<p>Soviet investigators (at left) view an opened mass grave at <a href="/narrative/5337/en">Babi Yar</a>. Kiev, Soviet Union, 1944</p>

Kiev and Babi Yar

Five-year-old Mania HalefKiev was the capital of the Soviet Ukraine when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Some 160,000 Jews resided in Kiev, comprising about 20 percent of the city's population.

Approximately 100,000 Jews fled Kiev in advance of the German occupation. German forces entered Kiev on September 19, 1941. Along with the rest of the Ukraine, the city was incorporated into the Reichskommissariat Ukraine, headed by East Prussian Nazi district leader Erich Koch.

During the first days of the German occupation, two major explosions, apparently set off by Soviet military engineers, destroyed the German headquarters and part of the city center. The Germans used the sabotage as a pretext to murder the remaining Jews of Kiev. At that time, there were about 60,000 Jews in the city. Most of those who remained were women, children, the elderly, and the sick who had been unable to flee.

Einsatzgruppen massacres in eastern Europe, Babi Yar indicated

On September 29-30, 1941, SS and German police units and their auxiliaries, under guidance of members of Einsatzgruppe C, murdered the Jewish population of Kiev at Babi Yar, a ravine northwest of the city. This was one of the largest mass murders at an individual location during World War II. As the victims moved into the ravine, Einsatzgruppe detachments shot them in small groups. According to reports by the Einsatzgruppe to headquarters, 33,771 Jews were massacred in two days. In the months following the massacre, German authorities stationed at Kiev killed thousands more Jews at Babi Yar, as well as non-Jews including Roma (Gypsies), Communists, and Soviet prisoners of war. It is estimated that some 100,000 people were murdered at Babi Yar.

The Soviet army liberated Kiev on November 6, 1943.

Babi Yar massacre

Critical Thinking Questions

  • What pressures and motivations may have affected soldiers to volunteer for the Einsatzgruppen and later murder innocent civilians?
  • Investigate what penalties there may have been for refusing to shoot Jews.
  • Paramilitaries are often involved in mass atrocity. Why is that the case?
  • Learn about the post-war Einsatzgruppen trial.

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