On 15 December 1941, SS officers began to murder Jews at Drobytsky Yar, a ravine southeast of the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine, all in sight of Kharkov’s non-Jewish residents. The horrific murders took place through January 1942, taking the lives of approximately 15,000 Jews.
A decree was posted the day before the massacre ordering all Jews to be evacuated or shot on the spot if they resisted. Jewish citizens—men, women and children of all ages—were identified, stripped of their valuables, and forced to a factory where many were held for weeks before being shot.
The carnage took place only a few months after the launch of Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany’s surprise invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. On the front lines were members of the Einsatzgruppen, known for their role in the systemic murder of Jews on Soviet territory, who would subsequently conducted the “Holocaust by Bullets,” which would claim the lives of more than two million Jews in the Soviet Union.
Among other large shooting operations were the Babi Yar massacre on 29-30 September 1941, where more than 30,000 Jews were murdered. It would go down as one of the largest massacres to be perpetrated during the Holocaust. German authorities in Kiev subsequently murdered several thousand more Jews as well as Soviets, Soviet prisoners of war, Communists, and Roma (Gypsies). Records indicate that between 1941 and 1943, approximately 100,000 people were murdered at Babi Yar.
Decades later, forensic experts uncovered thirteen grave-pits around Kharkov, with bodies lying “in extreme disorder, fantastically intertwined, forming tangles of human bodies defying description.”
Today, there are several memorials honoring victims of the Holocaust in the Drobitsky Yar area, including a giant menorah.