This week in Jewish history | Over 30,000 Jews massacred in Babi Yar

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This week in Jewish history | Over 30,000 Jews massacred in Babi Yar

On 29-30 September 1941, more than 30,000 Jews were killed in Babi Yar, Ukraine, in what was one of the largest massacres to be perpetrated during the Holocaust.  

The carnage took place only a few months after the launch of Operation Basbarossa, 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, and who would subsequently open the “Holocaust by Bullets,” which would claim the lives of more than two million Jews in the Soviet Union. 

On 28 September, the dreaded Einsatzgruppen plastered fliers throughout Kiev ordering Jews to bring their valuables and necessary documents to the Jewish cemetery near the Babi Yar Ravine, on penalty of death. Upon arriving at Babi Yar, the Jews were gunned into a mass grave or buried alive. Over the next two days, 33, 771 Jews were killed by shooting. 

Following the Babi Yar massacre, German authorities in Kiev 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. 

At a commemoration dinner for the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder highlighted the fact that Ukrainians had collaborated in the German effort to exterminate the Jews of Kyiv. “While Babi Yar was organized by the Nazis, there were willing helpers in the Ukrainian militia. This happened across Europe. In almost every occupied country, local people helped the Germans round up their Jews,” Lauder said. Historians have noted that Ukrainian collaborators guarded the Babi Yar ravine and facilitated the Nazis in rounding up Jews, and this was borne out by testimonies at the war crimes trials. Nazi officer Erich Ehrlinger spoke to the significance of the denunciations and stated, “Loads of denunciations [revealing of location] of hidden Jews by the Ukranian population hostilely disposed toward the Jews arrived at the office of the commander of the Security Police [of Kiev]. The number of denunciations was so large that the office was unable to process them all due to the lack of personnel.” 

Noting the significance of the massacre, Lauder asserted that Babi Yar was “one of the most infamous pieces of ground in the entire world. Tens of thousands of our people were killed there for only one reason: because they were Jewish.” He applauded the “rebirth” of a strong Jewish community in Ukraine, adding that it is “nothing short of a miracle."  

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