This Day In History: The Babi Yar Massacre Begins (1941)

On this date in history, the Babi Yar massacre of over  34,000 Jewish men, women, and children begins outside of Kiev in the Ukraine. The German regime of Adolf Hitler was violently anti-Semitic and believed that Jews were a danger to the Germanic race.  Hitler, as outlined in his work Mein Kampf, stated that many of Germany’s and the world’s problems were a direct result of the Jews. He stated that there was a Jewish Conspiracy against the German people. This improbable lie was believed by many. Hitler and his subordinates came to believe that the only way to solve the ‘Jewish Question’ was to exterminate them.

As the Nazis pressed into the Soviet Union, they found many hundreds of thousands of Jews. In the Autumn of 1941, the Nazi’s had overrun the Ukraine and had occupied the capital city fo Kiev. Here there lived many Jews and the Germans believed that they had an opportunity to exterminate them.

Special SS squads  were drafted into Kiev in order to carry out the mass killings of Jews. These were special units of SS men who were charged with shootings Jews in huge numbers. These squads had been active in the German-occupied parts of the Soviet Union since June 1941, killing Jews and others deemed to be undesirables by the regime of Hitler. The German authorities in Kiev ordered all the Jews in the city to assemble and told them that they were being transported elsewhere. Some 35,000 Jews were marched  out of the city to the Babi Yar area, where there was a large ravine. Here they were murdered. They were told to strip naked and they were later shot by SS  or German soldiers drafted in to help with the massacre.  The massacre ended on September 30, and the dead and wounded alike were covered over with earth. Many people are believed to have been buried alive. The city of Kiev’s Jewish population was either murdered at Babi Yar. Only those who had fled the city before the advance of the Germans survived. The Nazis established a concentration camp near Babi Yar, where they held and killed many Soviet prisoners.

The Germans tried to destroy any vestige of the Jewish presence in Kiev and destroyed the Synagogues and other buildings associated with the Jewish population.

SS troops killing civilians in the Ukraine

Babi Yar was only one of many massacres carried out by SS troops, who were usually assisted by local or regular German troops.  The Germans carried out mass shootings all over the territories that they conquered in the Soviet Union. They usually emptied Jewish villages or neighbourhoods and they sent them to a remote area where they were murdered and buried in mass graves. When the Soviet’s began to drive the Germans back after Stalingrad the Germans feared the world would find out about their crimes. They began to exhume the mass graves and burned the remains to remove any evidence. However, too many eyewitnesses had seen the German killings of Jews and soon their crimes had come to light.

Babu Yar has become one of the symbols of the Holocaust.