of being led to the station to be transported to labor camps elsewhere,  they were led to the ravine of Babi Yar, where everything was ready for the terrible mass murder to come. The Jews were split into groups, which where told to undress, and standing naked for their SS elite troup executioners they were shot down for two full days, 29’th and 30’th of September 1941. According to German numbers, which are probably to excact to be accurate, 33 771 people were killed theese two days. Not even Auschwitz could be as effective.
This is a shame to human History, and the aftermaths are also a shame. The ruthless killings done by the einsatz groups in the western part of the Soviet union in the fall of 1941 and further on, are now overshadowed by the even worse industrial killings in the concentration camps.
This is a monument for the Children killed in Babi Yar, Kiev, Ukraine.

This is a monument for the Children killed in Babi Yar, Kiev, Ukraine.


Babi Yar is part of a shameful history, both because of the action itself, but also because of how it was handled afterwards.

The killings in Babi Yar is some of the worst which have been seen on the face of the earth. It is also among the biggest killings of jews ahead of the gas chambers.

This road in the park leads to the Menorah-shaped monument in Babi Yar.

This road in the park leads to the Menorah-shaped monument in Babi Yar.

I had been in Kiev twice until I finally got to know how to get there. It is actually rather easy, take the green line north to the second to last stop, Dorohozhychi, it is called. There you will find a huge park to the right, there is also the TV-tower in sight, but there is not a single sign to show that on this spot some of the worst killings in human history happened.

The memorial plate in Babi Yar is written in Ukrainian, Hebraic and English. Not Russian...

The memorial plate in Babi Yar is written in Ukrainian, Hebrew and English. Not Russian...

Last year I had to ask my way to find it, and none was really interested in showing me the way, or try to understand my question, all though my Russian is not that bad. For a long time there was no memorial here at all. Now there are only a few. There are no tourists, no nothing. If you didn’t know it beforehand, you would have no idea about standing in a historical place.

Memorials are political. That is for sure.


2 Responses to A visit to Babi Yar

  1. dmbaldwin says:

    Thank you for this account of your visit to Babi Yar. I read a lot about what happened there and then in November of 2006 I visited the site. It was overwhelming and quite sad. You are right, it is not a well known event in history.

  2. Vincent says:

    I also have to thank you. This is the only page I could find with Google about how to get there. Of course I looked at the site with Google maps, but there are no metro stations plotted.
    It’s a shame that Ukraine does not care about this part of their history, because they (the president) doesn’t see it as a part of “their” history.
    Anyway, I will visit the site, maybe today.
    Best wishes,

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